Do you have a secret to hide?



Some say secrets aren’t worth having unless they’re shared. As one of our core human needs, we all thirst for variety. Somewhere in our life, to experience a sense of fulfillment, we need doses of uncertainty – to sit on the edge of discovery – and dive in.

When we put this idea into action, we can design a trainable, repeatable and dependable restaurant experience. From the ground up, we build repeat business over time, and create new business through word-of-mouth power.

Here’s five easy steps to turn secrets into success:

Step 1: Create an Opportunity

Great restaurants are run by talented people that adapt naturally to multiple circumstances at any given moment. But no matter how good their talent may be, a unified guest experience requires an effective walk-in of ideas to choose from. It’s just like in the kitchen. You can have the greatest chef in the world, but if their walk-in is stocked with ingredients that don’t work together, getting something good on the plate will always be a struggle for the chef.

So what are we stocking our “experience walk-in” with? Left managed, it’s like everybody just brings what they have from their own cooler and cram what they feel is best onto the shelves with all the other pre-existing items.

Over time, variences in staff experience, backgrounds, personality types and general operating circumstances open up inconsistencies in the both guest experience and the overall mission of the restaurant. Nobody knows why some things are there, some think their way is the best way and don’t understand why there’s no buy-in, while others don’t even know where the walk-in is.

In just the same way, opportunity design is built into the restaurant. It’s no different than installing the walk-in. Everybody knows why it’s there and it would be silly to think a restaurant could operate without it.

But the walk-in doesn’t just show up or create itself out of need. It’s existence is the purposeful act of design, installation and maintenance. What we then choose to put into the walk-in is what defines the success potential of the restaurant from a food perspective.

How we offer our guests to experience our restaurant is no different that what we offer our guests to eat on their plate. Like a recipe, there a distinct process that is followed the same way every time which produces the same intended result.

When we have a well-defined recipe that everybody understands how to use, something as simple as a margarita becomes reliable and consistent. Do we expect our bartender to produce a famous margarita without a well-defined (and tested) process?

Also in the same way, when employing opportunity design, guest interaction becomes charged with purpose – and results. Our service team has a unified direction that leads to something more than “thanks for coming!” while (maybe) hoping the guest decides to return by chance.

When used with intent, interaction with each and every guest has the embeded potential to deliver a memorable experience on the fly. Part of this can be inherent to the restaurant itself (great view, location, etc), but even then, remains in raw form without the kind of interaction and authenticity only humans can deliver to one another. What’s important is everybody focuses on a unified outcome.

To do this, we design our secrets, or hidden “easter eggs” that lead to discovery, adventure and variety – and sales. Each of these secrets is a lure.

The trick is to create something of interest to the guest and hold it back until the right moment. Done right, this leads to natural “situations” which elicit a yes-weighted response from the guest.

Step 2: Begin the Conversations

Moving outward from situations we then have conversations. Not necessarily in the literal sense either. Because we’re in the sensory paradise of a restaurant’s dining room, we get to communicate with our guests through ALL of their senses.

For example, a server approaches the table shortly after the guests have been seated:

  • “Amy, our bartender, was experimenting with our margarita recipe and came up with this amazing salted rim. It’s the best margarita I’ve ever had! She’d love to know what you think.”

Take note that this is not a literal yes or no question (very important here). It’s a yes-weighted situation because no is not a natural response. We’re in a complete conversational environment, so the natural response would be along the lines of “I will” or “She will” or something of that effect.

If appropriate, the server could already have a small taste right on a tray in shot glasses and put them on the table. With the right timing and approach, we leap-frog over any asking or permissions. That is, our guests are lead to yes in thought and action without disrupting the flow of their experience.  The flow of their experience becomes enhanced. The plot thickens and becomes more interesting (not paused for narrative exposition).

What we want is the guest to say “yes” to the experience being offered. It’s this decision, a commitment to action, from the guest to enjoy an unexpected offer that moves the next steps forward.

Step 3: Establish the Relationship

It’s important to understand that we don’t just give stuff away. This is a business and there must be a return on any investment we make in building that business. So while the vehicle here (shot glass containing margarita) is secondary, it’s a form of investment, which contains real value, that must result in a return.  Gettting a yes from our guests as soon as possible places the restaurant in a leadership role. We establish we are an authority on what is fun and desireable. All the guest has to do is sit back and enjoy.

So saying yes to things, which are pleasant (and involve an unexpected turn), wires the response into the brain. This positive conditioning makes future decisions easier to respond “yes” to. Take a second to step back and realized we’re fast moving into a series of “asks” right now.

Taking our margarita example, for those guests that enjoyed a taste of a new cocktail recipe, this must not be the end of it. We’ve made an effort to make contact.

Now, during the course of the guest’s meal, the restaurant has created a framework of conversation that is beneficial to the guest, and easy for the server or anybody else that approaches the table.

As it’s good practice, and natural, for management to visit a table and see how things are going, let’s look at which is more personal and in the moment:

  • (common) Is everything ok?
  • (personalized) What did you think of Amy’s new take on the margarita?

In the first example, the manager isn’t actually asking about anything. It’s an obvious fish for issues, but problematically, is seeded in the expectation that there’s something wrong. Restaurant’s without designed experience suffer from this with a whole pattern of dialogue that not only leads nowhere, but isn’t effective in actually finding out what the guest really thinks. Why? Because the guest will always say “yes” – it’s the natural response. The problem is this form of a yes-weighted question backfires. Restaurants that approach customers like this are usually in trouble and they don’t know why. To get to the why, we have to go back to see what’s in the walk-in.

In the second example, the manager is not entirely asking about the beverage. It’s decoy to keep the conversation fresh, to reinforce a marketing campaign, and most importantly, fish for other information about the guest’s experience. Because this is not a yes-or-no weighted approach, the natural flow is to share an insight on the margarita (good or bad). What’s important is the response, the engagment. It doesn’t matter if they like the margarita. What matters is by sharing their opinion, they are saying yes to the restaurant experience being provided. This builds deep levels of trust, and the perception of great service. Like the branch of a tree, this perception branches out of Step 1.

Now what if the server just dropped off two shot glasses, said “here” and kept going? That’s not great service. It’s rushed and results in accidential sabatoge that makes all good intentions useless (maybe through no fault of his own, the server was triple sat and was in tough situation). What we don’t want is guests to keep their secrets from us. In the second example, we have a backup plan (built-in) to recover from the server’s inability to deliver the margarita as expected. When the guest asks what was that “shot glass thingy”, whoever is at the table now can fall back to the design and pick up, with consistency, where the ball was dropped.

This operational workflow with natural checks and balances ensures the relationship moves forward as designed.

Now assuming the guest’s response to the beverage opportunity was positive, we keep building momentum by offering something else of value, contained in another secret. So when it’s time to present the bill, what can we reveal next?

  • “By the way, we have an ebook with our award-winning recipes. They’re especially easy to make at home. Who’s the professional home bartender?”

In the check presenter is not a comment card, but an invite to receive the restaurant’s cool little ebook of easy-to-make-at-home cocktail recipes, which just so happens to have a few check boxes asking what the guest likes most (let’s say Rum, Vodka, Whiskey, Tequila, Gin), and lastly, a line or two for guest feedback.

So this next yes, we now have been able to get two email or two mobile phone numbers to add to our customer database.

It’s not enough to give away a taste of something. It’s not enough to get contact information.  In this day and age, there is no automatic restaurant. We must commit to following through, and win our guest’s business.

Step 4: Get the Return

Because of the design, preparation and training that’s gone into steps one through three, this step should be automatic.

  • We have customer with known interests (fan of specialty cocktails)
  • We have their contact information (name, email or mobile phone number)

In this scenario, we’d have a reference to the margarita (picking up where they left off), and bring something new and exciting to the guest’s attention where they would not want to miss out.

The first steps, or offers, were made inside the restaurant where powerful memory stimulators were alive and active: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

Through the journey of saying yes to an offer of tasting the cocktail, sharing thoughts with another party other than the original server, and saying yes to sharing contact information, a bond of trust and pleasure is getting created – as long as, of course, we’re always responding in kind with something of value that authentically enriches the guest in a personal way. If we ask, take and don’t give back fairly, then the relationship’s contract is broken.

Now, your marketing solution should be able to run regular campaigns to engage these guests and invite them back into the restaurant. A well-run kitchen works because it’s intelligently design has a process that looks like this – after it’s inital design:

  • ordering
  • receiving
  • storing
  • preparation
  • delivery

Similarly, a process must be in place that makes it easy to order (the ask), receive (the form), store (the repository), prepare (the message), and deliver (a new ask) when needed.

So what does this marketing experience look like for our margarita example?

Within five days of the example guest’s visit, they receive a text or an email that includes access to the promised ebook. But just like following up the taste of the beverage with an offer, or call to action, we keep going.

The call to action in the email or text to the guest must have two things:

  • Another offer of financial value
  • A time limit

The offer should be consistent with the experience we’re trying to build upon: in this example, it’s the restaurant’s beverage program.

The time limit creates a sense of urgency. It gives urgency to the your offer. Without urgency, there’s nothing to lose – and no need to take action.

With urgency, we appeal to another instinct: loss aversion (it’s better to not lose $5 than to find $5). Here, we’ve basically given our guest money in the form of complimentary drinks. But they’ll lose that money if they don’t act.

Back to the marketing messaage with the ebook. Let’s say the ebook request card had “Rum” checked. With the right repository system in place, we now have some strong targeted marketing to work with. The email or text gives something of value to the guest which in return inspires action:

  • “Can’t wait for warmer days? We’ve imported three new rums for our summer series cocktail menu. RSVP by [a deadline date and time] to get your spot with 2 complimentary rum specials!”

This call to action should be trackable for the restaurant. For the guest, make sure it’s instantly easy for them to take the requested action.

But don’t stop there. Keep giving the unexpected whereever possible.

When that ebook is opened to read it, they’ll expect some fun cocktail recipes. If it’s a PDF, put in a link to a promotion for another call to action. For the right concept, a printable coupon may be just the right touch. Why not include a bonus download that leads to more interesting things about the restaurant, the bartender, or other initiatives?

But keep going! Because the PDF is digital, point out that their friends and family can enjoy the restaurant’s recipes and the promotion, coupon, etc, so be sure to forward it to everybody they know. Give them a reason to market your restaurant for you in a way that benefits everybody with something of real value.

And keep going! Get some videos online with “Amy” making the same drinks in the ebook so guests can learn from her (and build your social network in the process). Keep exposing new and exciting secrets while encouraging other ways to enjoy the restaurant’s brand.

The key point here is to build from guiding principles rather than restrictive rules to deliver a level of authentically inspired unpredictability- and a chain of opportunity that results in real business.

Step 5: Win Guests for Life

What happened in Step 4 was a promise kept. When the guest was in the restaurant and a complimentary ebook was offered, a healthy new expectation was created.

When the ebook arrived and just so happened to include another interesting offer, the original expectation became exceeded.

And because there was something new added to the mix, a new expectation gets created (repeating Step 1). The end result? Another opportunity for the guest to enjoy another carefully crafted expectation.

This is how we can use secrets to generate repeat business.

But we’ve got to keep it going even further. That little beverage program card finding it’s way to the guests? What is it telling you? There’s an education the data is ready to share.

There is a whole other conversation your guests are having with the restaurant on an entirely different level. What’s their response rate? What’s the mix of spirit selections? Does anybody care? Does the majority favor Vodka, and not Rum or Tequila? Are you receiving more emails than mobile phone numbers? Are there more women’s names than men’s?

Here’s where we take the bigger picture of our efforts and adjust accordingly (back to Step 1).

Once this starts happening, and a few programs are practiced and put in place, the team will soon be able to go with the unscripted, do their own thing, and be the shine around the restaurant. Unlike fabrics, equipment, trends or competition, the shine of our people is timeless, doesn’t erode, and is the true source of discovery.

We want them to be agile enough to sense opportunity and play on it. Give a tour of the kitchen. Bring a complimentary taste of wine. Make sure the chef comes out and says hello. Take an interest in each guest’s lives. They’re all potential starting points that should lead somewhere specific.

By making our guests feel as if they’re on the inside of something special, the best secret to emerge will be the one everybody wants to talk about: your restaurant.

Next: Part 3 of 6 – Priority #1: Names. Not Numbers