THE EXPERIENCE ECONOMY

Collaboration and Community Integration

Collaboration and community integration need to be a key component of the experience delivered. I recommend you explore ways of being “more than just a restaurant”. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, we are not in the business of selling food, nor services, we are in the business of delivering experiences. You see this happening with various artists and brands across multiple industries. 

Collaboration 

What if you:

  • Have your own line of furniture commissioned
  • Give people the opportunity to buy your customised hand-crafted tableware
  • See yourself as an art gallery that serves food
  • Become a training and education centre 
  • Take part in a street meal offer and your restaurant provides the dessert while other operators serve other parts of the meal 

You can approach this in the form of co-branding commercial opportunities or collaborations with individuals and brands that will add value to the overall customer experience. Artists, craftspeople, makers, restaurant brands, chefs, musicians, technology brands, the list of potential collaborators is endless. Not all collaborations need to be strictly commercial. 

You can assess these collaborations based on:

  • The audience they attract 
  • The value they bring to your customer base
  • Emotional connection this will deliver to your customers 
  • Story alignment they have with your brand

Collaborate rather than compete. Look at your industry peers as potential strategic partners not as competitors. Explore opportunities to form strategic alliances in order to spread overhead costs and reap the benefits of efficiencies.

Community Integration

Stay local and focus on your direct community (neighbourhood) while exploring these opportunities. This also falls in-line with the Neighbourhood Strategy I outline in the Restaurant Business Model articles. Here are some key relevant points I mention in that article:

  • Create a closer-knit relationship and turn customers into guests
  • Friendliness, familiarity, loyalty, are all built by connecting with and serving your neighbourhood
  • This approach will allow you to build a community of loyal fans and friends
  • Engage and be part of your neighbourhood and community, do not only carry out business there
  • Get involved with community events and initiatives
  • Host, collaborate, contribute, and give back as much as you take

Sustainability, Ethics & Values

There is a lot of content out there with various principles such as triple bottom line (a framework that considers People, Profits, and Planet) to put and prioritise non-monetary values in the forefront. A closed loop Business Model can be part of the story you tell and experience you deliver to your customers. This is where value is being assigned today and part of what defines new “luxury”. 

These principles should not be used merely as a marketing gimmick. It ties back to the authenticity point mentioned above. Do not go down this path just because it is currently trendy, do it because it is the right thing to do.

This approach will not stand in the way of your profit making. In the long run, you will end up reaping the financial rewards of being good to others around (your team and community), the environment, and your industry. As I mention in my previous articles, “let us not forget that a restaurant is a social business”.

Art & Craft

Bring back the art to culinary arts. Let it make its way into your food, interiors, tableware, and as many customer touchpoints as possible (where appropriate). Do not underestimate the value of arts and crafts and the synergies you can explore along with the unique and memorable experiences you can deliver to your customers through these avenues. This aligns with evoking feelings and memories mentioned above. Of course, you need to make sure what you select is aligned with the brand story you are telling. 

Attention to Details 

Small things matter. They are what most people end up remembering from an experience. Do not underestimate the importance of the small details that make up the overall experience and reinforce your brand story. These can be tangibles and non-tangibles. Anything from employee gestures when you place bookings and call backs to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) initiatives of phone calls and messages on special occasions. This can also be small stools to place bags on, tableware novelty, and witty internal signage. 

The Value Proposition

It is crucial to understand your customers and what they assign value to. All what I outlined above boils down to this. Getting a full grasp on this notion will free you from the chains of price wars and the need to enter them. 

The experience you deliver defines your value proposition. Whether your customers pay $3, $5, or $100 for your cup of coffee depends on the value they assign to the experience you are providing them with. 

The Story of the $100 Watermelon Cake

This example demonstrates the importance of knowing your customers. Not just their demographic composition, you need to really “get them, and what makes them tick”.

Having an understanding of who they really are will enable you to provide offers they assign value to, which, makes the primary decision-making process no longer price driven. Case in point is watermelon cake. 

We recently celebrated my brother’s birthday. A bit of background first. The brother whose birthday it was is a marketer who is deep into all that is “current”, pop culture, the world of fitness and wellbeing, fashion, and the peer tribe of “socialites” in his city. My other brother sits on the opposite side of the spectrum. A DIY fanatic who farms chillies in his apartment, builds everything from greenhouses to gymnastics apparatus for his kids and dreams of owning his own farm one day. Both have similar demographics. 

The evidence was clear the minute the cake came out. One brother thought it was the most special cake he has ever seen, the other brother could not stop laughing on how ridiculous the idea was. What was the cake? It was a carved watermelon, decorated with cranberries, strawberries, and melon balls. The “cake” came in a fancy box and had the height and volume of a three tiered wedding cake. 

Was it a cake, or an overpriced fruit platter? The answer is a matter of perception. It all depends on who you are and what you assign value to. 

The point I am trying to make here is not whether the watermelon cake is a good idea. Nor whether it is a gimmick, fad, or trend. The point is that if you know who your customers are, and what makes them tick, then you compete on value proposition, not price. 

Understand your Positioning 

To deliver a value proposition that meets your customer expectations you need to know and fully grasp your position in the market. I use a couple of simple frameworks: 

  • The category of restaurant 
  • Convenience versus experience metric
Restaurant Categories food business design

While there might be various other subcategories of restaurants, I loosely use the following five. 

  • Quick Service
  • Fast Casual 
  • Café 
  • Smart Casual 
  • Fine Dining

The Customer Journey

Let us break down the customer journey to get a better idea on how to curate the experience delivered during every stage of interaction. 

  • Pre: The Search and Find Stage
  • During: The Consumption Stage
  • Post: After Service Experience Stage
Customer Journey food business design

Explore ways to deliver your brand experience before and after customers “consume” your offer. This can be reinforced through an integrated digital, content, and marketing strategy. Traditionally, most of the focus is on the “During” stage. The more you focus on the entire Customer Journey, the more value you can extract from customers and increase their lifetime value. Doing so will also reduce your new customer acquisition costs. You will achieve this both from word of mouth / referrals and by traffic generated through your online presence and content. If your digital content is developed in a way to reflect the Experience Building Blocks mentioned in this article, then you maximise meaningful engagement with your online audience. 

Your focus during the “Post” stage should be directed towards retaining customers, turning them into loyal guests, then into fans. They will then promote and advocate your brand within their social circles. The best type of “influencers” are your customers who turn into fans. 

Turning Experience into Profits 

How does all this translate to competitive advantage and a more robust business proposition? Simply put, deliver a superior experience to your customers, within your category and price range. This translates to a higher value proposition delivered. In other words, your customers feel they are “getting more bang for their buck”. 

Positioning Chart food business design

Push your business to the right of this graph. Deliver a more memorable and engaging experience, while remaining within the same price bracket of your competition. This will translate to a higher value proposition to the customer. 

The “traditional” view on guest experience in our industry focuses on the “During” stage of the customer journey with a focus on “in-house” dining. A critical aspect for today’s environment is to transport these elements to the “eat a home / delivery” experience. The risk of the current market conditions and the pressure on owners and operators to steer their businesses online is that most are selling their offers as goods. 

Owners/operators need to consider how to deliver experiences to their digital customers. Elements such as design and ambience should be replaced with packaging design to be both engaging and functional while conveying the brand message and story. The “anticipate” aspect of the hospitality experience should be adopted if customers are dining in their office, home, alone or with friends tailoring the way you deliver the food accordingly.

What you can take away from this

Be in the business of loves not likes and align your strategy and actions accordingly. Make customers fall in love with your brand by delivering truly memorable experiences. In today’s world, you need to be more than “just a restaurant”. 

It is essential to fully grasp we are in the hospitality experience business. It is the key to understanding how you price yourself, the value proposition you provide your customers, and how you can sustain a competitive advantage in a saturated market. By competing on experience and value proposition, you free yourself from the threat of falling into price wars that have the potential of vaporising your profits. 

Today’s consumer sentiments, behaviours, and expectations have shifted and are constantly evolving. The first half of the Experience Economy is knowing who your customers are and what they value. Once you have a full grasp on that, and have a clear idea on your positioning, you can then create a tailored experience that ticks their boxes. Your aim is to turn experiences into memories which lead to loyalty and repeat visitation / brand interaction. 

Pay attention on getting the hospitality basics right.  They form the traditional building blocks of the experience delivered to your customers, hold a lot of value, and are extremely important. It is also vital that owners/operators acknowledge today’s criteria and expand their story and offering to include the points mentioned in this article.

Pay as much attention to the “Pre” and “Post” stages of the customer journey as you do to the “During”. 

The next question to explore in further depth is how to translate all this to the ever-growing important online presence, e-commerce, and customer experience delivered digitally. 


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LINKS TO OTHER RELATED ARTICLES 

If your enjoyed this article and found it useful then I would recommend you check out the following : 

THE BUSINESS OF FOOD What it takes to turn your food passion into a successful business 

RESTAURANT DESIGN GUIDE What it takes to design a successful business not only a beautiful space

RESTAURANT DESIGN BRIEF How to nail a restaurant Design Brief that merges the Art and Science of the business

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