Normally I’m pleased when I’m out in public and I come upon a brand experience that confirms some of my passionate beliefs about how business should be conducted. Even when it’s a negative example, I customarily look upon it as an opportunity to share that experience without using the name of the business. I use these stories to educate other business owners through my content and presentations, not to disparage organizations. Recently I was reminded of one particular example when I drove by a restaurant that has gone out of business and has been shuttered for some time now.
This was an establishment my wife and I had frequented quite often in the past. We had come to know many of the professionals that worked there. This restaurant in particular became one of our favorites based upon the unique experience it offered on a consistent basis.
This branded experience was comprised of excellent standards of food, service, and atmosphere. These particular requirements were set very high by the general manager. As I have detailed before in Service Standards: The Key to Branding the Experience, when standards are implemented consistently they can provide a unique experience to that of the competition. This was certainly the case at this establishment as a few of the standards we enjoyed were being escorted to our seat even if we were simply sitting at the bar, the timely delivery of high quality food, and the response from every employee of “My pleasure” upon the customer stating “Thank you.”
After a short hiatus from this restaurant, primarily due to business travel, I returned to have lunch. This particular visit took place about a year before the business closed for good. Upon arriving, one of the employees I had known for years came by and greeted me. Following a quick hug and pleasantries she informed me that the general manager was no longer there. While it was a surprise it wasn’t an immediate concern. After all, most of the employees I had come to know were still the same. My lunch experience seemed on par with the standards I had come to enjoy at this restaurant in the past with one exception: I said “Thank you” once and it was met with a “You’re welcome.” Uh oh! The standards are already slipping I thought. Some reading this may think I am being nit-picky. However, those who have led effective service-based businesses, especially successful restaurant owners, know exactly what I am talking about.
A few days later I returned with my wife for our customary glass of wine and appetizers after work that we had come to enjoy so much at this establishment. It was then that my fears concerning our experience, or lack thereof, were realized. Upon walking to the door it was opened for us and we were greeted as always but no one escorted us to the lounge. Not a big deal to us but a noticeable difference. We could feel that despite the same staff it wasn’t the same atmosphere.
We ordered one of our usual combinations, sliders and a bowl of French onion soup to share. Normally it seemed we would be served this dish within minutes. The sliders were always big and juicy coupled with a tasty blue cheese sauce. The soup was always a delicious hot broth that was comforting.
After waiting what seemed three times as long as usual, one of our favorite bartenders yelled out to the staff to check on our food. It came a few minutes later…cold. The meat on the sliders, while still tasty, was about the size of a quarter covered in sauce that was almost non-existent. The soup was clearly different and not for the better. We used to receive a clear tasty broth. Now we had something that seemed creamy. While not terrible, it certainly wasn’t what we had come to expect.
As the staff cleared our plates we said “Thank you.” It wasn’t met with a “My pleasure.” We could see our bartender was not herself either. She was clearly stressed by the lack of standards. Even her standards uncharacteristically slipped as what seemed like over 30 dirty glasses piled up on top of the dishwasher in clear view of the patrons. I later learned that it was communicated to the staff that they would no longer be required to say “My pleasure” in an attempt to create a more fun environment for everyone. Something other than “Uh oh” came to mind with the “oh” being first.
One of my comments to my wife after this experience was very telling to the nature of branding. I stated, “Next time I have to take you to this other place down the street.” I said this without thinking much about it at first but it later reminded me how quickly a brand can fade. I had enjoyed this establishment for years and this single experience made me almost unconsciously want to switch to a competitor — a competitor that provided an experience that formerly was just one notch below but now seemed much better!