I make no secret of my love for all things culinary. In fact, if I did not also have a passion for running, I would quite literally be the size of a rather large house! Like everything else we do as human beings, the ‘eating out’ experience is made up of several stages and touch points – the eating bit is just one of them. Eating in a restaurant is often an indulgent treat – not a necessity – and as such, the experience needs to match up with our expectation. How often have you used that word – treat – when taking your family for a meal? If you have read my posts in the past, you will know I am a fan of a dictionary definition – so here is the definition of the word, ‘treat’ in this context:

Let us focus on the ‘gives great pleasure’ part of the sentence. That is what a treat should feel like – something that is pleasurable – for the treat giver and the treat recipient. The more pleasurable the experience, the more likely it is we will remember it (for the right reasons). If we remember a pleasurable experience, it greatly increases the likelihood we will want to repeat the experience – if possible. Ultimately, for any organisation aspiring to deliver a pleasurable experience, the acid test is whether or not the customer does indeed choose to come back. Yet despite this, how often do organisations and their employees ask the customer experience ‘million dollar question’:

As a result of their experience today, how likely do I think it is that my customer will come back?

The key to this question is answering it with complete, sincere honesty. It relies on the person answering it to have actually put themselves in the shoes of their customer so they are able to answer the question with complete honesty. If you wanted to ‘test’ the principle, asking the same question to your customer (independently of the employee) would be fascinating.

I am intentionally describing this as the million dollar question – allow me to explain why. Over the years, many articles have been written on the subject of customer acquisition Vs retention – this is just one – in it, the author claims that is costs ‘five times as much to acquire a new customer, than to keep an existing one’. Retaining customers is not something I need to make an argument for. Quite simply, the longer an organisation can keep hold of a customer, the more likely it is to make more money. I cannot guarantee that this will always equate to a million dollars, but hopefully you get the point. To bring this to life, and to get back to my opening gambit about ‘eating out’, I want to share two experiences I had with my family this weekend.

The three Golding children have just enjoyed a week off school for half term. They have been the recipients of a number of treats – not all of them culinary I might add! As yesterday was their last day before returning to school, my wife and I decided that they were deserving of a last day of treating – they are very lucky children! The day consisted of three ‘treats’:

  1. A visit to a brand new restaurant for a ‘naughty’ sweet treat
  2. A visit to the cinema for a viewing treat
  3. A visit to our favourite restaurant for a savoury treat

Let’s go through them ‘one by one’:

Haute Dolci – the sweet treat!

Haute Dolci is a brand new restaurant near my home city of Chester. Located on a busy retail park, not only does it benefit from a significant amount of passing trade, it is completely different to any other restaurant in the area. Completely different because it only serves those with a sweet tooth. You read that correctly, this is a restaurant that specialises in deserts – for starter, main course and pudding! I unfortunately have a very sweet tooth – and as a result, this restaurant is almost a dream come true! Waffles, pancakes, crepes, gelato, cheesecake – what is not to like?! So when I told the children that I had booked a table ahead of our cinema visit, it was more a treat for dad, than it was for them!

My expectations were VERY high. The restaurant itself appears to have had a lot of money spent on its decor. As you enter and are greeted at the door, it almost feels like you are entering a five star hotel. Sophisticated furnishings and fancy light fittings adorn the significant space. My anticipation of the food to come was increasing with every step. The lady who showed us to our table was lovely. She presented us with the menu – more like a novel – almost a bible to the art of desert making. I do not ever recall seeing a menu like it – it only served to increase my expectation even more. The children were salivating as they tried to decide what to order. Up until this point, the experience had completely lived up to its billing of being an indulgent treat….. and then our waiter arrived.

In broken English, it took us a while to determine that he was asking us if we wanted something to drink. As we were about to willingly force huge quantities of sugar and calories down our throats, I had made the executive decision that we would only drink water. I explained this to the waiter and asked for four glasses if tap water. ‘No’, was his response. ‘We don’t serve tap water here’. I was taken aback. I have not been refused tap water in a restaurant for years. Immediately, the experience that had started so well, began to fall away. Although I failed to check if Haute Dolci serves alcohol (they are under no obligation to provide tap water unless they do), the refusal to provide tap water left a bad taste in my mouth before I’d even ordered! In no mood to argue, I ordered four bottles of mineral water.

It took a few minutes for the water to materialise – when it did, it was delivered by a different waiter who did not utter a word. A while later, the original waiter returned. Again, we had to guess that he was asking if we were ready to order – it really was very difficult understanding him. The man was neither friendly nor knowledgeable. All three of the children had to repeat their orders over and over again. I was rather taken by a Salted Caramel cheesecake on the menu. I might forgive everything for my dream desert. ‘We don’t have that one’, was the man’s response. My disappointment was growing by the second. I asked him what cheesecake they did have – ‘I will have to check’, was his response. Out of a number of cheesecake choices on the voluptuous menu, only one was available – one that did not take my fancy. The waiter then stared at me as I was put under pressure to choose an alternative desert.

I plumped for waffles – I may well have chosen something else – but felt under so much pressure, I did not want to take any more time. A few minutes later, the food arrived. It was beautifully presented and quite delicious. We were all very impressed. As the dishes were cleared away, my mind was in a whirlwind of confusion. Excellent food – terrible service. The problem, was that I could not get the terrible service out of my head. I just wanted to leave the restaurant and get to the cinema. Our challenge now though was that our ‘friendly’ waiter had disappeared. It took a while for me to attract the attention of another member of staff. On arriving at our table, the lady was surprised to see we had not received our bill – she quickly departed to get it. She returned with the bill and card machine in hand – and without a word, completed the transaction. We were not asked if we had enjoyed our food – a cursory ‘thanks’, was all we got.

As we left the restaurant, a gentleman who appeared to be the manager politely said ‘goodbye’ to us, as did the lady who welcomed us on the way in. Neither of them asked about our experience. As the front door closed behind us, I had made a decision not to return again – if they had asked me the million dollar question, I would have told them myself.

Vue Cinema – the viewing treat!

I’ll keep this brief. We booked our tickets online – as with most movie theatres, the start of the experience has been made incredibly accessible over the last few years. Having already consumed a LOT of calories, we agreed that the usual edible cinematic treats (popcorn et al) would be avoided on this occasion. The theatre itself was comfortable and exactly as expected. The movie – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – was very good, making the children laugh continuously and far exceeding my expectations (which started VERY low!). All in all, the experience was exactly what we wanted it to be!! Will we go back to Vue….. of course we will.

La Fattoria – the savoury treat!

This is a picture of the inside of the Golding family’s favourite restaurant in the city of Chester. La Fattoria is the favourite restaurant of many of the city’s citizens – in fact, I know people who regularly travel from Liverpool, Manchester and even further afield to enjoy the best pizza and pasta in the North West of England. Why? In Chester alone there are plenty of Italian restaurants that serve up the same fare – yet it is La Fattoria, not their competition, that has become the unofficial got to location to celebrate a birthday, wedding and christening. Their simple, hearty Italian food is very good – yet what sets La Fattoria apart is more than just the product – it is the whole experience – and for one very good reason – consistency.

We have been treating ourselves in La Fattoria for over twelve years. All of our children have grown up eating there. I imagine we will take out grandchildren there eventually too. In that time, the experience has never failed to meet our expectations. The food is always good. The service always efficient and effective. I have not calculated how much money we have spent in La Fattoria during that time – it is not a million dollars – but it is a significant amount. La Fattoria is not fancy and ‘over the top’ – it does not promise to be something that it is not. It delivers great value, great tasting Italian food as critical elements of a consistently great experience – every time. Will we keep going back to La Fattoria? I think you know the answer to that question!

Hopefully the owners of Haute Dolci will read this post – I do not want to see their investment come to nothing. Their product – the food – is really very good. But until or unless every member of their team understands the significance of the million dollar question, they may well face a fight to revel in the success of a long term sustainable business with lots and lots of loyal returning customers!