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Which restaurant would you go to next time?

By Mason Harris

This is a simple test. I’d like to say that there is no “right” or “wrong” answer, but if you are a restaurateur, you know better. The right answer makes a difference to your success. The wrong answer doesn’t make your food bad or your service providers indifferent. In fact, as you’ll see from my experience, your food and service can be very good – but you lose anyway.

Here’s my story. A couple of months back my company exhibited at the Colorado Restaurant Association’s WestEx: The Rocky Mountain Regional Food service & Restaurant Exposition. I dine out frequently; it’s part of my lifestyle. But I have no choice when I’m on the road, so then I eat out “better.” Why not? The company’s paying, so fine dining here I come! Steak, seafood, some wine – there’s no stopping me when I’m giving my all for the company.

My colleague Dan and I worked the trade show, and our first night we had an interview scheduled. The woman we were to meet chose the restaurant for our dinner meeting, Del Frisco’s. I’d never been to Del Frisco’s, although I have since learned that there are 6 locations in cities where I frequently travel. The specialty is steak; as a “low-carb” (okay, I cheat too much, make that a “lower carb”) kind of guy, it was ideal.

The restaurant made a fine impression on me; service and food were very good. It reminded me of another steak place I enjoy, Ruth’s Chris, because you had to be very careful not to touch the very hot entrée plate when it was brought out. The final tab, which included drinks at the bar before dinner (that’s how you really run up the tab!), totaled $223.78, or just under $75 a person. All in all, a good evening, and I had a positive first impression of Del Frisco’s.

The next night we ate at The Palm. I need to state up front that I am a member of their diner loyalty program. Three reasons: 1) I enjoy when restaurants reach out to me and express their desire to somehow reward me for my loyalty. 2) My business is focused on teaching restaurants how to market better, particularly the implementation of effective but low cost permission-based loyalty programs, and I like to see what the industry is doing. 3) I enjoy the food and service at The Palm.

As should be expected in a restaurant of this caliber, service and food were also very good. The bill totaled $135.90, or just about $ 68 a person. I attribute the lower cost to our not having a few drinks at the bar before sitting down for dinner.

So overall, I had two comparable experiences at two different restaurants. Both restaurants had very good food, prepared and presented well. They both provided very attentive service, and even the atmosphere seemed somewhat similar to me, although I’m sure each restaurant could point out numerous differences if I asked them. I could easily go back to either or both restaurants to dine again.

Now the test: I’ll be in the Denver area on business again, but for only one night this time. Which of these two restaurants should I visit? Think about your answer. Consider the implication of my choice – one restaurant will generate about $ 70 per person in revenue, with good gross margins and profitability. The other restaurant gets none of my business on this trip.

Oh – one important thing I neglected to mention. Three days after I returned home from Denver, while eating my burger (no bun) at home for dinner, I was opening my mail. Included in the day’s bills, magazines, coupon packs and other assorted junk mail, was a thank-you letter. It was from The Palm, signed by my waiter, and in it he expressed his appreciation for my dining visit and hoped to see me again. Now what was your answer again?

Mason Harris of Robin Technologies, Inc., offers the Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) endorsed YouGotMeals® permission-based email marketing program for restaurants. A frequent speaker on marketing and loyalty programs, Mason is also writing a book specifically for restaurant owners and managers. Feel free to share your questions, comments, and experiences related to restaurant marketing and diner loyalty with Mason via email at mharris@yougotmeals.com.

©Robin Technologies, Inc. 2004

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