Dec. 17, 2014

Strike a Big Impact with Small Touches

by Heather Lalley

Think repeat business only depends on top-notch service and stellar food? Think again. To keep your customers coming back—along with their friends—you need to stand out in the crowded restaurant space.

That means offering your guests an amenity to remember your operation, whether it’s an amuse bouche, branded small-batch chocolates or high-end toiletries in the restrooms.

Often, these small touches don’t cost much. But the return on investment is high.

Make a first impression

Bread baskets are the hallmark of hospitality so why not add a personal touch? At Urban Farmer in Portland, Oregon, brunch diners receive free warm zucchini bread baked in a can, topped tableside with grated local chocolate. For the dinner service, guests are treated to housemade cornbread baked in the same cans. This extra touch costs about $1.50 per guest, says Chef Matt Christianson.

“It’s a cost that is definitely worth it to demonstrate to our guests how important it is to us that their dinner is a memorable one,” Christianson says.

Build your brand

Diners at Brooklyn, New York, Mediterranean restaurant Olea look forward to the small, individually wrapped Astor dark chocolates to end their meals. Each chocolate is branded with the restaurant’s logo—a huge step up from generic striped peppermints.

The restaurant gives away about 400 Astor chocolates daily, manager Yookwon Chung says. The thank you gesture costs about $100 per week, which is “worth it,” he says.

Stock up on dope soaps

Other properties make a statement through luxury toiletries in the restroom. Minnesota steakhouse Pittsburgh Blue builds its manly vibe by offering cologne and other “old school” toiletries in its men’s rooms.

The restaurants in Chicago’s One Off Hospitality Group, including Avec, Blackbird and The Publican, carry high-end Malin+Goetz hand soap and lotion. “We want our guests to leave happy, full and all-in-all cared for,” One Off spokeswoman Jenna Liberman says.

Presentation is key

The mileage you get out of these amenities, though, depends greatly on server training, restaurant consultant Christopher Wells says.

You can drop some truffles on a table with the bill and walk away. Or, a server can talk up these special, house-made chocolates featuring seasonal flavors.

“It’s great to do them but you don’t want it to get mechanical,” he says. “If it becomes mechanical, you’re diluting the power of the investment..”

Does your restaurant offer one-of-a-kind amenities? Show them off on Facebook.

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