The Stew blog, written by the Chicago Tribune’s food beat staff, posted an interesting article recently talking about the little perks that make a restaurant meal a more pleasant experience.
Some examples from the list:
• Purse hooks
• Reading glasses for older customers trying to read the menu
• Crayons and paper for kids
All are great ideas, and instead of stealing the entire list, I encourage you to read it here.
Yet as great as these perks are, they seem pretty generic – best practices that any restaurant worth its salt should employ. What about the perks that make coming to your restaurant a completely unique experience?
Great service, a killer menu, and a nice atmosphere are the three things every successful restaurant has. Most of the time, these are the things you do very well as a restaurateur, but that doesn’t mean you’re the only one around who does them well. Developing an X Factor, a thing that makes your restaurant unique, is what sets you apart from your competition.
That means you give your customer some intangibles (or perks) they just can’t get anywhere else. Everyone should have purse hooks and reading glasses, and if you want families to ever return to your establishment, some crayons and paper are a must. These things make up a baseline of quality service good restaurateurs already meet.
What makes your restaurant different?
Here are some ideas that many restaurants have had success with:
The cult of personality. This one has worked well for some celebrities, especially washed-up athletes. It has also
worked for people who are not celebrities. It works like this: the owner of the place gets to know just about everyone who comes in the place. He asks about their kids. He personally serves their second bottle of wine and jokes about the server with the guests. He is the face and personality of the restaurant, and the perk for regulars is the familiarity they feel when they dine there. That familiarity gives the customer a VIP feeling they can’t get anywhere else.
The tableside show. Magicians, belly dancers, comedians, mariachi bands – whatever the act is, this perk gives the customer an intimate show that adds an element of entertainment they can’t get anywhere else. If you give your customers a choice between an enchilada plate and a band singing “Cielito Lindo” just for them before those enchiladas arrive, they’re going to choose your restaurant every time.
The VIP club. One of the hottest trends in fine dining is throwing “underground” events – chefs from well-known restaurants all over the country are picking an unusual setting (e.g. a warehouse, a wine cellar, etc.), developing a unique prix fixe menu, and inviting a select group of regulars to attend an exclusive one-time event.
You may not feel like going that far, but you can develop ways to create a club with an exclusive feel around it for your regular customers. The funny thing about a club is that once others find out about it, they’ll want to be a part of it too – and the more people want to be in the club, the more valued the people already in feel. The key is to give your VIP club perks that carry a lot of value. A couple comped appetizers isn’t going to hack it here. You need to provide something no one else can get.
Whatever perks you settle on for your customers, two keys will make you successful: make it unique and make sure it has real value. It might be easy to copy someone else’s idea or cheaper to just offer a 10% off coupon, but your patrons will see right through half-hearted attempts to win them over, and in the end you’ll get what you pay for.
A genuine effort to reward your customers simply for walking through your door will have a lasting impact that is difficult to calculate.