Putting Thought and Feeling into Restaurant Rituals

Restaurants must reflect on their marketing rituals. These rituals, whether it’s the staff singing “Happy Birthday”, being in costume or cooking on the table, can be a source for either pleasure or displeasure. This all depends on how they are done and for whom. According to Cele Otnes in a Newsfactor.com article, a poorly designed or executed ritual may “wind up annoying customers rather than making them loyal, repeat customers.”

Frequently, a disastrous ritual leaves a bad taste in a customer’s mouth and discourages them from returning. Otnes, a business professor and marketing expert, warns restaurants/retailers “not to institute rituals at all if they can’t make them sincere, meaningful and tailored to customer needs.” Surely, rituals help restaurants differentiate themselves, but if it seems too deliberate and too formulaic, customers will be disgusted.

Different customers don’t react the same way. Too often when wait staff become caught in repetitive behaviors or are overloaded with volume, they lose an opportunity to connect with customers by personalizing their service. Therefore, servers should take into consideration the clientele and their expectations. They should always ask “how much should I engage the customers?” Waiting on a couple on a date is an extremely different than serving a family. One way this can be accomplished is by having the wait staff observe the body language of their customers. No matter what, a marketing ritual must match the customer.

But for larger rituals, restaurants should adapt their rituals to customers, avoiding embarrassment and unwanted attention. What a restaurant in a tourist area does is not be the best for a place with a steady patrons. With large groups, the staff should inquire about the occasion and make the restaurants reaction fit the situation. Otnes recommends that rituals coincide with customer milestones. She also advises getting feedback from customers to determine if a ritual was successful or not.

Indeed the most powerful rituals, like writing on a check a personal note, are like giving a gift. If the ritual comes off as routine or is carried too far, it devalues the experience. There is no doubt that customers can distinguish between the sincere rituals and the fake ones, and often it’s the thing that completes or spoils their meal.