I was inspired to create my own methodology for writing Customer Experience Reviews by reading and watching the plethora of infamous restaurant critics who are regularly in the public eye. Apart from the fact that I have always been envious of anyone who gets PAID to eat in the best restaurants all over the world, I wanted to not just critique organisations I interact with, but to create a way of reviewing Customer Experiences to help others understand the significance of the ‘end to end’ Customer Experience.
Ironically, I have only reviewed one restaurant to date – one restaurant from a national chain – Cafe Rouge who did not fare particularly well. I am therefore well overdue to write a new Customer Experience Review about another restaurant – a very different restaurant that delivers a very different experience. On Wednesday 19th August, I was lucky enough to be able to spend the evening with my beautiful wife Naomi. Due to my extensive travelling, it is not often that we get to spend the evening together – so when we do get the opportunity, we hope the experience will be a memorable one – memorable for the right reasons!
We decided to visit a relatively new restaurant in Chester – not one in the city centre – a restaurant in the suburb of Hoole. The area is unofficially known as ‘Notting Hoole’ – a sign that the area is known for being almost as cool and trendy as the far more famous Notting Hill in London. The big question is whether or not ‘at the hollows’ would meet the expectations of someone who is not that easy to please (that’s me, not Naomi)?!
|Date Review Conducted||19th August 2015|
|Restaurant Visited||at the hollows, 20 Charles Street,Chester, Cheshire, CH2 3AZ|
|CX Review Total Score||46/50|
‘at the hollows’ describes itself as:
“an eatery, situated in the suburb of Hoole just outside of Chester. Hosting a unique dining experience in a relaxed atmosphere”
Their website goes on to say:
“The concept is really about bringing the social aspect back to dining, with everyone so busy these days, people do not often get the time to sit around the table, enjoy a glass of wine and fine food. We want people to come to us, sit down, relax and catch up with family and friends whilst browsing through our menu and ordering a variety of small plates to taste and share, whilst embraced in stimulating conversation.”
Sounds great doesn’t it? However, these are just words on a website – it is very easy to say and claim that you provide things that are ‘unique’, but are you able to carry the words through to reality? Let the review begin!
Accessibility – CX Review Score 9/10
In my review process, the definition of accessibility is ‘how easy was it for me to do what I wanted to do’ with the organisation I have chosen to transact with. On this aspect of the experience I have given ‘at the hollows’ a score of 9 out of 10. Finding this restaurant is easy – they have a presence online via their very easy to use website, as well as an active presence on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Like many restaurants these days, booking a table can be done in a number of ways – directly from the website; via telephone; or you can also email them. It is incredibly simple to do any of these things in whichever way you prefer. I chose to telephone the restaurant – Naomi had asked if we could have a table in the window – I spoke to a very lovely and incredibly helpful lady who assured me that she could make that happen. So far, so very good!
Accessing the restaurant is also very easy. As ‘at the hollows’ is not in the city centre, parking is not something that you need to pay for – that is a big plus. However, Hoole is a busy area – even though you could in theory park right outside the front door, you may find yourself with a five minute walk. All in all, it is really not a big issue. The website provides very good directions as well. Hoole is not only a significant residential suburb of Chester – it is also home to a very large number of bed and breakfast establishments – as this restaurant becomes more established, it will not just be full to the brim with locals – it will also become a magnet for culinary tourists!
When you do arrive, you enter a world that actually feels very unlike Chester! ‘at the hollows’ is the perfect embodiment of ‘Notting Hoole’. It has been beautifully designed and decorated – a lot of thought has gone in to every little detail – beautiful light fittings; funky furniture; cool floor tiles. Even the door handles catch your eye. The atmosphere and ambience absolutely DO add to the Customer Experience and I would say that ‘at the hollows’ have got it just right – and it is unique for this city.
One tiny little thing that Naomi and I commented on – and it is tiny…… the beautiful light fitting above our table was just a little too bright – dim the lighting slightly and it would have been perfect!
Range/Choice – CX Review Score 9/10
When it comes to range and choice, ‘at the hollows’ receives another excellent score of 9 out of 10. The menu is very interesting – and different – and I would agree with their own assessment, unique! The small plate concept is an excellent one. In the same mould as traditional Spanish tapas, the wonderful array of dishes represent international cuisine at its very best – the size of the plates allows customers to sample many things from the menu – too often we have to choose one of a number of things we may ‘fancy’ – ‘at the hollows’ allow you to satisfy your cravings in as many ways as you can stomach!
The restaurant caters for everyone – meat eaters; fish lovers; vegetarians; and even vegans. It does not matter what your preference is – they are able to satisfy it. They also specialise in Oysters – they are not my kind of thing, but if they are yours, this is the place to come in Chester.
The key thing here is that the food did not just sound good. It did not just look good – it TASTED amazing as well. We had a variety of dishes from Iberico ham to delicious lamb ribs to the most incredible King Prawns. It is difficult to make a Gem Lettuce Salad that exceeds expectation – but ‘at the hollows’ take on it really did.
Honestly, neither Naomi or I have had as good a meal in a very long time – and it does take a lot to impress us! My only minor criticism here is on the desert front. I personally was not a fan of many of the desert options. I was intrigued by the Lime sorbet though – sadly, they did not have any!! However, as the main meal had been so good, this did not put a dampener on things.
Although Naomi and I were dining without our three children, they are always close to our thoughts. They are also children who appreciate a wide range of foods. The more we ate, the more we discussed how they would love ‘at the hollows’. We assumed that there would not be a children’s menu – the restaurant is far too cool and trendy. We were wrong! Not only does ‘at the hollows’ have a quite brilliant children’s menu, they actively encourage families to come and enjoy the experience – wonderful to see!
I must also mention the wine and cocktails. A very good wine list is complimented by some amazing cocktails. Naomi and I decided to sample the speciality of master cocktail maker Ben – his Golden Age cocktail led to him coming second in a national cocktail making competition. Naomi and I cannot understand how he did not win! I would recommend visiting ‘at the hollows’ just to have the cocktail!!
So if you like your food and drink, this restaurant is unlikely to disappoint you.
People – CX Review Score 9/10
Like everything else, we were very impressed with the people who represent ‘at the hollows’. From the friendly and helpful lady I spoke to on the phone, to the very knowledgeable, helpful and attentive ladies and gentlemen who served us. Once again it is difficult to find fault – as a critical part of the Customer Experience – a restaurant cannot exist without them – ‘at the hollows’ people compliment the product perfectly.
There are a couple of things that the team should consider – I hope they take what I am about to say as constructive feedback. We thought that our food was delivered slightly too quickly. Now this is just a preference thing – but as we were enjoying it so much, I almost felt as though I wanted the experience to be a little elongated. I also felt that on occasion the service was just a little too attentive – Naomi did not agree with but I can only write how I am made to feel.
One other thing to mention is the presence of the restaurant owner. There are MANY organisations who are owned and run by people who rarely put themselves in front of their customers. This is not the case ‘at the hollows’. Not only was Kingdom very visible, he actively interacted with customers – it was clear how many customers were not experiencing ‘at the hollows’ for the first time. I think it is refreshing to see a business owner so actively involved – it may explain why they are getting so many things so very right.
Value – CX Review Score 9/10
For value, ‘at the hollows’ receives another score of 9 out of 10! I know this is getting slightly repetitive, but the restaurant hits the mark on so many fronts. If ‘at the hollows’ were in Notting Hill rather than Notting Hoole, you would literally fall off your chair on seeing the prices on the menu. This restaurant is AMAZING value for the quality of the whole Customer Experience.
Naomi and I had a LOT of food, a bottle of wine and cocktails and we still struggled to spend £80. The food is such good value, they could without question charge more. The food is so fresh and of such great quality – I would be happy to pay more for it……. although I hope they do not increase their prices as a result of this review!!
I genuinely cannot think of a restaurant anywhere in the country that provides a better value end to end Customer Experience than ‘at the hollows’ – and that is saying something. I did think the cocktails were a little on the steep side – I find it hard to fathom that a small glass of alcohol is more expensive than the most expensive dish on the menu- it was our choice to sample the though!
How did the experience make me feel? – CX Review Score 10/10
Yes – you did read that correctly – for this last category, I have given ‘at the hollows’ the maximum score available – 10 out of 10! Naomi and I wanted a memorable night – we got one – and more. The whole experience from beginning to end was wonderful. The key though is that ‘at the hollows’ did not just MEET my expectations, in many cases they EXCEEDED them – in fact, SMASHED them. I really did not come away feeling so good. I had no intention of going there to write a review. However the experience made both of us FEEL so good, I felt that I had to share it with others.
We will both remember the experience for very good reasons. That is what being able to deliver great Customer Experiences is all about.
Would I use them again? YES!
What did you think I was going to say?! Not only will we visit ‘at the hollows’ again, we will do so by ourselves; with our children; with grandparents; and with friends. We have already told a number of people about our experience – as a result, they are planning to visit ‘at the hollows’ as well. That again is what Customer Experience is all about – the better the experience, not only will your customers come back, they will tell many others about it as well.
‘at the hollows’ deservedly receives my highest Customer Experience Review score to date. The whole team deserve to get a score of 46 out of 50 – it will be VERY hard to beat. At a time when it is so difficult for any independent business to survive – let alone get off the ground – it is just brilliant to see a business like this doing something so amazing. They deserve the recognition and the exposure – and I hope they get it. Chester city centre has just seen the opening of a new ‘food quarter’ – whilst I do not want to belittle the restaurants that populate it, they all represent national chains. If you want something a little different; something a little unique; something a little special – venture just a little way our of the city centre to ‘at the hollows’ in Notting Hoole – I do not think you will be disappointed.
My reviews are based on a format I created to assess experiences I have with a variety organisations. They are intended to act as a demonstration of how Customer Experiences affect the customer in a number of ways. The reviews are based on my opinion as a Customer Experience Specialist – an opinion that readers are perfectly welcome to disagree with!! I always welcome others perspectives and would love to know what you think of the companies I do review.
You can read all of my reviews here.