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Making sense (all five of them) of merchandising Ron Ruggless

Making sense (all five of them) of merchandising

How little details can make or break the customer experience

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Sometimes we get so blinded by the minutiae of restaurants — the latest quarter of same-store sales or the most recent unit growth statistics — that we lose sight of the big picture: The industry is a multi-sensory one.

Aaron Noveshen, who created the four-unit Starbird Chicken in the Bay Area and is the founder of San Francisco-based consultancy The Culinary Edge, recently gave a presentation on “The Five Senses of Merchandising” at the recent RestaurantSpaces retreat and reminded me the romance that still lingers in the business.

“Think about merchandising as a summation of the elements that communicate your expertise as a brand to your guests,” said Noveshen. “It’s about how you tell your story through all of the senses.”

In these days of delivery and takeout, it’s worth remembering what gets guests off their couches.

That, Noveshen said, is the “anticipation of an experience the second they walk into the door.”

He provided a little refresher on the five senses of smell, sound, sight, touch and taste and some examples of how they help operators today:

Smell: Samovar Tea and Chai in San Francisco has copper kettles that sit next to the order area and draw customers into the experience with hibiscus, mint or other scents. And he warned: Rethink things like roasting broccoli; put it at the last thing of day. “Think about what your guests want to and don’t want to smell,” he added.

Sound: “The energy of sound is so incredible in telling your story,” Noveshen said, noting that the grinding of shaved ice can tell the story of the product or live DJ music can hone the modern beer hall vibe, as at Wurstküche Restaurant in the arts district of Los Angeles. He also mentioned that Yard House, the division of Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc., has put its well-curated in-store playlist on Spotify to broadcast the experience to a wider audience.

Sight: “This seems to be the most obvious for merchandising,” Noveshen said, citing the Starbucks Corp. immersive Roastery offshoot. “This is how Starbucks can communicate its expertise. … It’s the Willy Wonka of coffee experiences.” He said any operation can engage guests in active merchandising, even down to small elements like fresh lemons on the bar to be used in drinks.

Touch: Pret a Manger understands is “the guest’s journey and the way they want to control and touch and bring the meal together for themselves,” Noveshen said, adding that the brand is doing an all-vegetarian version in London.

Taste: Samples are powerful, Noveshen said. South San Francisco, Calif.-based See’s Candy Shops Inc., founded in 1921, still gives a free sample to every single person who walks in the door. And modern supper clubs are bringing cannabis sampling into the mix.

Overall, he said, “Don’t let the experience be left to chance. Invest in some drama. Put yourself in the shoes of the guest.”

And in the end, Noveshen said: “Finally, don’t be afraid to have some fun.”

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

TAGS: Operations
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