Creating Lifetime Customers, Step 3 of 3
The much needed rain here in Chicagoland must be a good omen for the final installment of “Creating Lifetime Customers” — at this point, I don’t think anyone expected it. (Pun intendend.)
#3. Go Beyond the Expected
Due to the nature of dining out, going beyond your customers’ expectations has a lot do with how well you execute Step #2, “Creating Lasting Relationships With Your Customers.” Few restaurant-goers truly expect to be treated like family (at least not consciously); meeting expectations in this department has more to do with not providing a bad experience. That is to say that a customer expects to be comfortable and well attended to, not necessarily treated like a cousin over for Sunday dinner. But we should strive to go above and beyond, no doubt.
Still, you can’t underestimate the value of an emotional bond in creating loyal customers. This is true not just in food service, but any business — just look at the devotion computer geeks show to their favorite products. Whether it’s Mac or PC, people carry their brand loyalties with them for entire lifetimes. Why, you ask? Because being loyal to a product or brand gives people a sense of identity. What they buy, what they wear, and where they eat represent who they are as people. And the great thing about the restaurant business is that it’s already people-centered — you don’t have to convince anyone that your brand of mp3 player will make them feel cooler or more human because your consumer interacts face-to-face or voice-to-voice with your hosts or hostesses, waiters or waitresses, cashiers, delivery people, and maybe cooks. Attention paid to your customers by these actual human beings goes a long way in making them feel a part of something, much the way putting an Apple stick on their bumper might.
In my best restaurant experiences, at the places I return frequently and feel at home, the wait staffs do a number of things well that bring the outing above mere carb replacement and into a social occasion. Usually it starts at the door, with the host or hostess; if there’s a wait, it’s nice to be attended to; maybe the hostess brings us menus, takes us to a table at the bar, or checks in on us occasionally — something more than just sitting us down with one of those blinking and vibrating doodads that’ll let me know when it’s time to be seated. After we’re at are table, it’s a pleasant surprise to have a waiter or waitress who includes younger kids in the experience of dining out. Taking the time to interact with a customer’s children and make them feel just as welcome as the adults goes a long way in building loyalty with the parents (who, one imagines, are paying). As an adult, it’s nice to have a waiter or waitress who can offer personal recommendations or help with the menu. And once we’ve been back on multiple occasions, it’s nice to be remembered instead of feeling like a brand new customer every time I return to the same restaurant.
There are a lot of things a restaurant can do to exceed expectations, whether in terms of food, service, or ambiance. The important thing is that every member of a restaurant staff understands the importance of going beyond the bare minimums of not just efficiency and professionalism, but sociability. It’s at that point you win customers over, which is what’ll keep them loyal and coming back as long as you’re there to offer that great service and even better food.
Check back next week for a new topic, and until then contact us here.