How to Keep Customers Coming Back

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To create raving fans out of your customers and eliminate the chance for dissatisfaction, the trick is to trigger some sort of emotion that will make you stand out in their long-term memory.

In my early years in the business, I had a big enough ego to believe that I could invoke an emotional response simply through my amazing food. This is not uncommon amongst us chefs. We imagine our guests closing their eyes so they can focus their senses while enjoying the first bite of our amazing creation. We imagine them truly experiencing joy while they turn satisfying their hunger into a true dining experience to be remembered.

That was my goal. Although a worthy one, it is a lofty goal.

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I had a revelation after interviewing a number of prospective employees. My revelation came from an interview question about a food memory. I wanted my staff to love and respect food, so I was looking for candidates who shared my passion for great cuisine. I was searching for an answer about great restaurant experiences where the chef was particularly brilliant that day and truly impressed them.

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But a different pattern began to emerge. Food memories had little to do with amazing food. Instead, I heard about a hot dog at the ballpark with their father, picking blackberries in their uncle’s backyard, and their grandma’s apple pie at every Thanksgiving. Their food memories came from people and moments in their lives that were significant, like a honeymoon or their favorite vacation.

I came to the conclusion that truly great experiences in my restaurant didn’t come from my staff or me, but from creating an environment where my guests could enjoy each other.

If our goal becomes keeping our guests engaged in one another no matter the context of their visit, then how much more important are the basics than we first realized? When guests walk in, they need to be greeted promptly so they aren’t distracted by where to sit or if they should seat themselves. If their iced tea stays full, they focus on their companions. If the soupspoon arrives with the soup, they stay engaged with their fellow guests. Their attention stays on the experience when their medium-rare steak arrives just as they ordered it.

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If long-term memories are to be created through emotion, don’t let your ego tell you that you can do it through your one-of-a-kind cocktails, unique bar food, or great server personalities. Instead, provide an environment that lets family and friends stay focused on one another so they can create their own emotional experiences.

Fred Langley is the director of operations and restaurant coach for As a former chef and restaurant owner, Fred found a new passion in helping other restaurant owners find success with systems and focuses on it full time. Attend his special session at the 2019 Nightclub & Show on March 25, “Critical Systems to Lead Your Bar & Restaurant to Success.”

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