There are obviously many differences between running an upscale restaurant and a small independent shop. But in reading Will Guidara’s Unreasonable Hospitality, I came to realize that there are also some important similarities in the way we need to approach customer service. There are definitely less expensive, quicker ways for diners to get a meal than in a four-star restaurant, and Amazon and other online sellers provide less expensive, quicker ways for our customers to get almost anything we sell. 

The difference is in the dining or shopping experience we create. Guidara emphasizes the fact that in order to succeed, we must establish systems to assure that every person patronizing our business will receive the same amazing treatment – or what he calls unreasonable levels of hospitality.

Restaurants do have a longer time in which to interact with their diners, from the phone call to make a reservation all the way through the presentation of the bill. It’s clear that at Eleven Madison Park, a lot of planning goes into having every moment be remarkable. As an example, instead of rushing patrons by bringing the check – or requiring them to flag down a waiter to ask for it – they present the check with an entire bottle of cognac. The message that accompanies it is “Please help yourself to has much as you like, with our compliments. And when you’re ready, your check is right here.”

This creates a unforgettable last impression, and makes sure that people don’t feel rushed. After a long, lavish meal it turns out that patrons rarely stay a drink a lot of cognac (although I’m sure a few do). The cost of this truly unexpected gesture of hospitality is undoubtedly factored into the cost, which today is $365 per person for the main dining room tasting menu, plus $100 for wine pairings.

Our interactions with our customers are much shorter, with fewer opportunities to amaze – and yet I found Unreasonable Hospitality inspiring.  Because when it comes down to it, we compete with online retailers by offering an experience, not just a transaction. What we do is important, and we want a visit to our store to be memorable.  

The book made me think about how we make shoppers feel welcome, the quality of the shopping experience we offer, and the specifics of the checkout process. I appreciate the emphasis that Guidara places on focusing on one guest at a time, being fully present and personable in every interaction. In addition, independent retailers should be constantly working to fine-tune procedures that make shopping easy, efficient and pleasurable. This would include everything from an incredible merchandise selection to a liberal return policy.

Great employees are of course essential for a high level of customer service, and to establish that this is a fundamental part of your culture. I’m a bit envious of the tradition of a “family meal” in restaurants, where the staff gathers to eat and chat before opening for dinner service (as in The Bear). We rarely get the chance to get all our employees together – certainly not daily. While we may have to be more creative in the ways to regularly update them on new products and talk about what makes our shop hospitable, that’s a goal we should all work towards.

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder