Cultivating an authentic welcome


Cultivating an authentic welcome

matthew smith

HGEM’s Business Development Manager, Matthew Smith, on providing an authentic welcome via simple data analysis, whilst being intuitive to guests' individual needs.

From the moment a guest enters your venue, you know you’ve got their attention and they are interested in what you have to offer. They’ve either spotted you in the street, been recommended by a friend or read fantastic reviews about you online. Getting a guest through the door is the first step, but there’s a crucial part to their journey which must be carefully considered before introducing guests to your food offering – no matter how excellent it is. To provide a great guest experience, it is essential for businesses to treat guests as individuals, and tailor the experience to them. Introducing: The authentic welcome.

First impressions really do count and an impersonal welcome could ruin the guest experience entirely. For walk-ins, it’s about being intuitive whilst thinking on your feet and identifying their needs. For example, if a family walks in, engage with the children, this makes them feel important and gives their parents the reassurance that they can relax having entered a family friendly venue. If a couple steps in from the rain, they will appreciate a warming smile whilst taking their coats and umbrellas, assuring them that you are doing your utmost to cater for them. Is there a table near the fireplace? Away from young families and large parties? Be sure to seat them there – these things won’t go un noticed.

The more information you have about your guests, the more thought you can put into their experience. Are you obtaining data that could massively add value to your guest experience? When it comes to bookings, it’s important to notice whether a guest has booked around their birthday - a dessert with a candle or a bottle of bubbly on the house can go a long way. Don’t forget that with a large party, not all the guests will have visited before, they will note the exceptional birthday their friend received and will be more likely to return themselves. If you have a regular guest who always opts to sit by the window, welcome them by their name and take them straight to their favourite spot next time.

There are of course some variations on the level of welcome required when it comes to different types of operators. When entering a quick service restaurant, often in rush, all guests want, and need is a friendly smile and a ‘Hello, what would you like today?’ Although if you spot a regular who visits every day on their lunch break, and you know they almost always opt for a chai latte – ask them ‘A chai latte today?’ This will make them feel valued.

When it comes to the other end of the scale, fine dining guests require you to go above and beyond. Addressing them by their name, taking them directly to their favourite table without glancing at the bookings list is the minimum level of a welcome these guests should receive. If they are visiting for a special occasion, offer them a free bottle of champagne or upgrade them to a VIP table if you have room. I have experienced this myself at a fine dining restaurant in Dubai, the staff didn’t have to go to the extra effort but the fact they did has made it an experience I will never forget. 

Before joining HGEM, I spent ten years working in various management roles so I have witnessed thousands of welcomes both as a staff member and a consumer. Obviously not every restaurant or hotel will have the budget to give guests champagne on arrival, the lessons to be learnt here are far simpler. The Dubai restaurant just had to look at our data and note my date of birth, allowing them to allocate us an empty VIP table on the day – simple yet so effective and it’s something that all businesses could be utilising.

Great staff will keep notes and build a profile around their customers based on fairly basic details obtained at the booking stage or via an online feedback survey. Another way to encourage guests to tell you what they thought of their experience is to send an automated email to help them evaluate their visit. This allows operators to not only focus on collating birthdays and seating preferences, but also what dishes guests like. For example, if a regular customer has certain dietary requirements, meaning the specials on offer are often off limits for them, an operator might like to create their own special for them, catered to their needs.

The future of the welcome is set to change with technological advances, easing the experience for both guests and team members. Many hotels all over the world already operate a 100% automated check-in service, simply using an app, not only for check-in but to act as a room key, also with the option to adjust lighting, curtains and music etc. This type of automation could have many different possibilities for the restaurant world as well, although with hospitality, it is so important to not lose the human touch, no matter how convenient an automated welcome is.

We recently undertook some research on guest’s accommodation preferences which reflects this. 63% of guests revealed that the personal touch is very important or important to them when staying at accommodation. Compared to 47% of guests who said that an automated check-in service it not important to them at all, with 51% of guests also stating that having technology available in their room was not important. Having said that, 15% did say that an automated check-in is important to them and 33% of guests said that technology was a little important. And with 75% of guests trusting a business more if they use up to date technology, it is certainly not something to be ignored. Perhaps operators could take something from Airports by offering online self-check-in prior to their visit in which consumers can avoid queues, yet still maintaining a warm face to face welcome on arrival, making them feel relaxed.

Guests will continue to value the human welcome as fundamental to their experience, we are human after all and through personal interaction is how we connect. At HGEM, we specialise in helping operators create the memorable experiences that guests require, via mystery visits and online feedback sites, assisting businesses in gaining valuable insight into the minds of guests whilst giving them the tools they need to improve their guest experience as a whole. 

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