Creating a Culture of Hospitality

This past weekend as part of the 25th anniversary of the American Express Trade Program at the Aspen Food & Wine classic, industry experts discussed a very important topic: customer loyalty. Chef Tom Colicchio (Craft, Colicchio & Sons), Sean Brock (Husk, Charleston), Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat, Chicago) and Mitzi Gaskins (Marriott) led a seminar discussion on how chefs and operators can create a culture of hospitality and loyalty.

Colicchio stated that it all comes down to the servers; they have two main jobs: 1) make the customers happy, and 2) create regulars. The goal for the servers is to really become friends with the diners and get to know them so that it really becomes a personal experience. It is important to have the servers make those little extra steps that go beyond the eat-then-pay transaction. The chefs mentioned that they use computer programs (such as OpenTable) to track their guest information. Servers can make notes of the guests’ personal preferences (sparkling water vs regular, etc.) and input it into the computer at the end of service. They then analyze this collection of data to connect more with the customer. Recognition is absolutely key in fostering customer loyalty; as a diner it is the best feeling to enter an establishment and have the staff remember your name and dining preferences.

Gaskins also stressed upon the importance of attracting the right talent. The recruiting process should never be taken lightly. It is important that the staff you keep truly fits the profile created by your brand. It is then equally important have appropriate training systems and provide the staff with the tools necessary to make the guests happy. Colicchio makes an excellent point which is that in order to create brand loyalty among your customers, your staff has to be loyal to your brand; it all begins in-house. Both Colicchio and Gaskins spoke about how a little positive reinforcement can go a long way, and how stories of hospitality successes will spread amongst the staff.

Social media is also a relatively new and important way to connect with fans and customers. Operators should research what works for them and what doesn’t. It is important to keep the customer engaged and incentivize them to come back to your restaurant without flooding their twitter feed or email inboxes. For instance, Izard mentions that perhaps it is smart to run quarterly specials vs running specials every few days. Izard also spoke of the importance of building relationships with customers in the community. She recommends engaging with the community through charitable events and choosing organizations that you are proud to be a part of.

To watch the seminar on the evolution of customer loyalty click here


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