February 19, 2012

Restaurants and Designing the User Experience

Friendly placemat at Jim’s Restaurant in Huntington, West Virginia

During the past months, I’ve been observing (from the vantage point of the table) some things at restaurants—mostly how owners/managers do their business, which is all about people and satisfying their need for food, drink and space. There were a few experiences that I connected to designing things.

A helping hand is a long-remembered one
At restaurant Le St. Tropez in Carmel, California, I noticed the owner greet every customer. Most appeared to be familiar, and there were a few customers who were returning ones. There was the warm, welcoming smile and voice between proprietor and customers. But an especially noteworthy event was when an elderly couple arrived. The owner proactively placed his hand on one of the person’s walkers to gently guide him to their table. Not necessary, but the owner judged it to be otherwise. This left a lasting and positive impression on me, and maybe with others who witnessed the owner’s helping hand.

Aloofness is easily noticed and leaves a bad taste
At a restaurant in Chicago, the owner exclusively talked to a couple, which was seated at an adjacent table. After enjoying the meal and passing about an hour’s time, the owner paid sole attention to that table, minus a brief check on things. I was ignored. No greeting upon entrance. No introduction, despite the close proximity. Not even a thank you upon leaving. This proved to be a shallow experience, from start to finish.

Original vintage and small interior of Jim’s Restaurant in Huntington, West Virginia

Small size compels hospitality
An important factor of the aforementioned restaurant in Carmel, California, was the size. It had about a dozen tables. At Fredrick’s Southside restaurant in Caribou, Maine, the number of tables was similar. Same goes for Jim’s Restaurant in Huntington, West Virginia. In all cases, the quality of attention was sustained between owner and customer or staff and customer. An “intimate setting’ wasn’t in the marketing of these places—it was demonstrated.

Memorable meal: signature dishes of haddock fish fillet and spaghetti at Jim’s Restaurant in Huntington, West Virginia

A good memory is the ultimate reward
For those restaurants in Carmel, California, and Caribou, Maine, plus Huntington, West Virginia, I was encouraged to revisit those places and their neighborhood again—because I had an expressly pleasant experience there.

Observing restaurants reinforces those essential manners of not only serving comfort food, but also serving up a comfortable tone and ambiance. Because useful products and services must also be well-mannered too.

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Photos by Nate Burgos.

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