To most, first impressions are unquestionably important. They’re so imperative that scientists, psychologists, and even the mainstream media repeatedly communicate their significance. After a short time of interaction, each party will draw a certain conclusion about the other. According to experts, these conclusions can be difficult, if not impossible, to change. The same phenomenon occurs when a customer has initial contact with a restaurant or bar — and knowing what a customer is looking for allows a server or bartender to deliver an exceptionally satisfying guest experience.
Why are first impressions so important and lasting, and how come they can be so hard to reverse? The answer lies in the phenomenon known by psychologists as the primary effect. In essence, the primary effect assumes that information gathered at the beginning of any encounter is the easiest to recall and therefore has greater influence on overall impression. For example, a bartender can spend all night engaging a customer and making her drinks, but if she encountered a rude doorman or inattentive host upon her arrival, the bartender’s efforts are unlikely to alter her overall impression of the establishment. To some, this doesn’t seem to make sense because the core products and services she came in to consume were delivered with great skill and to great effect. But it’s correct – she might not be happy.
In such a case, the solution could center around engaging in some form of service recovery – providing some appropriate combination of apologies and product to make up for the failure. That is probably best in the short term. In the long term, the best course of action is to fix the problem with the initial encounter. Here’s how:
Start with the Guest Experience
The success of any experience is determined by the guest and consists of three components – product, setting, and delivery. Product refers to the package of goods and services you offer. The setting is the space in which these goods and services are experienced. Delivery refers to the way the service package is given to the guest. In order to ensure a positive guest experience, it’s important that excellence is maintained through all of these components. Even more important is the guest’s initial connection to each of these components. If the initial connection is positive, the experience is likely to be, too.
Anticipate What Your Guest is Expecting
If a customer is new to your establishment and doesn’t yet have an impression, he or she is probably looking for these five things:
1. A pleasant and immediate initial greeting.
If they have chosen to dine in your restaurant, they need to be a priority because they have decided not to give their business to a competitor. Therefore, they expect the staff to be appreciative. A friendly greeting and prompt service will ensure a happy customer.
2. An attractive, appropriate, and clean environment.
A loud and chaotic place is great if you’re that kind of person. Peanuts on the floor are great too if that’s what you like — but a dirty bar covered with empty glasses is unacceptable to everyone. Make sure your establishment is clean and presentable.
3. Reasonable wait times.
Wait times directly impact a guest’s experience. No matter what, hosts or managers should always promise a longer wait than they expect to deliver. A five-minute wait time that turns into ten minutes can easily result in a negative first impression. A fifteen-minute wait time that turns out to actually only be ten minutes exceeds expectation and results in a positive impression.
4. An engaged waiting area.
The manner in which a customer waits for their table can impact their impression too. Keeping customers busy while they wait can make the time feel shorter to them. This is especially true for children. Televisions, as well as other media, can accomplish this trick.
5. Fair and equitable service.
As a host or hostess, you must pay particular attention to the order in which customers arrive at your restaurant or bar. To make things fair, serve them in that order. Patrons love to receive special treatment but hate it when others get it at their expense.
Don’t Forget the Final Impression
In my opinion, the beginning, middle, and end of a service encounter are all equally important, though some experts will argue that final impressions are more critical. Really, every stage has a significant impact on the guest’s overall satisfaction. In my experience, sometimes servers overlook the final impression because there is a disconnect between what we think our job is and what our customers think it is. As servers, we focus on delivering the most challenging part of the equation – the middle. Taking orders, making drinks, delivering food and beverage, and being fast and accurate all require significant skill and effort, so this is where we focus. As we do this, we might ignore new customers or customers looking to cash out a tab in favor of mixing a large order of cocktails for a table in the dining room. Though it seems counterintuitive, waiting a few seconds to make those drinks to say “hello” or “goodbye” and “thank you” to your guests is the best way solidify their final impression and deliver the level of service they were craving.
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