The Depot

Riverside Restaurant

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Spoilt for choice

Most people consider having choices as a good thing. Others may see it as a double edged sword, with excessively numerous options leading to agonies of indecision. Nevertheless, I suspect we’d rather have too much than too little…anyway that’s the way of the consumer world that most of us live in.

Never before have we been faced with so many options and alternatives, hopes and possibilities. These days, as consumers at least, we are quite literally spoilt for choice. Choice is nothing new, it’s just that there’s so much more of it.

One probable consequence of this plethora of choice is an escalation of expectations, and so people’s standards rise and, generally speaking, so do the standards they receive.

Some keep their options open, making their final choice at the last minute (.com, sound familiar?). And whilst most consumers relish choice, businesses (monopolies apart), acknowledge and respect it as an inevitable but challenging development.

Woe betide any business which doesn’t respond effectively to rising expectations, fuelled in part by the choices available; dealing with heightened anticipation is crucial to any commercial success. Meeting expectations is de rigueur these days, exceeding them can give a very significant competitive advantage. You’re more likely to recommend a place if you’ve been delighted by the experience and all restaurateurs speak fondly of ‘word of mouth advertising’. It’s cheap too!

That’s why companies like Prêt a Manger (and they’re not alone) make such an effort to train their staff to create a cheerful and upbeat atmosphere; there’s so much more to meeting customers’ expectations in today’s frenetic market-place than perfecting the food. Atmosphere, value for money, speed of service and variety all contribute to satisfying much valued and choice driven customers.

Location and setting still play a significant part in The Depot’s appeal, but these days it’s lost some of its significance, as customers seek so much more from a visit than a nice view. Indeed if the parking, river table and time slot aren’t all spot on, we struggle to clear the first hurdle, and that’s before we’ve had the chance to deliver food, service and ambience.

And whilst there’s ample opportunity to impress, there’s plenty that can go awry. Running a restaurant, with all its various constituents, sometimes feels more like reducing a margin of error and communicating extenuating circumstances than rolling out a proven, well oiled formula to an adoring public.

Whatever the scale of amplified expectancy, luckily most customers still empathise with the odd lapse in standards, provided channels of communication remain open and the damage limitation exercise is well drilled. A complementary glass may go a long way to assuage, but failing to communicate effectively damages goodwill more than just about anything else.

Damage limitation can be a fine line between fixing the problem and dealing with the consequences. Too much attention to the former can prejudice the opportunity to deal with the customer. Vice versa and the unfixed problem escalates to crisis proportions. But enough of the down-side: pleasing knowledgeable, expectant, choosy customers may be demanding, but it is hugely satisfying too. Nothing beats the glow of lavish praise and appreciation of satisfied guests.

So, as you exercise your ever growing choice, spare a thought for those hard working businesses honing  their competitive edge, seeking to provide satisfaction guaranteed, keener than ever to get it right every time. We don’t always, but its not for want of trying.

And as the Great British electorate face the ultimate choice next month, take heart in the knowledge that, whilst the choice may be complex and the permutations endless, we’re bound to make the right decision, after all we’ve been deluged with choice for decades and practice makes perfect, doesn’t it? Watch this space.

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