Food and Drink International - Winter 2016 Volume 1 - 95

Getting Acquainted

N

Natural instincts give us our understanding of right, wrong,
anger, laughter and affectionate embraces. But we're not born
with an inherent understanding of how a casual-dining restaurant works as opposed to a fast-casual concept.
That's something we learn.
Once we learn it, however, we're
good. "Ah," our brain says, confidently, as we walk through the doors of a
new restaurant for the first time, "This
is 'THIS kind' of restaurant." Our
brain goes to its files and pulls out the
rules and customs of the sort of place
we seem to be dealing with.
No hostess stand. Long corridor leading to a cash register. Menu
board over our head. This is a fast-casual concept! In contrast, your brain
might see a sign asking us to wait to
be seated. Along comes a woman,
smiling and holding two big menus
and a smaller menu - we've come to
a casual-dining establishment with a
liquor license.
That's called a "schema." You may
remember the term from that one
psychology class you took sophomore year. A schema is the brain's
way of operating slightly on autopilot when entering situations that
are similar to experiences we've already had - so we don't have to relearn everything all the time, or feel
our blood pressure rise as we approach every new experience. We're
equipped with a set of expectations
and a general plan of how to respond
as any experience progresses.
Creating little differences from
what we expect is often what distinguishes one brand from another.
Of course, a restaurant has to be
careful - chefs, designers and marketing people are constantly trying to
make their place different enough to
be special, memorable and not interchangeable with the restaurant a hundred yards north of them in the mall

parking lot. On the other hand, there's
the danger of frustrated customers if
the differences are jarring.
If a restaurant stretches our
restaurant schemata too far, it can
be somewhat painful as we evolve as
diners. But the first buffet probably
confused people, too. So it's good
to innovate and distinguish yourself.
Just be careful.
Here's a few tips that might be helpful as you tweak your brand.
1. People are Visual First,
Verbal Second
When there's going to be an
unexpected change to what diners are expecting when they
walk in, the path to take must be
visually obvious: a clear point
to start like a hostess stand, or
a velvet-rope snake-y line, or a
rough-hewn corral, or differently
colored tile or carpet to delineate
the entrance - even just a stack

of trays to indicate the beginning
of a cafeteria line. We need a visual cue. Signage is not enough:
Humans are visual first, verbal
second-if-ever and - especially if
we're focusing on following our
aunt's convoluted conversation
- we struggle to manage a new
schema unless it's indicated by
the layout.
Some Buca di Beppo locations create a layout that feels
as if you're entering through the
kitchen, like in the movie Goodfellas. It's a little disorienting
the first time, but entirely visual
- and it works. It doesn't require
a sign that says, "Start Here and
Proceed through the Kitchen to
the Hostess Stand." People just
figure it out because there's no
choice but to move forward from
the entryway.
2. Restaurants are Venues for
Social Interaction - Anything
that Interrupts Conversation
is Questionable
While we like learning new
stuff to augment our schemata,

A schema is the brain's way of operating on autopilot when we enter situations that are similar experiences we've already had. <<
Change can be good, but too much can cause confusion and be more than some patrons are willing to handle.

food & drink international * winter 2016 volume 1 * www.fooddrink-magazine.com

95


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