Hotel Online  Special Report

Restaurant Ambiance:
“Pay the Cashier on the Way Out”
by John R. Hendrie, June 2006

Many in my generation (the boomers) had our sense of the dining experience shattered by the military.  It was “Hurry up and wait”, the clang and clash of trays, and a product, which was the best money could buy and the easiest to reduce to taste deprivation.  So, we are not the ones who will necessarily race to a new movie premier amidst the crowd, stand in line for hours for the grande opening of anything, or practice patience at a restaurant.  We seek good value for our money, a comfortable dining setting, suitable attention to our needs, and respect for our patronage.  Enter the amorphous ambiance, further defined as atmosphere, décor, service, mood, which should define, certainly enhance, the remarkable restaurant experience we all seek.

Reception and service have become noticeably casual.  “Hi guys, my name is Estelle, and I shall be your Server”, “Who ordered the fritters?”, “Is everything all right?”, “Pay the cashier on the way out”.  The greeting I would expect from my golfing foursome, if the order were properly taken, the server would know that the fritters belong to the lovely lady in teal (earlier referred to as one of the guys), if the food were gruesome, we would speak up (it is like, “I hope the surgery went well”), and the poor cashier, in the counting house, making change, not conversation.  The engagement is insincere and callous.  

We also like authenticity.  If the theme and décor is the West, give me some relics and some history, not the ersatz, replicated lasso and chaps.  Seaside we like harpoons and mounted denizens of the deep rather that bouys and lobster crates untouched by sea spray.  We enjoy the old wood floor boards, the antiquated pictures, the charm of an era, whereas plastic and faux leather hurt our sensibilities.

On that topic, the experiential (senses), background music should be just that – background, not forefront.  Dining should be conversational rather than competing with the bandleader. Beware speaker placement! 

It is difficult to dispense either wisdom or intimacies when you are shivering in a climate “controlled” environment.  You would not expect a wool sweater in the dead of summer, but that accessory becomes highly valued.

Ambiance can disrupt the dining experience.  We know the restaurant industry is competitive, each trying to outdo the other and achieve greatness.  But, it always does come down to value, product and service.  Don’t let the atmosphere get in the way, for our mood will change, and we will pass our reaction on. Spare me!

Ambiance should compliment the establishment rather than dominate.  How you present yourself is the Brand.  And, the Consumer response will dictate your success.  The dining experience commences at your door, for the customer begins to take in all sensory stimuli.   Synapses are clicking on full:  color, aroma, noise, movement, temperature, lighting.  These remain with the diner throughout the meal.  The service may be extraordinary, the meal perfect, but, if I could not read the menu or see my entrée due to poor lighting, or if I was admiring the dust on the stuffed moose’s nose, or if  my gal was chilled, or if the wonderful Tony Bennett was amplified – you have lost me.  Overcome by ambiance; your reputation dashed by atmosphere!  Restaurateurs need to become circumspect, as they plan, decorate, and survey their operation.  Diner “feedback” is essential.  This is how the relationship is established and return business encouraged.

So, start my dining experience off with a warm, sincere welcome, learn/use my name, refill my water, replenish my butter, get the order right with reasonable delivery, and thank me for my patronage.  This is what really counts, and you would receive my eternal praise!  

The author is a principal in Hospitality Performance, which believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to the memorable Guest Experience.  Learn more by visiting:



John R. Hendrie, CEO
Hospitality Performance, Inc.

Also See: Promoting the Dining Experience by Matching Expectations / John R Hendrie / September 2005
The Independent Restaurateur Challenge; Competing with the Formulas / John R Hendrie / October 2005

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