Re-thinking the Fine Dining experience
In previous blog posts I have shared insights, inspiration, and customer success stories from restaurants and catering/contract food service organizations. The majority of the observations have come from the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR), Fast/Quick Casual and Casual Dining segments of the industry. As a result, I have received many ‘playful’ comments from Fine Dining establishments.
An eye-opening experience
While envisioning what stories or guidance I might highlight for Fine Dining establishments, I had an eye-opening experience. At a Fine Dining restaurant, which recently reopened by placing large tents and a portable bar car (think 1950’s Airstream) in a field next to the restaurant, guests were greeted by a requirement to valet their vehicles. Being I had walked to the restaurant, I watched in amazement as customers were stunned by this restaurant’s approach. Some tried to talk their way out of it and asked for permission to park their own cars. While some drove away in anger, most succumbed to the request out of a desire to finally have a nice, post-quarantine meal.
I overheard two patrons having a conversation about how the situation was “a contract tracer’s nightmare. What if the valet was asymptomatic?” On this night alone, hundreds of people would be “exposed.” The other patron replied, “Think about the valet, how could the business owner put their employee in a situation of being exposed to air and contact points of hundreds of potentially infected guests?”
It was incredible to think how something that earlier this year would have represented the epitome of a luxurious, delightful customer experience had the opposite effect in our current environment. This set my mind into overdrive, thinking about the E-book on Travel and Hospitality: “Building Resilience for the Long Run”, which my peers and I had recently published. I wanted to share the book with the owner of the restaurant and highlight some of the alternative investments they could make, and how we could together, modernize the Fine Dining restaurant experience.
The new advisors
It can be overwhelming for a Fine Dining establishment to think about modernizing their experience, especially because most are not blessed with a sophisticated IT department or market research like some of our quick service customers such as McDonald’s, Subway or Domino’s. But as a restaurant owner you do not have to rely on yourself and can begin by creating an ‘experience team.’ You have a team of dedicated hospitality practitioners, who each understand the customer journey and business from a different perspective. Treat them like the group of trusted advisors they are.
Assemble this experience team to address the current state of the operation, and listen to determine if they have heard feedback from customers that may indicate a need to change. Had the owner of the restaurant I had visited done this, they would have quickly adjusted operations and begun thinking about how to modernize. When you listen, you may be surprised by what you hear which could include seemly mundane subjects such as water service.
For instance, while guests formerly appreciated attentive back-waiters who would refill their water glasses after each sip from a central silver water pitcher, this is no longer desirable. A restaurant could do something as simple and non-technical as leaving water on the table, so that guests can refill their own water glasses. Whatever you learn, it is important to keep this experience team together, and not disband once this current crisis passes. Assessing customer feedback and then constantly evaluating your business and external threats, and continually updating your contingency plans is the best way to ensure you are providing a great experience for the long run.
The new first impression
Previously, the first impression someone would typically get from a Fine Dining restaurant was when they set foot inside the restaurant, perhaps stepping through a grand entrance or being greeted by a maître d’ or coat check. Now more than ever the first impression guests receive is when they visit a restaurant’s website. With guests frequently checking operating hours, cleanliness protocols or making reservations for limited outdoor space, restaurant frontend websites are being strained. And once at the restaurant, many operators have moved to QR codes or digital menus/wine lists. While upgrading your website to handle these new demands seems daunting, AWS has many services which provide your operation a cost effect way to scale and meet this demand:
- Amazon Lightsail – is an easy-to-use cloud platform that offers you everything needed to build an application or website, on a cost-effective, monthly plan. Whether you are new to the cloud or looking to get on the cloud quickly with AWS infrastructure you can trust.
- Amazon Amplify Console – is a static web hosting service that accelerates your application release cycle by providing a simple Continuous Integration (CI)/ Continuous Delivery (CD) workflow for building and deploying static web applications. Simply connect your application’s code repository in the console, and changes to your frontend and backend are deployed in a single workflow on every code commit. With AWS Amplify Console, you can deploy Single page apps (SPAs) built with frameworks like React, Angular, Vue, Ember; and static sites generated with frameworks like Gatsby, Eleventy, Hugo, VuePress, and Jekyll. You can also host simple static websites without connecting to a Git provider with a manual deploy by choosing to drag and drop a folder from your desktop, or reference an Amazon S3 bucket or external URL.
- Amazon CloudFront – is a fast content delivery network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs globally with low latency and high transfer speeds with a pay-as-you-go pricing model with no upfront fees or required long-term contracts.
The new dining room
Given some of the economic challenges being faced, more Fine Dining establishments are choosing to offer curbside pickup or even delivery. It was once unthinkable to eat a thoughtfully-prepared meal with several courses and side dishes on your couch – as the atmosphere was a key ingredient to the overall experience. While nothing will compare to the in-restaurant experience more people are opting to enjoy Fine Dining restaurant-prepared meals at home — either for safety or convenience.
If you are adding first party delivery or curbside pickup to your operation, look at modern ways to remove friction from your guests. HERE is a company of over 8,000 employees all focused on the concept of location and the potential it has to radically improve how you conduct business. The pioneer of navigation with in-car systems, HERE is now an AWS Partner, providing you easy access to their robust suite of service offerings, so now instead of asking guests to text or call your restaurant when they arrive, use Geo-fencing to inform your staff of the guests pending arrival and meet them right as they pull up to the restaurant. If adding delivery, instead of creating a situation where guests call your restaurant, wondering where their food is and when it will arrive, provide them with a real-time tracker.
The new “check, please!”
When it comes time to pay the check, those old leather-bound check presenters and fancy pens which were stuffed in the wait staffs waistband all night (former waiter’s secret tip) should be banished too. Move to contactless options, including Amazon Pay which allows you to inspire confidence for your guests. Hundreds of millions of customers around the globe already use the service to pay for products and services using the information stored in their Amazon accounts. The service is easy to integrate to your transaction system, simplifies the settlement of the bill, and speeds up the process as no credit/debit cards ever exchange hands.
The new way to celebrate
While we are not sure when everyone will be comfortable again cramming a dozen people around a table to celebrate grandma’s birthday, that does not mean Fine Dining will not be an integral part of how we choose to celebrate. Instead of gathering up the entire family for a night out, we have seen an uptick in people gifting restaurant e-cards to support local business, while allowing people to celebrate in the way they feel most comfortable. This means e-gifting will continue to become more critical to Fine Dining restaurant businesses. Amazon.com is a centralized marketplace where consumers seek out restaurant gift cards and can be a convenient, revenue-generating option. Sign up as an Amazon Seller and apply to sell your gift cards as certain restrictions do apply.
The new suggestion box
Speaking of e-gifting, the holidays are quickly approaching — a time when families are accustomed to being together to ‘break bread’. Instead of getting feedback from staid comment boxes or surveys slipped into checks which add extra touches and can be unreliable, load your data into Amazon QuickSight to extract insights about your menu, pricing, customers, and inventory. Amazon QuickSight lets you easily create and publish interactive dashboards that include Machine Learning (ML) Insights. Dashboards can be accessed from any device, and embedded into your applications, portals, and websites. With Pay-per-Session pricing, QuickSight allows you to give everyone access to the data they need, while only paying for what you use. Use these insights to make informed business decisions and have your experience team formulate menus designed for the holidays. Give consideration to those who will be purchasing for themselves and also those who would like to give these meals as gifts. Loved ones will be looking for Fine Dining restaurants to supply meals to their family members that they previously prepared. Make it easy for them to do so and construct flexible family sizes by building meal options to feed households between two and ten people.
The new Fine Dining Experience
Back to my recent dining experience that started all this thinking about how the aspects that traditionally made up Fine Dining will need to modernize. Observing the valet interactions as I departed the restaurant turned out to be even more fun than observing the arrival process. As the Valet would arrive with a vehicle, most guests could be seen not knowing what to do next, resulting in some “Laurel and Hardy” type activities: rolling down all the power windows in the car, or turning the air conditioning system on high in an apparent hope to push all germs out of the vehicle. The most common reaction was to scramble to locate hand sanitizer in a purse, glove box or center console out of a desire to disinfect hands after the valet had touched the steering wheel, seat and door handles. This left me reflecting on the definition of Hospitality that I learned so many years ago, “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” By listening to your customers, leveraging your experience team, and innovating with technology, Fine Dining restaurants can modernize their experience to meet the evolving expectations of guests while building resilience for the long run.
Learn more about our new E-book: Building Resilience for the Long Run.