Leveraging Empathy in the Restaurant Industry

Photo by: Jonathan Adami

Photo by: Jonathan Adami

I recently found myself rereading a favorite book of mine, Setting The Table by Danny Meyer. The book recounts the author’s journey into the restaurant industry, sharing his philosophy that hospitality is an essential pillar of a business. One quote has always stood out to me: 

“Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of the product. Hospitality is how the delivery of the product makes the recipient feel. Service is a monologue – we decide how we want to do things and set our standards of service. Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and hospitality to rise to the top.”

To sum up Meyer's point, perfecting the technical delivery of a product is not, alone, sufficient to be successful. In the restaurant industry, understanding how to respond when guests are satisfied or dissatisfied is just as important. As a former restaurant intern (a story I would like to share with you another time!), I learned that a strong element of empathy is needed to both understand the guests and ensure they have an enjoyable dining experience. As Meyer suggested, to do this often requires a “dialogue” with the guests. Multiple verbal and non-verbal touch points are executed throughout the guests’ experience to satisfy and, hopefully, exceed the guests’ expectation. Dining is a multi-sensory experience, and it is crucial to be attuned to what the guests are seeing, hearing, feeling, and doing.

Have you taken an empathetic approach lately to better understand your customers? Leave your comments below.

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