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March 7, 2011 By: Dr. Steven Austin Stovall Night Club and Bar Magazine


Understanding the Customer Perception Value of the First Five Feet of Your Establishment

Let’s say you’ve built a strong reputation with word-of-mouth buzz. You’ve also spent scarce marketing dollars on advertising and have one of the best-trained, enthusiastic staffs in town. In this industry, just getting customers to try a different place is the biggest battle of all, and you’re succeeding. But, once in the door, what are your customers’ first impressions? What do they see? What do they experience? What impacts them?

Most importantly, in the first five feet of your establishment, what kind of impression are you giving off?

That initial contact with customers is crucial in establishing their perceptions about your facility and the likelihood that they’ll return, because first impressions have a lasting impact on customers’ overall experience. Therefore, understanding and effectively utilizing your first five feet can go a long way in giving your customers a positive experience. Here are some tips for evaluating and improving your entryway.

Evaluating Your First Five Feet
Crowded BarThe best place to begin is to ask yourself how you currently use the first five feet, and how you would like to use it. There is no right or wrong answer. Depending upon the type of bar or nightclub, your clientele and the very nature of your business, you may have a different focus than any of your competitors. For example, one location may use the first five feet as an opportunity for merchandising — showcasing T-shirts, bar glasses and so forth. Yet another may have a hostess stand occupying this space. Again, there are many factors that can influence your use of this small piece of real estate.

The key, though, is in knowing precisely how you would prefer to use that space. Obviously the physical limitations of the bar layout may affect this, but you can still evaluate it in a way that is realistic while also enhancing your customers’ experiences.

If you have no idea or, worse, your first five feet can be described as chaotic at best, then it is certainly time to reconsider the best use of this space.

Visit other bars — and even other establishments such as restaurants, cafés and coffee houses — and see what seems to work well. What do you find appealing or what makes one stand out from another? Also, determine what you do not like. What strikes you as unkempt, cluttered or simply fails to draw you in? Questions like these will shape your direction for the first five feet of your venue.

Staff Meeting at the Front
As you know, everyone at your establishment is responsible for delivering outstanding service, but typically, associates think in terms of their own position within the organization. To help employees approach service with a “big picture” frame of mind, hold your next staff meeting at the very front of your place, starting with a simple question: “OK, this is what people see when they walk in — what do you see?” Have associates look around and describe their impressions. Is everything clean? If this was your first visit, is it easy to see where to go once inside? Is there too much clutter? Do you feel welcomed, or do you feel intimidated?

Involving your team in this assessment helps them realize how important front-of-the-house impressions are, and why everyone should stoop down and pick up a piece of trash on the floor when they see it.

Try to hold your staff meeting in this location about once per quarter and see how their descriptions of the first five feet change over time; chances are they’ll also begin to see ways to improve this area, making suggestions on how to enhance the overall impression because they realize how important it is.

Think Like a Mystery ShopFHRGper
No need to wait for the shopper report to see how your operation fares — put together a small team of associates and charge them with making their own assessment about the first five feet. Once a month, ask them to take off their bar employee hat and put on their customer hat. This is an especially good exercise for new associates, as those who have been with the organization for many years may simply be too close to the operation to make an objective judgment.

This in-house mystery shopping effort is, of course, not intended to “police” other associates, but rather to bring to light the first impressions that influence the entire business. Just as in our own homes, we may not readily see that the walls need a new coat of paint or that the light fixture is in desperate need of dusting; these in-house mystery shoppers should view the first five feet from this unique perspective.

Another way to assess the first five feet is to work with your team to develop a short questionnaire. This is also a good tool to use during new employee orientation. It helps them understand more about the operation and gives them insight into how customers view the bar.

If you currently use a third-party mystery shopping service, ask them to include on their shopper questionnaires an evaluation of the first five feet of your establishment. Most will do this at no additional cost.

Ask Your Customers
Of course, the absolutely best way to know how customers perceive your first five feet is to ask them. This can be done with surveys, but an even more effective way is with a focus group. A focus group is a gathering of seven to 12 customers that meet either during non-peak hours at your facility or at an off-site location, such as a conference room of a nearby hotel.

Randomly select a number of customers and invite them to your focus group. Once there, explain to them that you would like to gather their perceptions about your business. Begin with very general questions such as, “What are your overall impressions?” and work your way to more specific ones like, “What words immediately come to mind when you enter our establishment?”

Data collected in this manner is very valuable because it comes directly from your customers, who are often quite candid. Be sure to either video the session or have someone from your team take notes. You will need to compensate the participants for their time and input — typically in the $50 to $100 range, although it’s acceptable to provide them with coupons or even merchandise in lieu of monetary compensation.

Sensory Overload
One final point: Depending upon how you use the first five feet, you may be assaulting your customers’ senses in many different ways. Overpowering scents from cleaning supplies may be too much for some customers. If your smoking area is right at the entrance, this also may assail your patrons’ noses. Obviously, music is a vital component of your operation, but is it so loud at the entrance that it hurts your customers’ ears rather than providing an enticing welcoming? And a visually frenetic bar may cause sensory overload, as well.

As you determine how best to use your first five feet, think about what affect this may cause. By no means should you create a bland, quiet and neutral-smelling bar. Playing to your customers’ senses is one of the foundations of effective marketing. But there is a balance that must be struck in the initial interaction customers have with your bar’s space. Make sure that what they see, hear, smell, feel and sometimes even taste, is right on target.

Again, the first five feet is a critical moment for your operation. Your customers immediately form perceptions — both good and bad — so take a hard look at this important part of your business and work with your team to ensure that the first five feet gets as much attention as other vital areas of the facility. For your customers, these first impressions are more than just lip service for good customer service — it’s the first thing people see and the last thing they experience. Make it work to your advantage. Let’s say you’ve built a strong reputation with word-of-mouth buzz. You’ve also spent scarce marketing dollars on advertising and have one of the best-trained, enthusiastic staffs in town. In this industry, just getting customers to try a different place is the biggest battle of all, and you’re succeeding. But, once in the door, what are your customers’ first impressions? What do they see? What do they experience? What impacts them? 

Most importantly, in the first five feet of your establishment, what kind of impression are you giving off?

That initial contact with customers is crucial in establishing their perceptions about your facility and the likelihood that they’ll return, because first impressions have a lasting impact on customers’ overall experience. Therefore, understanding and effectively utilizing your first five feet can go a long way in giving your customers a positive experience. Here are some tips for evaluating and improving your entryway. NCB


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