Sales at restaurants in the U.S. exceeded $50 billion in January 2015. The Wall Street Journal reported that because of the increased spending, restaurant owners hired more front- and back-of-house staff.
I’m curious…if you throw out the Big Mac fast foodies, what brings people back to a restaurant? As a certified and experienced hospitality trainer for 15 years, I wanted to explore this question. So, off I headed to one of the Lowcountry havens of great food, Charleston, South Carolina.
On a perfect day — 65 degrees and sunny — we parked on East Bay Street in the historic downtown area and walked to Magnolias Restaurant for Sunday brunch. It was a remarkable experience.
What made this experience remarkable? First and foremost, the authenticity, from the food (Charleston crab cakes, hoppin’ John risotto, collard greens and Creole tartar sauce) to the southern charm and graciousness of the staff. The aromas of country ham and fried green tomatoes, the starched white tablecloths, the paintings, all combined to transport me for two hours to a place far away from my deadline-driven, budget-conscious, kids-possessed everyday reality.
My “ah hah” moment came when we went to dinner at the James Irish Pub at nearby Folly Beach. Some may say you can’t compare a $60-per-person meal at Magnolias with a $15-per-person meal at funky Folly Beach. But I can because I was looking for the Real Deal. Can this restaurant take me away, transport me to Ireland with the ambiance, brews, and bangers and mash? It couldn’t. I think because they tried to be everything: an Irish pub, a sports bar and a funky Folly Beach establishment. And in attempting to do so, the atmosphere lost the authenticity and consistency that would have taken me to The Hatch Bar in Kildare.
Lastly, we hit Rita’s, a beach bar and inexpensive restaurant that delivered just what you would expect: friendly service, fish tacos, craft beers, ocean breezes, flip flops and folksy music sung by a local with more tattoos than the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Everything reinforced the subliminal message hitting my work-worn brain: “I’m at the beach!!!!”
My hubby says I’m one of the few people he knows who gets paid to tell people what to do, so here are a few takeaways:
– What is your brand?
– What can improve the authenticity of how your customers experience your brand?
– Does your staff buy in so your customers are “not in Kansas anymore”?