There is a well-known marketing idea made famous by Theodore Levitt that runs like this “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole”.  In many ways this is the same as restaurant design; nobody wants a restaurant design for the sake of the design itself, but they want the customer experience that it delivers. But the challenge is that this idea of ‘customer experience’ is very intangible.

It can be a tricky thing to judge when you are creating a project from scratch. Knowing exactly how a particular combination of furniture and lighting will create a certain ambiance is hard to do without substantial experience. Perhaps even more importantly, is understanding where things can quickly go wrong (for example, a flimsy door handle on your front door, a noisy extraction system or using single spotlights in toilets that create unflattering shadows).

The other challenge here, and one that is rarely acknowledged, is that your customer experience is actually created as a result of a number of overlapping disciplines, none of which can claim to deliver on the promise of your brand on their own. For example, a great social media presence that creates a lot of buzz and hype around your new opening will count for nothing if your staff are apathetic and poorly trained. And a beautifully designed interior will feel superficial if the food does not live up to expectations.

What Constitutes a Good Customer Dining Experience

‘Experience’ is a very important word right now in the design professions as we know this is the real aim of what we create. It seems all designers are claiming to create experiences. Personally, I am always a little uncomfortable when any designer says they can create a customer experience for your brand – often they simply are not in control of enough of the component parts to make this claim. They can certainly set an overall direction and translate your vision into the tangible design elements, but unless they are going to train your staff, develop the actual menu and your marketing strategy, the interior and graphic design can only ever be part of the story. Only you, the client (or your hospitality consultant) can pull all the strings to deliver an experience to your customers.

19 Step Process

Kamilla Laura Sitwell’s excellent book Bespoke, really outlines this well in her section on mapping the customer experience, which she breaks down into a 19 step process. I have adjusted this slightly based on my own criteria but it is very much based on her idea. For ease of reference, I have split them into 5 separate categories relating to different disciplines: marketing, employees, design, food (and drink) and location.


As you can see, the design of your venue really accounts for only 5 out of these 19 steps (although will likely influence in some other areas), which reinforces my point about designers only being able to influence part of the experience.  Admittedly these are often very critical and highly visible parts of the experience, but still, you need to understand the whole landscape as a restaurateur.

You might be tempted to think that as there are 19 steps here and that you need to be excellent at every single one to be successful, but actually this is not true. There are plenty of examples of one-off restaurants, and even chains, that focus on excelling on a few of these areas only and being happy to ensure the other elements are acceptably normal.

experience map
For example, the trend for not taking bookings for popular niche restaurants in London. It is a real pain for customers if you want to go somewhere and have no idea if you will actually get a seat when you are there, but the reputation is so good and location convenient that people will happily come and queue (I’m looking at you Padella). One thing I do find a little strange about this no reservation model is that the restaurant is choosing to ignore any possibility of building a relationship with me – they have no contact info for me and have no idea that I have ever visited in fact.
There are plenty of examples where great food is delivered by people that really care in a poor location with barely any design quality, but they still do fantastically well.  This is how most street food concepts get off the ground after all. Exceptional food and hospitality can trump most other factors at a small scale. As a general rule though, the more fine dining your aspirations, the more of these you need to pay attention to as you are aiming for a flawless experience. You want to surprise and delight your guests and create something more special. For example, the goodbye format at Restaurant Story includes them giving every guest a small bottle of custom blended Hennessy XO for you to continue ‘the story’ at home. It’s a simple and lovely idea.

Poor Digital Marketing

From what I have seen generally over the last couple of years, the biggest opportunity for improvement across the board is around the digital marketing pre and post-visit as I don’t see many examples of people doing this very well. Even the top Michelin star places are very patchy on this area. Once booked, you will get the cursory email with booking details and the better places will email a reminder before you go and also phone you to check on any requests you might have. But after visiting, you are unlikely to ever hear from them again. Maybe you get added to a monthly newsletter list, but it is generic content with 10% off vouchers or their Mother’s Day menu. What I want to see is someone getting in touch to say “hey, glad to hear you enjoyed your visit, I see you all ordered the burgers (my favourite too). Just wanted to let you know, we have a special Wagyu burger we’ve been developing and I’d love for you to come in and be one of the first to try it and give your opinion. Burgers are on us if you fancy it?” Now that is next level marketing, also known simply as excellent hospitality.

How To Measure The Customer Experience?

So you might be thinking, how do you measure each part of the experience though? Right now, I would start with an intuitive approach, based around some loose definitions. This will not appeal to the highly analytical amongst you looking for ‘certainty’, but if you want this level of data you are likely going to need a partner to carry out research and analysis, which makes more sense if you are a bigger chain. If you are living in the world of hospitality every day, you know what normal is and can gauge whether somewhere is falling short or exceeding your expectations. I have been using this as part of the Restaurant Odyssey project to create a record of my experience and it is proving very insightful when comparing different concepts.

If it’s helpful, get in touch and I can talk through a bit about how I gauge each category, but otherwise, I hope you find it useful in analysing what you do now or in planning your next venture.

This post was written by David Chenery

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