The guest experience is absolutely paramount to the success of the hospitality industry. These days, customers will not put up with below average service and are not likely to return if they feel like that’s what they’ve been given. They won’t recommend your location to others—or worse, they could actively denounce it and end up leaving a scathing review on your social media. However, providing a positive guest experience that exceeds expectations has the exact opposite effect.
Perfecting this experience doesn’t happen overnight, but these “4 C’s” of guest experience are definitely a great place to start. Culture, Consistency, Care and Comfort are all useful to keep in mind—even if you’ve been running your business for a while now.
So let’s break them down.
Image source: CBC News: The National | YouTube
Your company’s culture is key in demonstrating who you are, what ideals your business values, and how your beliefs and practices align with the experience you deliver to your guests. A good place to start is with your mission statement. Describing your philosophy, goals, and beliefs on how these goals can be achieved will define your establishment and connect your staff and guests with elements that make it unique.
A mission statement can also help organize the look and feel of your space. Once you have your goals defined, the elements you’ll need to include in order to reach those goals will become clear, as well as what tools will be needed for the job. Looking to create a lively, fun atmosphere where people visit to really let loose? Better have the right music for the job! Want something more low-key and intimate? Consider what lighting you’ll require. And so on.
But culture goes further than just your atmosphere and mission statement. Patrick Kriss, the Head Chef at Alo, a French fine dining restaurant featured on The Diners Club World's 50 Best Restaurants Academy website, was at the Restaurants Canada Show 2019. In an interview at the event, he said that culture starts to form at the hiring process.
Attitude is the first thing on the radar for Kriss, who stated that when hiring staff, they “look for people who buy into what we do.” He expanded on this by saying that his fine dining restaurant is so focused on guest experience that if even one team member’s heart isn’t in it, the culture starts to deteriorate.
“When a staff member is having a bad day,” said Kriss, “guests don’t care, nor should they. If a guest is having a bad day, though, it’s our job to turn that around—make it good.” And that’s not going to happen if your staff isn’t aligned with your values and your attitude.
It’s important to keep in mind that this applies just as much to you as the owner/manager as it does your staff. You have to lead by example and have empathy for your guests and staff. If you’re not buying into the culture you want to create, there’s no chance others will involve themselves either.
From the atmosphere that you’ve decided to create to the culture that you’ve formed, consistency is critical. With so many aspects involved in crafting your guests’ experiences, it can be easy to lose sight of what doesn’t fit. This might involve some tough decision making, but ultimately, your business will benefit from having a concise understanding of expectations, culture, and practices.
An interesting example of this comes again from Patrick Kriss, who explained that Alo Restaurant now only takes reservations online—not by call or in person. He said that cutting down the variety of booking methods has made the process immensely easier to manage for his staff. It wasn’t the easiest call to make, but guests became accustomed surprisingly quickly to the process and the streamlined practice has produced a positive impact ever since.
Of course, this is just one small example. Ultimately, the message here is to keep consistency flowing throughout your company. If something just doesn’t seem to fit with your vision of your business—whether it’s a menu item, music playlist, or even a table cloth color—it may be time for a change.
This should probably go without saying, but you must truly care about your guests and their experience. On this topic, Kriss emphasized, “We are in the business of regulars.” Yes, you want new people to come through your door, but you also want them coming back again, and again!
Kriss urged the audience at the RC Show to view the guest experience as a story. For him, this story begins at the moment of reserving a table and doesn’t end until they’ve arrived home safely. All too often, we’re blind to the lengths guests go to in order to visit our establishment in the first place. From travel expenses to babysitting and perhaps even costs of activities after their visit, a night out can become a big undertaking pretty quickly.
Understanding the guest’s story naturally lends itself to great service. When someone really cares, they go above and beyond expectation and deliver memorable experiences not simply because it’s a job, but because they want to help.
This same level of care that you’ll treat your customers with must also be applied to your staff. They need to know you care, as well! To Kriss, the staff at Alo Restaurant are considered similarly to guests—they should want to come often and stay longer. Reward them often, promote from within, make your staff parties amazing, and again, lead by example.
He emphasized creating relationships and rewarding hard work. Employees want challenges, opportunities, and confidence that their career is heading in the right direction. Remember, you’re in the business of regulars, and this doesn’t apply to just patrons—they should be your workers, too!
How you create a comfortable space for guests goes beyond the cushiness of your seats. Culture, consistency, and care all have a role in defining what comfort looks like for your business.
Consider who your guests are and what they expect from your establishment, then use that consideration to exceed those expectations! After all, classical music and dim lights aren’t for everyone—maybe you’ve created a place for patrons to rock out and have a fantastic burger with their friends. Video has become commonplace in your guests' lives, so making use of your television screens to provide a differentiated experience can transform a regular dining experience into a premium one.
Simplicity is another important factor of comfort, and one that ties into our idea of consistency from earlier. The difference, however, is that you can still have a complex menu, reservation system, etc., while maintaining consistency. The “less is more” mentality can really help guests feel less overwhelmed and more comfortable.
In his book The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz argues that the more choices we have in our world, the less satisfaction we gain from our decisions. From colleges to candy bars, we live in a world of many, many options to choose from. While some people may thrive on the plethora of choice out there, Schwartz provides research that reflects how most of us—consciously or not—often succumb to anxiety and stress when facing these decisions.
Now, take that concept and critically apply it to, say, your menu. Aesthetically, how varied and busy is it? Are the colors and graphics distraction? How many options are given? I’m not saying that you need to start immediately cutting menu items left, right, and center—but it’s an example worth considering.
The point is, taking the time to review how you can simplify a few things here and there is a great way to add a touch more comfort to your guests’ experience.
So, let’s sum up the 4 C’s and see what we’ve learned. Culture stems from you, is communicated through your mission statement, and diffused through your staff and venue. Keeping procedures and practices consistent eases stress for your staff, guests, and yourself. Having empathy for your guests and staff shows that you really care, and positively influences everyone involved in your business. And when all these aspects flow together, it creates a level of comfort that will influence guests to come back again and again.
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