Create A System to Guarantee Memorable Experiences

If you are in the restaurant business, there comes a point of realization that – it’s not just about the food being served. Yes, it is a critical component of a restaurant, but it’s just one aspect of a customer’s overall experience. It has always helped me to remember that I’m actually selling “a memorable experience.” And hopefully, I’m giving a memorable experience that inspires the guest to return – not one that inspires a spite-filled online review for the world to read.

It’s the combination of food, ambiance, staff service, and your facility (to name a few), that combine to create this memorable experience for your guests. But how does it all come together successfully night after night? 

THIS is the behind-the-scenes magic of a restaurant’s experience.

From restaurant to restaurant a memorable experience cannot be a cookie-cutter approach – although there are similar elements. Each guest’s expectation is different. A counter-serve breakfast experience will be completely different than a party of 2 arriving for an anniversary celebration at a fine-dining establishment. It can seem like a daunting task to ensure a memorable experience for each and every customer.

I get so frustrated when 2 tables right next to each other, with the same sever, on the same night, have VASTLY different experiences. I mean, the restaurant temperature is the same, the noise level is the same, the same specials offered, the same cooks, YET completely different outcomes. Is this as frustrating to you as it is to me? This causes me sleepless nights trying to figure out this puzzle.

Over the years, I’ve been trying to create a system that will guarantee a memorable experience for each guest and, unfortunately, I have not found a one-size-fits-all, magic key to ensure this for every Restaurant Owner in every service style, but I have discovered a set of guidelines that you and your staff can implement to create memorable experiences for your guests.

A Memorable Experience Cannot Be A Cookie Cutter Approach

It Starts With Your Facility:

Is your restaurant set up in a way that it can be duplicated day after day with little effort and decision making by staff? For instance, lighting. Do you have a system in place where the lights are at the same level at the same times? This can be as simple as a checklist or as sophisticated as a built-in, light-activated sensor that adjusts the lighting automatically. The same goes for music – the style of music and the music level. Has this been determined by you to get the desired experience? Or, is this a staff choice depending on the mood of the staff and who is the manager in charge?

How to do this? Talk to your team, your managers and then decide. Decide WHAT it should be and WHEN it should be. Determine the
easiest, most effective way to make it happen and WHO is ensuring that it happens. Then let all the staff know. Have a way to follow up
to ensure it is happening.

At my restaurant, I have placed a mark on the light switch cover next to the dimmer switch to indicate the exact level of the lighting and the time it should be adjusted to that level. We also have it listed as an item on the host checklist, as well as an item in the manager checklist, for each time of day it should be adjusted. This ensures – with a low-tech approach – that multiple people are looking at this and the correct levels and times are indicated.


Do your employees have a workstation that is set up to ensure they can do their job successfully? Do they have all the tools they need to do what is expected of them, and are they working properly? If not, it is likely your staff is taking unnecessary time to complete a task while a guest is waiting for their memorable experience.

How to do this? I’ve discovered I can’t always design a perfect workstation and control how it is used by staff. So, I ask. How can this workstation be more efficient? Do you have all the tools you need to do your job? Are they working? Be sure to ask several staff members, you may be surprised at the different answers you get.

Just last week I asked a group of hosts if all their equipment was operating properly for them to do their jobs. One brave host let me know the electric mini vac we use for quick jobs was not. This is an easy fix – I ordered a new one. Sometimes in the heat of the shift staff members don’t remember to let us know, and if they do, managers can forget. A new set of eyes, with a different approach, can help cut through these tendencies.

Seating Guests

Seating the guests can be another critical element in a memorable experience. And this can be tricky. It is important to know your facility – are there spaces that are noisier than others? Air flow that is more noticeable in some spots? Less desirable tables? These are some of the possibilities (there are many more) and your staff needs to be aware of them. Different customers have different wants. Large parties and small 2-top celebrating an anniversary may not be a good mix. Mixing a sports team celebrating a victory and table visiting for a quiet night out may not be the way to start a memorable experience. Each and every restaurant will have their own possibilities and it is critical to identify and train on these.

How to do this? Ask your staff about all these possible variables and document them. Using this, create a system for identifying what seating arrangement would be a best fit for guests as they arrive. Train your staff to be aware of these nuances. THIS can be the difference between staff thinking they are a difficult guest or staff taking ownership to start a memorable experience for this guest.

We have a matrix of possible guest types to be aware of and the potential seating preferences that we train on; couples with babies, families with kids, older couples, teams, large groups, single diners, Girls-Night-Out. We also indicate on the wait list the potential preferences (if they were not verbally indicated by the guests at the time of check in) so the likelihood of seating success increases.

These are some of the fundamental ways I’ve learned to start ensuring memorable experiences at my restaurant. It’s not a magic key or a one-size-fits-all approach, but it provides a solid foundation to build upon.

My next article will focus on more of these ideas I have learned to help ensure memorable experiences.

Bent Hansen, Owner of Los Gringos Locos. Longtime Newsletter Contributor and Royalty Rewards® Merchant since 2008.