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Running Your Business:
Promoting the Dining Experience by Matching Expectations
By John Hendrie

W ill the twain ever meet between Customer expectation and what a restaurant offers that Customer? Distinction in the competitive food and beverage realm is the key ingredient.

The essentials from the Customer perspective are quite straight forward. They want to know that the food is good, that the service is reasonable, that they will be safe, dining in a clean establishment, where what they pay represents value. The restaurant operator wants to engage the customer, respond positively to their expectations, gain their loyalty and market that success, thereby increasing covers, traffic, and, of course, revenue.

The above formula is just like a see-saw. Restaurant operators aim for that equilibrium, but frequently the balance board is askew, based either upon either poor delivery or expectations not met. The variables affecting delivery by the restaurant are numerous: preparation, food quality and presentation, standard of service, ambiance. The real life experiences - gum under the table, inattention by the server, an incomplete order, a dirty fork, music too loud, lighting too low, the A/C too strong, the wait too long - deviations, even in the finest of dining establishments, can bring the realities of running a restaurant to head and heart ache. Every day has an imperfection, regarding product, service or environment. Our customers understand this; there is no perfection in any industry. But, it is the Dining standard we wish to tell people about, the distinction we usually represent, and specifically the Dining Experience our Customer should anticipate. The Consumer does want to know.

Sadly, for the restaurant industry, there are limited means to project this message to our Customers - the Distinction of our establishment. Of course, it is easier to retain existing customers rather than recruit new ones. Those loyal "fans" must be courted, made to feel special, and recognized for their "good taste" and support all the time - they are our "bread and butter", the very foundation for any success we enjoy. Yet, the business must grow! What avenues do we have to promote what our current "fans" already know?

Testimonials are a prime means to "pass the word" and gain prominence. This works by "word of mouth", referrals, and, more and more through the Internet. The power of a statement by a satisfied diner is extraordinary, but even these Patron Reviews can be uneven, sometimes even "stacked". For the potential customer, though, they do provide a means to gather information and appreciate the "flavor" of a restaurant, through the eyes and descriptive words of someone who has "lived" the dining Experience. Visitors new to the area rely upon these sources, whether legitimate portals such as We8There, guidebooks like Zagat, or unofficial Bulletin Boards on the Internet. Otherwise, they depend upon hotel concierges, business associates, or friends.

Marketing Associations also can be effective. They establish some bona fides, but typically, only informational: a brief description of the Restaurant, type, cuisine, price and the like. They do not describe the experience. There are other means as well, such as a "Phantom Gourmet" local program, write-ups in the local paper and underground news, Restaurant Association and dining service guides, and area Attraction magazines. In many cases you pay for that coverage - advertising dollars perhaps spent well! Your potential customer may review these sources, but they are hardly definitive.

Then, there are Rating/Assessment companies, either serving as consumer advocates and setting the "taste and style" landscape, such as Michelin or sometimes Mobil, and, others, similar to AAA, which may review your establishment, but they are more interested in you signing up for their many services and programs. Other companies you can retain for an Assessment; they benchmark your performance as to Quality Standards and provide recommendations for Continuous Improvement. All of these can be invaluable, depending upon the level of expertise and professionalism of their review team, however you have no control over the outcome of their evaluation. But, the consumer does pay attention to ratings and seals of approval.

Lastly, a restaurant can present their own story, describe the uniqueness of their establishment and passionately relate to the potential customer why they should visit, dine, and enjoy the experience through their own Web Site. This is the opportunity to market directly your Distinction! The site must relate to all the senses, where the aromas and flavors speak through the eyes.

The ideal means for successful promotion of a restaurant should embrace three facets: testimonials from satisfied patrons; an operations review by a professional, objective third party, certifying a certain level of performance; and a spectacular Web Site presence. You may not be able to control the first two, but you certainly can influence outcome with Management and a Team who believes in their product and the highest level of service. Harnessing the promotional power of Peer Reviews and Quality Assurance Certification provides confidence and reliability for your Customer which makes that Dining Decision easy. You have Distinction, traffic increases, and revenues flow!

John Hendrie John Hendrie is CEO of Hospitality Performance, Inc., a full-service hospitality consulting company. With a strong background in Hospitality, Human Resources, Organizational Effectiveness, and Communications, John has devoted his career to establishing Standards of Excellence across varied businesses.

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