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The World’s Best Restaurants Don’t Just Serve You. They Love You.

Food is only one small part of the whole experience.

Waiters serving food in restaurant Shutterstock

The luxury experience is like an affair. When you discover a brand that speaks to you, you might feel a similar emotion to falling in love. You can’t help yourself. You buy the car, the bag, the watch, and at every touchpoint the experience is enhanced with thoughtful, meaningful interactions that only build on your original exaltations. Or at least, that’s the idea.

At a recent dinner at London’s Quilon, a Michelin-starred restaurant close to Buckingham Palace, I hoped for a love affair. It started well. I ordered the seafood tasting menu
 with a wine pairing selected by the restaurant, and the food was as good as you’d imagine. So it should have been a delight. Instead, everything was ruined when the wines came. Not one could convince, and the waiter seemed clueless about what he served. From that moment our relationship was on the rocks. I noticed all the service felt rushed: The next plates were served while the previous course was not yet finished. It felt impersonal. A breakup.

This is what happens when companies forget one essential lesson 
in luxury: When someone chooses 
your product over all the others, the experience has to be unique, special and memorable along the entire journey.
To create an unforgettable experience, every detail matters. When people perceive a service as just “normal,” they won’t find it luxurious.

Contrast that with a similar tasting menu I had at Felix at the Peninsula
 in Hong Kong. I was taken care of in 
the most personal way. It started with being greeted by name at check-in
 and a conversation about my day. As 
I was escorted to my table, the waiter introduced himself, suggested the menu and told me why he would recommend doing the wine pairing. Every moment was remarkable. The staff was friendly, trained and knowledgeable. Each dish was explained, every wine had a story, every presentation was “wow.” The food was great, but the service made all the difference. It became one of my most memorable dining experiences. Love at first sight.

Midsection of waiter pouring red wine in wineglass at restaurant; Shutterstock ID 1413677858; Notes: Robb Report—Waiters (pg 81)

Shutterstock

Both meals were superb, and the price was similar. The difference lay 
in the experience. Many brands and services underestimate that luxury goes far beyond the product. Excellence is merely expected and won’t compensate for any flaw in the whole experience. Failure at one touch point lessens the customer’s joy; failure at several touch points is unacceptable.

Here’s proof. About five years ago, 
I bought an IWC Big Pilot. The watch became my instant favorite, and I
 even preferred it over more expensive pieces. One day, I returned to the store and realized that IWC had lowered
 the price by several thousand dollars. When I asked, the explanation was that the brand felt that it was previously overpriced. Bang. Since then, I have not worn that watch or any of my
 other IWCs. Something catastrophic happened with the relationship—I
 was told the brand was not worth its value. I felt cheated. And in that one moment, years after the purchase, the relationship ended.

It points to an interesting conundrum for the world’s best restaurants. What you go there for, the food, is increasingly less important. It’s only part of the experience. Chefs can’t just care about the food. From the host’s greeting to the napkin service, menu presentation, sommelier conversation and timing of courses, every detail is felt by the customer. Even the post-visit communication: Did you feel the love?

Managing love is more relevant
 now for restaurants than ever.
 With Millennials taking over as the most important luxury consumers, expectations increase drastically—theirs is the experience generation. It’s hard. You have to feel for restaurant owners. To them I say this: Love does not require theatrics; it demands personalized and professional service, with every transaction or interaction feeling special—so special that consumers fall in love. What a luxury that would be.

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