How to Turn Meals Into Memorable Experiences
Dining out is so much more than the food. It’s the total customer experience from greeting to goodnight. These tips can help make it special.
What does foodservice-industry growth require? Michelle Korsmo, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, recently shared key action items for operators. “If we want to achieve success on the road ahead, we have to create a great employee culture, think like innovators, and prioritize the customer experience.”
All are essential to building business, perhaps none more so than connecting with customers on an in-person basis and offering experiences that make lasting impressions.
The convenience of takeout and delivered meals continues to drive their popularity, yet even amid the easy appeal of eating at home, these kitchen table experiences lack the excitement that comes with dining out.
At home, no one greets guests at the door or quick-serve counter, parks their car, takes coats, or whisks them to the table. The flourish of menus presented, cocktails offered, specials recited, plates presented, and coffee poured: all these little service elements add up, creating sensations, emotions, and experiences in ways that don’t happen over at-home meals.
Strong restaurant experiences are led by customer service. Here are steps to seamlessly integrate it into all operations plus easy-to-implement ideas to level up with special events.
- For a positive dining experience, customers seek value, attentiveness, cleanliness, appropriate technology, and service. To ensure service standards are met, staff training should focus not just on the mechanics of taking care of customers—knowing the menu, answering questions, delivering meals, and taking payments—but also on less-tangible, above-and-beyond aspects such as friendliness and approachability
- Encourage servers to educate and engage guests about cuisines, preparations, food and beverage ingredients, suppliers, sustainability practices, and even restaurant décor and history when relevant. These exchanges become embedded memories
- Being personally greeted by name pays a powerful compliment. It’s easily done with regular guests but even first-timers can be called out if they’ve booked a reservation. Recalling special requests and preferences, the info stored in CRM software also makes diners feel valued
- When appropriate to service and setting, the interactivity of tableside preparations draws in guests. With such items as guacamole, Caesar salad, and crepes Suzette, they become witnesses and participants, experiencing the freshness of ‘made just for you.’ They also can tailor orders, opting for more jalapeños, no anchovies, or whatever preferences dictate. Flaming dishes such as saganaki, baked Alaska, and cherries jubilee also add drama that isn’t soon forgotten
- When guests reserve for a special event such as birthday or anniversary, laser printers make it simple to present them with customized menus, their name and the occasion called out at the top
- Special dinners with guest chefs, distillers, winemakers, even authors and cultural figures can be a big draw
- If the right culinary team is on hand, cooking and bartending classes are easy adds. They can be serious and involved or more free form, the fun augmented by cocktails and snacks. Pizza, dumplings, and pasta are universally popular, easy-to-execute considerations
- Eatertainment is having a modern-era renaissance, games, activities, technology, and menus buffed up and made current. Interest remains high. A 2023 report by foodservice-industry researcher Datassential indicates that 24% of consumers had visited an concept in the past year, higher than for make-your-own-salad concepts, gourmet food shops, and food halls. A full 52% said they expect to do so even more in the year ahead. It may not be possible to duplicate the full eatertainment experience although the fun can be woven into many concepts. Trivia, movie, and game nights draw crowds, especially when paired with special menus1
Source: 1. Datassential: What’s New With Eatertainment? (September 2023).
The information provided is based on a general industry overview and is not specific to your business operation. Each business is unique, and decisions related to your business should be made after consultation with appropriate experts.