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How an immersive customer experience helps you stand out from the competition

Restaurants of any kind can use their creativity to deliver something truly memorable to their patrons.

The foodservice industry is always one of the first to feel the effects of macro-level changes in the economy. It can be difficult to succeed in the business at the best of times, but these challenges are greatly exacerbated by situations such as the current economic downturn.

With inflation on the rise and the cost of living generally increasing, many consumers are becoming increasingly selective about where and when they go out. At the same time, supply chain and staffing issues have made it difficult for many restaurants to get back to business as usual.

For restaurants hoping to thrive in the difficult environment of the present, simply serving good food is not enough. To entice customers to come out to restaurants — and to keep returning after their first visit — restaurateurs need to think about the customer experience first and foremost. While an immersive customer experience is a concept we tend to associate with fine-dining establishments, restaurants of any kind can use their creativity to deliver something truly memorable to their patrons.

Prioritizing experience

The explosion of online ordering has caused some diners to opt for delivery services instead of the traditional night out. To tip the scales back toward in-person dining, restaurant owners need to think about what makes their establishments unique and work to create experiences that cannot be replicated any other way.

One effective way to elevate the dining experience is to design your menu, as well as the restaurant itself, around a central theme, whether that is a national cuisine, a type of dish, or even a concept. The theme should be clear, consistent, and flexible enough to offer patrons the excitement of variety without overwhelming them with choices. When it comes to food, what we see is just as important as what we taste, so creative menu design and eye-catching presentations are essential to setting your business apart from the rest.

Just as thoughtful presentation engages diners before they even take the first bite, the design of your restaurant creates an immediate impression that will shape their entire experience. Improving your restaurant’s ambience by putting extra effort into often overlooked areas — such as lighting, color, and even the quality and comfort of chairs, tables, and silverware — can boost customer retention. On top of that, introducing loyalty programs and encouraging wait staff to deliver a personalized guest experience helps your establishment stand out as truly unique.

Exceeding expectations

When it comes to the food itself, customer expectations have shifted in recent years. Plant-based and vegetarian diets are on the rise, and many consumers do not want to have to settle for a generic veggie burger at every restaurant they go to. They want robust, creative, delicious veggie or vegan options, clearly signaled on the menu.

Plant-based eaters are not alone in these demands. Meat-eaters are likewise opting for restaurants that champion local suppliers and opt for grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, for example. For establishments that serve coffee, sourcing fair-trade, organic beans is a powerful demonstration of commitment to both quality and ethics. Research has consistently shown that consumers, especially millennials and younger, are more than willing to pay a premium for sustainable and ethically sourced goods.

Integrating technology

Technology is often one of the last things that comes to mind when we think about how to improve restaurant service. However, new technologies are increasingly shaping patrons’ expectations, and restaurants that do not want to fall behind should consider what tech can do for them.

COVID-19 saw a huge uptick in previously underutilized technologies that are now virtually essential. QR code menus are a major example of this, as they were largely adopted out of necessity but have since become a consumer preference. For this reason, it’s important to put extra thought and care into designing your digital menu — making an aesthetically pleasing, easily navigable QR code menu with special features such as live availability updates for items greatly boosts interactivity and overall satisfaction.

On the back end, investing in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)-powered analytics can make a world of difference in both profitability and sustainability. New technologies offer unprecedented access to information about which menu items are selling and which aren’t, allowing restaurant owners to streamline their menus and minimize food waste by ordering more of what they actually use. In an era of compromised supply chains, effective planning is a massive value-add.

Succeeding in the restaurant business requires a delicate balance of sticking to what has been proven to work and exploring new, disruptive ideas and technologies. As heightened customer expectations set the stage for more intense competition, restaurant owners need to think hard about what makes their brand unique and how they can turn this uniqueness into a major draw for customers.

As always, the customer’s needs come first, and restaurateurs need to think first and foremost about how to deliver an experience that feels unique and special every single time. Doing so successfully requires a combination of technology with human creativity and warmth. With all of these factors working together, restaurants can deliver a dining experience that feels both modern and timeless all at once.


An experienced entrepreneur and restaurateur, Kenneth Connell is the owner of The Waffle Experience in Thousand Oaks, California. Kenneth and his team operate the successful restaurant on a foundation of creativity and innovation, focusing on making sure that every aspect of the experience brings the “wow” factor.

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