A GOOD NIGHT OUT
Bompas & Parr, the renowned culinary design experience studio, reveals its methodology for spectacular public events – a great guide to anyone who wants to give their guests a good time.
At Bompas & Parr we’ve developed something of a name in terms of creating experiences which take guests on enchanting journeys.
We’ve found that bartenders and bar owners are often curiously interested in the methodology we’ve created – one that runs through every event we curate. And we’re happy to lay out our six steps to guest happiness, for all to see. This is not an exhaustive list – and every stage won’t work for all bars – but perhaps the headings will help you better define how the journey your own guests take can be more carefully choreographed.
Step 1: Anticipation
The basic idea: get your customer salivating with expectations before their visit.
This is about interacting with guests before they’ve set foot in the venue. It’s important to establish communications with new guests to let them know you are preparing for their visit, and to make sure you interact with guests you’ve hosted before. (This presupposes you have a database of guests: if you don’t, then start collecting email addresses!)
If you run a reservations system, learn from good restaurants who telephone to confirm dinner reservations. And keep returning guests up to date with menu changes, staffing, new cocktails, anything that reinforces what sets you apart from the competition. After all, it’s well known in marketing circles that if you don’t keep reminding people you’re there, they forget you.
Step 2: Compression
The basic idea: don’t reveal your hand too soon
When you go to a concert you see a supporting artist before the top billing. For a bar, this covers the period from when guests walk through the door to when their first drink is delivered. So don’t forget a warm welcome, take people’s coats and bags, and give them a classy receipt (not a raffle ticket!). Make sure any reception area is comfortable and doesn’t feel like an afterthought. This is a key moment where your menu can fill time, but have you thought carefully enough about whether your menus have enough information or too much? Are you being deliberately minimal in listing the ingredients, or overly flowery with the description? Do you simply dish out menus to customers and retire or pause to explain every little nuance? What’s right for one bar won’t be right for another, but just remember the importance of the menu not just as a selling tool, but a psychological one.
Step 3: Risk
The basic idea – introduce a level of perceived risk to heighten excitement levels.
An element of perceived risk – as opposed to actual danger – adds a frisson of subconscious excitement to any occasion. It’s like asking someone on a first date – the will they/won’t they raises the heart rate and blood pressure and makes the reward, when they say yes, all the more satisfying. In many ways this is innate to cocktail bartending, but it’s worth remembering: unlike uncorking a bottle of wine, or popping open a beer, assembling a collection of ingredients comes with innate dangers associated with achieving balance on the palate. It’s a point that simply doesn’t occur to most customers. Good liquid chefs cleverly vocalise this without patronising guests.
It also really impresses us when bartenders and wait staff are able to remember huge orders (up to ten cocktails, say), who ordered what and where they are say, without writing down a thing. Risky? Sure, but all the more impressive when it works out.
Step 4: Reveal
The basic idea: this is the main event your guest has been waiting for, so pay careful attention!
You wouldn’t want to be served a soufflé that had flopped under the heat lamp while your dining companion’s food comes sizzling off the grill. Great bars take pride in deconstructing a drinks order and cleverly constructing different elements of each so that they are made in the most efficient manner and can then be bussed out at the same time while all still ‘smiling at you’, as Harry Craddock would have said.
This moment is also where your selection of glassware, coasters, garnishes and any other physical touches comes to the fore – that’s not saying you must have deliberately unusual vessels, rather ensure you have given presentation requisite thought.
What about theatrics? We love it when a drink is finished directly in front of the customer, whether it’s a final dusting of cocoa on a Mulatta Daiquiri or a sprinkling of cinnamon over a flaming over-proof rum (like a shower of sparks).
Step 5: Reward
The basic idea: give your guests something back
It’s a good idea to give someone a souvenir of their drinking experience. That could be in the form of a new memory – a quick taste of a new experimental cocktail you have been working on, say – but it could also be a physical piece of collateral. Giving recipe cards of the drink they have just consumed – with some historical information about its provenance – serves not just as a tool to making drinks but acts subconsciously welcoming them ‘to the club’.
And just as chefs and waiters often do, ask how the drinks were received, whether they met expectations, whether they’d order it again. That devotion to detail maintains a conversation which can result in a second order being placed.
Step 6: Reflection
The basic idea: allow guests ample space and time to savour what just happened
Don’t badger your guest. It’s nice to have banter with your bartender, but we try not to constantly interrupt guests at our events.
When it’s all over, and they’ve asked for the bill, this marks the final part of the journey for them and presents one final opportunity to make their experience sparkle. Do you just hand them a bit of curly till roll, or present the bill with class? Consider how you can maintain a dialogue post-visit – can you capture their contact details for that ever-important database?
Make their exit as comfortable as their arrival and welcome: offer to order taxis, fetch their coats and bags efficiently, help them get home safe, and communicate how delighted you would be to host them again.
Bompas and Parr specialises in flavour-based experience design, culinary research, architectural installations and contemporary food design. To keep up to speed on all that’s going on follow them @BompasandParr.
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