Yesterday I had the privilege of eating at a great Melbourne restaurant – Maha.
The food was exceptional but what I came away from the meal with was…. well it was an ‘experience’ and not just a ‘meal’. A number of things went into the 3 hours that we dined at Maha that stood out and left me pondering what I could learn from the success of this restaurant and apply to my own business.
note: I’m not going to draw too many parallels to blogging specifically but rather will put the lessons out there and let people apply (or leave) them as they wish to their own situation.
Lesson #1: First Impressions and the Power of Contrast
Walking into Maha there was an immediate transformation that occurred that drew us into the experience.
Situated on a small and fairly ugly street filled with the back ends of buildings and car parks (I have to say I wasn’t expecting much of a place in this part of the city) – Maha’s fit out immediately created an impression that lasted for the rest of the afternoon (and beyond).
It was anything but like the street outside and was a luxurious yet tasteful version of a middle eastern dining room. Dark, cosy and inviting – in stark contrast to the bright, stark, surrounds of concrete outside.
Lessons: first impressions matter a lot and can create a lasting impression that sets up the experience someone has of what you’re doing. Unexpected contrast is also something that will grab people’s attention and make them take notice of what you’re doing.
Lesson #2: Simplified Dining
Sometimes dining in places like Maha can be an overwhelming experience for a guy like me. I’m no gourmet and being confronted with a menu filled with dishes that need translation and being overwhelmed with a wine list with so many options that I have no idea where to start isn’t my idea of a great way to start a meal.
Instead at Maha we were warmly greeted, seated and giving a very simple drinks menu (with an invitation for a more extensive one if we required it). The menu for the day was a banquet (chefs choice – although we could have some input if we had special needs) which I also appreciated. Conversation was not interrupted with choices of food and drinks and the overwhelming nature of those menus and wine lists were eliminated.
Lessons: choice is great but sometimes it can be overwhelming and simplicity can be appreciated.
Lesson #3: Engaging the Senses
Throughout the meal it was not just our taste buds that were stimulated. In the corner a three piece band played middle eastern music, outside was a court yard where people smoked shi sha pipes (creating sweet smell that drifted into the room) and at the end of the meal we were offered to have our hands rinsed in a little lemon cologne which engaged both our senses of smell but also touch.
The cologne also made a lasting impression – even as I fell asleep last night it lingered on and I was once again reminded of the experience of Maha.
Lesson: engage the senses and you transform something that can be quite one dimensional into something experiential.
Lesson #4: Unexpected Gifts
When it came time for the bill to be brought to the table the waitress also delivered three small white boxes (one for each couple) with some small pastries in them. They were a little take home gift to extend our visit.
These gifts served a several purposes including:
- something we didn’t ‘pay for’ – it is amazing what impression getting something for free makes (or course we DID pay for the gift as the pastries would not have cost much and our bill more than covered it). This perceived extra value and a gift will of course create a lasting impression, increase the chances of us returning and telling our friends about the experience.
- extending the experience – today as I ate a pastry (24 hours after dining at Maha) I’m still thinking about the meal.
Lesson: gifts (big and small) and extra value create an impression!
Lesson 5: Focus Upon the Positive
As we were about to leave our waitress stopped by the table. Instead of asking if everything was ok (often the way wait staff word this question) our waitress asked us what our favourite part of the meal was.
Couching the question by asking us for the best part of the meal was a pretty smart move as it shifted our minds away from parts we might not have enjoyed (not that there were any for me) and onto the best parts of the meal just as we were about to leave. We left pondering the good rather than what could have been better.
This also served as a great way for the staff to gather feedback on what was working – something that no doubt helps them to continue to improve what they do.
I also wonder whether asking this question set up some cues in our minds that might be repeated later as we discussed the meal with others. We’d already each said something good about the meal within seconds of completing it – perhaps that’d be what we’d say next time we spoke about the meal.
Lesson 6: Choreography/Process
As we drove home from Maha V and I both commented on how those behind the restaurant must have put some real thought into the experience that they offered those who dined with them. Having eaten in another of the restaurants owned by one of the owners we saw some patterns in some of what we’ve mentioned above.
Our experience didn’t just happen. Everything from the ways in which we were greeted, through to the small touches like the lemon cologne and complimentary pastries were intentional and planned steps in a choreography of a typical visit to Maha.
I’m certain that the process evolved over time but the experience was not left to chance – there was a clearly thought through process in place which ensured the best chances of a great experience for diners and a profitable business.
Best of all, the ‘choreography’ wasn’t obvious or intrusive in any way, it just naturally unfolded.
Lesson: great experiences don’t always just happen. A little thought can go a long way to helping people move through an experience in a positive way.
Which of these principles could you take and apply in your blog or online business?
Linguistic clues including talking about their experience in the past tense, to distance themselves from the situation, and speaking as group rather than an individual.
Dan Jurafsky, professor of linguistics and computer science at Stanford University said: “We have been analysing the language to see what they tell us about people. We looked that the words people used in writing good and bad reviews.
“We thought they would talk about how bad the food was, that is was greasy but instead they used very specific language using the past tense rather than the present tense and talking about other people a lot as well as using lots of negative words like ‘awful’ and ‘terrible’.
“It turns out that there is previous scientific literature showing that these are the same characteristics used by people writing after they have been traumatised, such as people writing after 9/11 or students writing after a campus tragedy.
“So when they are writing about one star restaurant reviews they are reminiscing about a small trauma that happened to them.”
Prof Jurafsky said the research showed that most people gave bad reviews because of treatment by staff rather than the quality of the food.
“If you look at the reviews, sure enough it was all ‘someone was mean to me’, the waiter or waitress was rude. It’s all about personal interactions,” added Prof Jurafsky.
“You would think the review would be about the food but it’s actually all about this interaction. People feel injured and want to write about it.”
However the study also reveals how language changes for good reviews.
When diners enjoyed their meal in an upmarket restaurant their words become effusive and largely sexual describing dishes as ‘orgasmic’ ‘seductive’ and ‘naughty.’
But customers writing about the delights of cheaper eateries tend to talk about ‘cravings’ or addictions, as if they were unable to resist the fare.
The study also looked at how cheaper and more expensive restaurants listed food in their menus and found that cheaper eateries highlighted the choice of dishes, while more upmarket establishments highlighted exclusivity.
“It’s much more like the theatre where you expect the chef to create something for you,” added Prof Jurafsky.
“The cheaper the restaurant the more choice you would have.”
Upmarket establishments were also likely to use longer words to decisive their dishes. On average, for every extra letter in a menu item, the price would rise by around 10p, it was found.
The research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in San Jose, California.