Six reasons people go to restaurants (that are NOT “to eat”)

Every brand person worth their salt is familiar with the Jobs To Be Done theory of consumer action. First developed by Tony Ulwick of Strategyn, Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) is, plainly, the idea that your customers don’t really buy products or services, but rather “hire” them, to complete a “job”. Nobody buys a balloon because a plastic sphere filled with air has any value on itself. People employ balloons to throw their friend a surprise party, to tell their partner they are loved, or to make a child stop crying.

It is tempting to ignore this aspect of the products we serve in the food business. While in the Front of the House, some savvy servers and maîtres might be observant of their diners and adjust their behaviour in order to improve repeat business (and increase the probability of a better tip), most Back of the House staff and upper management don’t really come in contact with the people seating at the tables. Their world is a world of ingredients and process. Logistics. How much thyme on the dish. Getting orders arranged optimally. Employee shifts. Holiday pay. The customer is far away – and as such, we think that improvement will come with better ingredients, shorter waiting times, larger portions. This might be occasionally true – but it might also be deceiving.

When building Brand Identity, many strategists focus a lot on understanding the Ideal Audience (or any other term they use for the same purpose). Understanding who we are selling to, is of course a vital importance for the survival of a brand, but we need to pair this understanding with an insight of what our customers do with what we’re selling them. Only then we can make sure our brand delivers the ultimate Brand Promise.

Here are six reasons that people go to restaurants that are NOT “to eat”:

They want to impress a date.

First impressions matter, and many people choose restaurants as the backdrop for a first date. Dining is an opportunity for intimate, private talk with other people around. The lights are bright and the distance between diners is enough to allow everyone involved to feel safe and comfortable. The odd flex can be of great benefit here – perhaps an obscure detail about an ingredient, or ordering the bruschette in competent Italian. Or just as a talking point about how gran always used to make fish soup in the cold nights of winter.

They want to experience something new.

For people that have a developed gastronomical taste, grocery shopping is a great experience, but sometimes there are only so many options before things start getting stale. Visiting the new Bhutanese restaurant in town might be a treat! For tourists, a new experience might mean what they don’t have back home, but is a staple in the island of Kythnos that they visited for the first time.

They want to spend some time with family.

In our fast moving world, sharing cultural experiences across locations and across generations can be a tricky thing. It will be difficult to bring 90-year old grandad on that rafting trip the family wants to go, and 7-year old Sandy might be just too impatient to watch Ibsen’s Vampire in the theatre. Food is something that is easily understood and shared between families, with older generations usually forming a good chunk of the gastronomical sensitivities of their younger ones.

They want to be pampered.

It has been a long day. You can return home, get the meat out of the fridge, get your hands dirty, chop the onions, bring the pot to boil, put the pasta, add the passata in the pan, drain the pot, clean the mess in your kitchen and wash the dishes. Or you can go to your favourite Italian place. Let Signor Davide greet you with a smile. Let the waiter pour some water in your glass. Spread some butter on the hot bread as the kitchen staff prepares a perfect meal. End with an espresso and perhaps dessert. You deserve some comfort.

They want to feel like home.

When you live in a different place from where you grew up, you are sometimes shocked to find there is a good restaurant offering your most intimate cuisine with the respect and care it deserves. What used to be a pretty commonplace experience can now be an intriguing pocket of your homeland, within your new city. Restaurants can have access to the ingredients or equipment you simply cannot have at hand at home It might even be an opportunity to say “good afternoon” in your native tongue for months.

They want to show generosity.

The friends who have been with you through thick and thin. The mentor who helps you with your life’s goals. The parents that have sacrificed so much for you. The least you can do sometimes is to buy them dinner and make sure they know you appreciate them. It might even be a symbolic gesture that you want to improve your existing relationship.

In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.

Charles Revson, founder of Revlon

Understanding that this is what we sell in restaurants, rather than “food”, is what makes a business truly successful. Branding attaches itself to these stories our diners make around our tables – and if crafted well, it shapes their memories in the years to come.

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