Higher Spend and Happier Diners - A Psychological Match

By Brian Mitchell Principal, Mitchell Performance Systems | March 16, 2014

Co-authored by Evan Mitchell, Senior Consultant, Mitchell Performance Systems

The fourth article in a series on improving revenue and profits from F&B

The French diplomat and gourmand Brillat-Savarin, author of the classic The Physiology of Taste (first published in 1825 and never out of print since), had this to say on dining – “around a single table (one may find) all the modifications which extreme sociability has introduced into our midst: love, friendship, business, speculation, influence… ambition, intrigue.”

It’s no different in our 21st century. Restaurant tables today come with the same array of psychological variables. The dining experience should never be seen to be about food only. This is a dangerous assumption. Customers bring a range of expectations to a dining setting – not all of them conscious – and as these emerge and develop they present opportunities for resourceful front of house staff to bring about that ideal combination of higher spend and happier diners.

Put simply, the essential goal of all dining staff should be to maximize the enjoyment of each customer’s dining experience. The fact that we so rarely see this in practice might be put down to poor supervision or inadequate training. But there’s another more subtle impediment: the belief that diners go to restaurants with the express intention of limiting their spending. This imagined budgetary barrier is a fallacy, the evidence indicates otherwise. Unfortunately it’s a fallacy that too many front of house staff find easy to accept. This automatically stunts their performance, by limiting the options they’re willing to present to a customer and the confidence with which they offer their recommendations. The end result is that everyone suffers – the establishment through lost revenue, the diner through lost potential enjoyment, and the staff member through a loss of professionalism in their own eyes and in the perception of the customer.

This last point, the customer’s perception, is the critical issue here. By second guessing the diner’s expectations, and putting a false and arbitrary limit on their capacity or willingness to spend, the staff member is dictating the level of enjoyment the establishment is prepared to make available to that customer. This is ignorant at best and an insult at worst, and either way, hardly an inducement for customers to come back.

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The driving force in current hotel spa trends is the effort to manage unprecedented levels of stress experienced by their clients. Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by demanding careers and technology overload, people are craving places where they can go to momentarily escape the rigors of their daily lives. As a result, spas are positioning themselves as oases of unplugged human connection, where mindfulness and contemplation activities are becoming increasingly important. One leading hotel spa offers their clients the option to experience their treatments in total silence - no music, no talking, and no advice from the therapist - just pure unadulterated silence. Another leading hotel spa is working with a reputable medical clinic to develop a “digital detox” initiative, in which clients will be encouraged to unplug from their devices and engage in mindfulness activities to alleviate the stresses of excessive technology use. Similarly, other spas are counseling clients to resist allowing technology to monopolize their lives, and to engage in meditation and gratitude exercises in its place. The goal is to provide clients with a warm, inviting and tranquil sanctuary from the outside world, in addition to also providing genuine solutions for better sleep, proper nutrition, stress management and natural self-care. To accomplish this, some spas are incorporating a variety of new approaches - cryotherapy, Himalayan salt therapy and ayurveda treatments are becoming increasingly popular. Other spas are growing their own herbs and performing their treatments in lush outdoor gardens. Some spa therapists are being trained to assess a client's individual movement patterns to determine the most beneficial treatment specifically for them. The July issue of the Hotel Business Review will report on these trends and developments and examine how some hotel spas are integrating them into their operations.