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From Commodity to Destination - Creating A Memorable Restaurant Experience

August 10, 2022

Great tasting food is only one part of the overall restaurant experience. With the market becoming highly competitive and changing consumer behaviors – is this enough? The criteria for a good experience goes beyond just good food.  

With an abundance of hospitality businesses, standing out and attracting customers is becoming increasingly more difficult.  

The pandemic has completely changed the consumption and spending habits of consumers, with one-third of consumers now using a restaurant or meal delivery service.

Consumers are seeking better experiences when dining out, and with the rise of the experience economy, this means that restaurants must consistently deliver a dining experience that goes beyond expectations and taste.

Whether you are opening a new restaurant or already well established, understanding how to get customers through the door and returning again is imperative for a thriving business. There are several strategies that can help business owners in creating the ultimate customer experience.

Depending on the type of restaurant the customer experience will be different, however, the foundation of a great experience remains the same.

Key Focus Areas

Customers:

Know whom you are talking to – Have a clear understanding of who your customers are, their wants, needs, and pain points. The more you understand about your customers and what they want, the better you can serve them and keep them coming back for more.

Brand:

Create a brand that connects with your target audience and attracts customers to your restaurant. How you look, sound and feel should align with who you are as a brand. Have a clear differentiation that sets your restaurant apart from your competitors.

Interior:

The interior space is the first thing your customer notices when walking through the door. A well-designed interior has the ability to impact customers' perception of your brand, the level of service they can expect, and what kind of experience they will have. Set the scene with the use of colour, lighting, seating, and acoustics. The way a restaurant looks and feels also impacts customer psychology, whether it's encouraging them to order more and stay for longer or eat fast and leave in a shorter time frame.

Digital:

Having a strong online presence is becoming increasingly important for businesses to stay ahead. Make it easy for customers to hear about you, find you, and connect. Many people browse websites, make bookings and look at the menu before choosing a restaurant, and this is often one of the first places customers will interact with your brand.  

Your brand is more than what meets the eye

Branding goes deeper than the logo and how it looks. Building a brand that connects with customers on a deeper level requires a clear understanding of who they are, their wants, and needs. Customers need to know if your restaurant will serve their needs. Would you expect the same service from a fast-casual restaurant as you would from a fine dining restaurant?

Your brand has a personality, it not only looks a certain way but speaks and acts a certain way, which impacts the way customers perceive your brand. Look at your brand as if it were a person, how do they sound and act? What are their defining personality traits?

Tell your story and your unique point of view.

Do you only source local ingredients? Are you a sustainable restaurant? Make it easy for customers to know how you’re different from other places in the area. Customers are more likely to make a connection when they can relate to your point of view and values.

Get to know your competitors

Take a look at similar restaurants in the local area. A great way to see where you sit in the market, compared to competing businesses is to do an audit, identifying potential weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.

When observing your competition ask yourself these questions

  • What do they stand for as a brand, their mission, and values?
  • What do they look like? (Social Media, Interior, Menus, etc.)
  • How do they sound and interact with customers?
  • How do customers perceive their brand? (Check out reviews)
  • How can you fulfill their needs in a better and more innovative way?  
  • Are there specific things that your business can do that others can't?

Consider the customer journey  

  • What influences their decisions?
  • What do they care about?
  • What are their needs, wants, and challenges?
  • Where can you find them?

Each touchpoint contributes to the overall customer experience, there are many points where a customer will interact with your brand, and understanding what these are and how to make improvements can be a game changer.

Ask yourself these questions:
  • How do people find out about you?
  • How are you communicating with your customers?
  • When deciding on which restaurant to go to what do they consider and what information do they need to know? (Online Menu, Online booking service)
  • Are you easy to find?
  • Does your interior match your brand personality?

The role of Colour

Colour psychology plays a big role in branding as different colours evoke different emotions and encourage different actions subconsciously. For example, red is known to enhance appetite and is often associated with passion and energy. The opposite being blue which tends to suppress appetite, reducing hunger therefore it is considered an unappetizing colour.  

A brand is a physical or symbolic representation of your business

It's what customers connect with when they're deciding which brand to choose.

It's why certain people may choose Apple over Samsung, Coke over Pepsi, and McDonald's over Burger King.

Your restaurant's brand is built through customer touchpoints—in menus, signage, interiors, and how your staff interacts with customers.  A successful brand means more customers in the door, more brand trust, and higher sales for your restaurant.

The Interior Space

From the music that plays in the background, to the type of lighting and seating used — all these elements influence how your customers perceive their dining experience. For example, if you are an elegant restaurant serving high-quality cuisine, then the décor should be refined and sophisticated. On the other hand, if you have a more casual dining experience, then there is no need for an overbearing setting—just a comfortable one that fits the mood.

It's important that you focus on creating an atmosphere that is memorable and inviting

Key areas of influence

Spatial Design

Consider different types of seating areas from bar leaners to booth seats and loose seating, each setting creates a different experience. Seating placement can also have an impact, most people don’t want to be sitting right next to the toilets or out in the middle of the dining area. Using screens, partitions, and booth seating is a good way to divide up the restaurant and create a more intimate and comfortable feel. The flow of the restaurant is important not only for the customers but also for the staff, a well-designed layout can increase efficiency and productivity.

Colour & Lighting

Set the scene and define the mood with strategic use of colour and lighting. Ambient lighting such as pendants throughout creates the overall ambiance while accent lighting helps to draw attention to certain areas or features. Bright white task lighting is used more in the back-of-house areas. The colour of the light itself is an important consideration. Warm yellow lighting creates a more comfortable environment, especially when soft and dim and paired with deeper neutral tones. Bright white light is more common in fast food outlets alongside bright and bold colours to help encourage quick turnover.

Acoustics & Sound

Is the restaurant loud or is it to be softer and more intimate? You wouldn’t expect a fine dining restaurant to have loud pop music and a lack of acoustics making it difficult to hear what people are saying. You also wouldn’t expect a fast food outlet to be playing jazz or instrumental piano in an intimate setting. Acoustics are an important consideration, and depending on how long you want your customers to stick around you can use this to your advantage.  

When you're thinking about how to differentiate your restaurant's interior design from the competition, think about the experience of both visitors and staff.  

Branding has an important role to play as it sets the tone for everything that happens at your restaurant—from the menu to the décor and even the employees. When you have a strong brand, it gives you credibility and makes people feel confident about choosing your restaurant over others. With each new customer, brand loyalty is built and maintained. If the brand is not strong enough to keep them coming back, the restaurant will have a hard time turning that into long-term success.

There's a lot to think about when designing the interior of your restaurant. Not only do you have to consider the aesthetic, but you also want to make sure you're meeting customers' expectations. Customers want an enjoyable experience while dining out.

Here at Alt Studio, we are passionate about helping restaurant brands tell their story. We create compelling visual identities and interiors that help to communicate the unique characteristics of your business.

We believe that great design can make a difference in the way consumers experience a brand, but it's not just about aesthetics—it's about engaging with customers and providing them with an experience they will remember and come back for.

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