When I last wrote about “This Never Happened”, a lot of my friends spoke to me about “The Experience” and how in any field it was the only thing that mattered, the only thing that it all boiled down to.
I pondered over it I realized that all that I felt the same way. Whether I am out at a restaurant, visiting a night club, attending a music festival, at a store buying clothes etc.. the list could go on and on but essentially any interaction which has a user/customer/guest on one end and the product/service provider at the other end, what really makes or breaks the interaction is “The Experience”.
I know this is not breaking news. In my early days as a Hospitality Trainer when I super specialized in Food & Beverage, I always told my trainees the exact same thing, the guest Is not paying 600 bucks for your sandwich because it tastes lip smackingly good (it could be ONE of the reasons) but it is most certainly not the only reason. I firmly believe that the day establishments realize that they are in the business of selling an experience and not a product or a service, there will be many more happier faces that they would be catering to.
When we talk about “The Experience” it is always the smaller things that matter. Most establishments get the bigger things right but the smaller ones- they are the ones that requires a little attention to detail. Let’s re-visit the example that I shared in my last article about the mismanaged lines to get in to the venue.Creating an online portal to purchase the tickets was the easy part and one of the bigger things that they got right and honestly one would expect them to. However ensuring that those queues were managed effectively and efficiently so that everyone got in smoothly – that was the smaller thing that actually mattered more and in turn hampered the experience. When you read this you may think to yourself – “Isn’t that a given, shouldn’t have they known how many tickets were sold and hence how many people were going to be there and hence make provisions for the smooth entry of everyone”. Well Surprise Surprise, it did not happen and most of the times it does not happen, whether it be managing a queue, water being served at a restaurant without me asking for it or waiting half an hour to get the clothes billed because there are not enough cashiers.
Let’s take another example of a restaurant (my comfort zone :)) and talk about that Sandwich which costs 600 bucks. What’s going to make it worth my while, what’s going on to play on my senses?
What I see
Aesthetics– does the place appeal to me. Now I know this could differ from person to person but there are certain basics that one must get right. The colors, the furniture, the linen etc.. And it does not stop there, what I also see is what the staff is wearing (uniform), some of those Colour combinations and quality of uniforms, God save me!!
Grooming (how they wear it). Unironed clothes, dirty shoes, long dirty nails, Ugggg alert and someone tell them that those trousers can be worn above their knees!!!
Cleanliness-The general upkeep and cleanliness of the place is another thing that strikes me. I’ve walked into multiple restaurants with food on the floor, tables that haven’t been cleaned properly and dog eared menus. Oh and BTW menus that are not cleaned regularly have more bacteria and germs than the samosas you would have from a street vendor.
Smile-I’ve written earlier about smiling faces but once again if my server greets me with a smile, takes my order with a smile, serves me with a smile and sees me off with a smile, trust me more than half the battle is won there.
What I smell
I’ve walked into a couple of restaurants and baaaaam!! That smell…….turned the clock back to the visits to the fish market next to my erstwhile house at CR Park. Now this is not very difficult to get right, it’s just that I haven’t walked into a place in years and said “Wow that smells nice”. One would want a restaurant to smell of food, something that entices you and at the same time is not overpowering. Couple of Cafe’s do get it right though with the smell of ground coffee or freshly baked bread and have also managed to make it their signature fragrance. There are also the tried and tested diffusers that work pretty well, but then again the choice of fragrance matters. One would not want a restaurant to smell of lavender!
What I hear
Music-This tends to be an ignored area in most restaurants. Most of the times you would have some ambient instrumental music playing on loop. I remember when I used to manage an award winning Indian Restaurant close to 10 years back, we had one and only one Brian Silas CD with evergreen Hindi classics played on the piano. One month in and I knew exactly what song would play at what time:). Some restaurants truly make an effort-I personally know a couple of cafe and restaurant owners who painstakingly make Playlists that they even refresh every month or so. The “Worldspace” kind of concepts made their presence felt but never really took off. One hears that technology today can sense the mood of the people seated in the restaurant and play music accordingly (not at all surprising).
Communication-It also has a lot to do with how my server communicates with me. Is he able to tell me what cheese goes into my sandwich (menu knowledge), does he have basic courtesy and use the right kind of words (May I, Thank you, Certainly) and also not say “piza”.
A friendly visit to my table by the manager of the restaurant would really help as well. Honestly I don’t understand or know what they do anymore. At most restaurants the only time I’ve seen the manager is when there is a complaint, otherwise the crop of managers these days don’t find it worth their time to visit a normal table. Initially as a restaurant manager I also felt that being present in the restaurant, taking a round of the restaurant (more like aimless gallivanting), looking busy but doing nothing was what my job entailed. It was only over a period of time that I understand my “real” job and realised that I was the captain of the ship and where this ship went was completely dependent on me-I could let it go ahead hit that iceberg and sit back and enjoy the show or I could ensure that in the first place it was never heading towards the iceberg. Proactive behavior is the key word here- A reactive restaurant manager is now a stale commodity and very soon nearing their expiry date.
All of the above contributes to “What I feel”. The feeling that I walk out of that place with-happy, sad, upset, angry, elated, satisfied, delighted. “What I feel” dictates “The Experience” when I walk out of that place. It helps me decide whether I will visit that place again, it helps me decide whether this was an experience to remember or forget.
So does it matter how that sandwich tastes-of course it does, but as you just read, it is ONE(of the many) factors that will contribute to What I Feel and in turn to “The Experience”
P.S: If I ever do open a place, I am now very clear as to what I would call it 🙂. No prizes for guessing though!
Ex-Restaurateur, Hotelier, Hospitality Professional