Hotel Online  Special Report

Brand Enhancement: Invite Surprise and Delight
Into Your Operation


by Rick Hendrie, November 2004
“It’s a lot harder to get your message across, so the more impactful you can make the consumer interface with the brand, the better. We call it active communication as opposed to passive communication through traditional marketing methods like TV commercials and print ads”
Paula Balzer of MKTG Partners as quoted in Stuart Elliott’s
New York Times Advertising column, 8/5/04
In the world of human being’s, ‘creative interface’ refers to the way in which we relate to one another. We long for connection with each other, yet the business world offers ‘anonymous transaction modes’. No one knows our name. No one gives a hoot about how we’re feeling. We’re a dime a dozen. It’s what makes couponing so pernicious. Every Sunday in most newspapers, millions of pieces of coupons are stuck, most of which say, “I’m not worth my regular, retail price.” These ‘$5 off’ or ‘Buy one, get one’ little bits of addictive junk marketing go out to millions of faceless consumers who come in at inconvenient times and won’t come back unless you buy their patronage again. 

I saw an interview in the Boston Globe with Howard Schulz, Chairman and CEO of Starbuck’s in which he said, in part, 

“We’re in the business of creating an experience in our stores that goes well beyond the product. The product is not just the coffee, it’s the relationship we have with our customers, the environment, the music, the entire setting.  Our primary goal is not to increase transactions; it’s to increase the experience in our stores.”

Increase the experience in our stores. How do you create a process around that? I like adding a pinch of the unexpected into the recipe. Maybe throw in a smidge of freedom around what you permit your staff to do when they interact with the guest. Be open to improvisation. Make stuff happen. Many operators aren’t happy about it when ‘stuff happens’ when it interferes with the orderly system of operating a business. Chaos is not our friend. But how about shifting that ‘ol paradigm of ‘this is how we do it’? What do I mean? I call it Surprise and Delight.

Surprise and Delight are the twin gods of personal hospitality. They increase the experience in your establishment and leave customers slack-jawed in amazement. I once asked guests of a quick service restaurant if they could recall any WOW experiences in any fast food restaurant, occasions where they saw an operation provide ‘over the top’ hospitality. One remembered someone saying, “Hello.”


Where there is sloth, there is opportunity. Invite Surprise and Delight into your operation. They are the spirits which encourage giving someone a free snack, while they wait for their dinner. They are the forces which suggest taking a box of signature muffins to a room of first time guests in recognition of their patronage. Surprise and Delight are the benevolent influences which suggest giving a family with a baby a little something for the tot to munch on so that the parents can catch their breath.

I’m not talking about samples. There are plenty of places that give out samples. I get assaulted with more bite size versions of ‘bourbon’ chicken at the mall food court, than I do with the simple greeting of, “How are you?” 

What makes Surprise and Delight powerful is that they involve interacting with each customer on a personal basis. When the customer is waiting for a batch of fries that have to be made up to order because ‘that’s the spec’ (and a good thing to, I might add), give them a half of small portion of potatoes. There are almost always some that may still be in the bin, because the hold time has not yet passed. If not, MAKE SOME. And when you give the guest their free treat, tell them, “We put a fresh batch of fries up for you. Chomp on these, on me, in the meantime.” I guarantee the customer will look at you in disbelief, like you just teleported from the planet Xenon, then they will eat the snack and go back and tell everyone they see, “You’ll never guess what just happened to me…”  I still rave about the time a manager at a Mimi’s Café honored my first visit with a batch of signature baked goods. 

The key here is improvisation. If it becomes a ‘process’ you might as well drain the bathtub of any fun or impact. The trick is to make it spontaneous, ‘sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t.’ Always deliver the basics: Hi! Thanks! Come on back! But then, plan to give the guest the random thrill. 

I pulled one of Chris Schlesinger’s first cookbooks Thrill of the Grill off the shelf today and was reminded why I love his restaurant, The East Coast Grill ( 

How does this sound? Grilled White Pepper Crusted Tuna, with House Pickled Ginger, Aged Soy Sauce, Pacific Farms Fresh Wasabi, Grilled Vegetables & a Spicy Bok Choy Salad 

How about: Wood Grilled, Adobo Crusted 1 Pound Sirloin Steak with Smokey Chipotle Onions, Sweet Potato Fries & a Ripe Tomato-Avocado-Cilantro Salad

And while I drooled over the sound of those items, I remember him telling me, “It’s all about being the friendliest place in town.” In other words, food is a given, WOW is priceless. Invite Surprise and Delight over. Take ‘em out for a spin. You’ll improve the guest experience. I gar-un-tee it.


 Rick Hendrie
Chief Experience Officer

Also See: The Value of A Hotel Brand - What Would You Pay? / Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels / October 2001
Brand Asset and a Balancing Act in the Hotel Industry; Asset Value of a Hotel Brand Rides on the Solid Foundation of Balanced Marketing and Operations / Dr. Gabor Forgacs / July 2004
Once Brand-loyal Hotel Customers Have Become Deal Hunters on the Internet / Feb 2002

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