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Lessons from a Fine Dining Experience

Posted By Darren Rowse 3rd of February 2010 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

Yesterday I had the privilege of eating at a great Melbourne restaurant – Maha.

The food was exceptional but what I came away from the meal with was…. well it was an ‘experience’ and not just a ‘meal’. A number of things went into the 3 hours that we dined at Maha that stood out and left me pondering what I could learn from the success of this restaurant and apply to my own business.

note: I’m not going to draw too many parallels to blogging specifically but rather will put the lessons out there and let people apply (or leave) them as they wish to their own situation.


Lesson #1: First Impressions and the Power of Contrast

Walking into Maha there was an immediate transformation that occurred that drew us into the experience.

Situated on a small and fairly ugly street filled with the back ends of buildings and car parks (I have to say I wasn’t expecting much of a place in this part of the city) – Maha’s fit out immediately created an impression that lasted for the rest of the afternoon (and beyond).

It was anything but like the street outside and was a luxurious yet tasteful version of a middle eastern dining room. Dark, cosy and inviting – in stark contrast to the bright, stark, surrounds of concrete outside.

Lessons: first impressions matter a lot and can create a lasting impression that sets up the experience someone has of what you’re doing. Unexpected contrast is also something that will grab people’s attention and make them take notice of what you’re doing.

Lesson #2: Simplified Dining

Sometimes dining in places like Maha can be an overwhelming experience for a guy like me. I’m no gourmet and being confronted with a menu filled with dishes that need translation and being overwhelmed with a wine list with so many options that I have no idea where to start isn’t my idea of a great way to start a meal.

Instead at Maha we were warmly greeted, seated and giving a very simple drinks menu (with an invitation for a more extensive one if we required it). The menu for the day was a banquet (chefs choice – although we could have some input if we had special needs) which I also appreciated. Conversation was not interrupted with choices of food and drinks and the overwhelming nature of those menus and wine lists were eliminated.

Lessons: choice is great but sometimes it can be overwhelming and simplicity can be appreciated.

Lesson #3: Engaging the Senses

Throughout the meal it was not just our taste buds that were stimulated. In the corner a three piece band played middle eastern music, outside was a court yard where people smoked shi sha pipes (creating sweet smell that drifted into the room) and at the end of the meal we were offered to have our hands rinsed in a little lemon cologne which engaged both our senses of smell but also touch.

The cologne also made a lasting impression – even as I fell asleep last night it lingered on and I was once again reminded of the experience of Maha.

Lesson: engage the senses and you transform something that can be quite one dimensional into something experiential.

Lesson #4: Unexpected Gifts

When it came time for the bill to be brought to the table the waitress also delivered three small white boxes (one for each couple) with some small pastries in them. They were a little take home gift to extend our visit.

These gifts served a several purposes including:

  1. something we didn’t ‘pay for’ – it is amazing what impression getting something for free makes (or course we DID pay for the gift as the pastries would not have cost much and our bill more than covered it). This perceived extra value and a gift will of course create a lasting impression, increase the chances of us returning and telling our friends about the experience.
  2. extending the experience – today as I ate a pastry (24 hours after dining at Maha) I’m still thinking about the meal.

Lesson: gifts (big and small) and extra value create an impression!

Lesson 5: Focus Upon the Positive

As we were about to leave our waitress stopped by the table. Instead of asking if everything was ok (often the way wait staff word this question) our waitress asked us what our favourite part of the meal was.

Couching the question by asking us for the best part of the meal was a pretty smart move as it shifted our minds away from parts we might not have enjoyed (not that there were any for me) and onto the best parts of the meal just as we were about to leave. We left pondering the good rather than what could have been better.

This also served as a great way for the staff to gather feedback on what was working – something that no doubt helps them to continue to improve what they do.

I also wonder whether asking this question set up some cues in our minds that might be repeated later as we discussed the meal with others. We’d already each said something good about the meal within seconds of completing it – perhaps that’d be what we’d say next time we spoke about the meal.

Lesson 6: Choreography/Process

As we drove home from Maha V and I both commented on how those behind the restaurant must have put some real thought into the experience that they offered those who dined with them. Having eaten in another of the restaurants owned by one of the owners we saw some patterns in some of what we’ve mentioned above.

Our experience didn’t just happen. Everything from the ways in which we were greeted, through to the small touches like the lemon cologne and complimentary pastries were intentional and planned steps in a choreography of a typical visit to Maha.

I’m certain that the process evolved over time but the experience was not left to chance – there was a clearly thought through process in place which ensured the best chances of a great experience for diners and a profitable business.

Best of all, the ‘choreography’ wasn’t obvious or intrusive in any way, it just naturally unfolded.

Lesson: great experiences don’t always just happen. A little thought can go a long way to helping people move through an experience in a positive way.

Which of these principles could you take and apply in your blog or online business?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Hello Darren, firstly this sounds like an amazing restaurant! this is a really good post and I personally can make alot of parallels to blogging. I specifically like ‘lesson 4 – the unexpected gifts’ and I think it goes down extremely well from a consumer point of view. It could be applied to blogging by giving away free products when users sign up such as ebooks, definetely something I will look into!

  2. it is a wonderful thing having a dinner in restaurant and the way you listed the things is amazing.
    First impression is always the last impression what you make on others.

  3. I think there’s some really important lessons to learn there.

    Customer care is important whatever your business. I’m still trying to figure out how I can make my blog smell nice though…..

  4. Hey Dareen ,
    Woh a lot to learn from this small experience of yous. Thanks a lot for sharing this. Small things in the end really does count…

  5. Not only can this post draw parallels to the business of blogging, but the lessons can be used for any business–from corporate to individual–on making a positive, lasting impression and experience, leading to repeat customers. Really enjoyed your post and the ideas it sparked!

  6. This is a really good post Darren!! but many businesses without a good first impression have made great success, maybe because it was back then and now first impression determines your last one.


  7. it is a wonderful thing having a dinner in restaurant and the way you listed the things is amazing.
    First impression is always the last impression what you make on others.

  8. Sounds like a fabulous experience, and of course, each step can clearly be applied to blogging.

    It reminds me of when I worked at Volkswagen and we developed a mindset called “Surprise and delight” and it’s always the small things that can create surprise and delight. In your case, for example, the pastries. In our case things liked a damper on the glove box lid and grab handles. So trivial, and relatively inexpensive, but worth so much in what they convey.

    Thanks. Thought provoking.

  9. Very interesting post. I agree that offering added value can go a long way. It’s always nice to get more than what you think you’re paying for.

    I also like the point about simplifying your offering. It’s really overwhelming when there are so many choices. If you can point people in the direction that you want them to go and make them feel like that’s the right direction, they’ll be grateful not to have to sift through the clutter.

  10. I really like this post! I like how I was able to imagine myself in that restaurant due to your descriptions.

    I love doing what you did as well. Taking an experience or advice of whatever it might be and imagine how I can apply those lessons and principles to my business, my blog or whatever I can apply it too.

    Thanks for a great post Darren, if I ever make it your way, I’ll be sure to check out that restaurant because of your post here.

  11. Darren…

    The post is great, the lessons are right on… But, when you write post like this, it really makes me think that I’m moving too fast (in life).

    I think there are a lot of instances I don’t slow down and take the time to really observe and formulate an opinion about the “details” of an experience…

    The real lesson I got from this post was to “experience” things instead of “just doing them.” Because more often than not, it’s that latter.

    From here forward when I do anything, I’m going to start asking myself WWDW? (What Would Darren Write?)

    If anything it’ll help me slow down… Thanks…

    • BrianJUY – thanks for your comment. WWDW might be a little over the top (although very flattering) but the principle of slowing down enough to really ‘see’ and ‘experience’ what is around you is a powerful thing – not only for finding things to write about but for life in general.

  12. Hey Darren,

    The less choices you have, the easier it is to make a decision.

    There’s that psychological study where when presented with too many choices, a person chooses to do nothing.

    It’s why Apple keeps moving Macs. No MacBook XV345a, or choosing between iMac Lite 56HG or iMac Lite 34FDu. You simply choose: a) laptop or desktop? b) big or small screen? c) fast or really fast version?

    That’s it.

    On your blog, are you giving readers too many choices? Too many links, too many places to start reading from? A reader gets overwhelmed and just leaves.

    Instead, make it as simple as possible. Like a Maha restaurant.

    Just like you know what to order at a Maha because you’re not overwhelmed with choices, so too you can make it easy for a visitor to start reading at your blog. Just one place to start reading, or one place to see the best content to explore, or one place to buy or use your service.

    The less choices, the better.

    Just look at the biggest blogs: Problogger, Copyblogger, Zen Habits… very little, if any, choices, and a supremely simply experience. Super easy to get started reading on any of those.

    And very interesting point about extending the experience, Darren. Never thought about it that way. Give a positive takeaway (perceived as “free”), and a visitor will be thinking about you long after they left.

    It’s trickier to do digitally (you can’t give digi-pastries), so I’m off to brainstorm ideas of how this can be done with my site now :)

    Thanks for sharing such awesome lessons from your positive experience, Darren. Maha seems like an awesome restaurant – the right way to run a bricks & mortar business too.


  13. I like this topic, really touched my mind. Illustrations are made to inspire the imagination more open.

  14. I like the possible strategy of #5. Priming your guests or readers with positive thoughts before they leave keeps the positive momentum going once they have actually left. So the next few folks they encounter will see the smile or pleasure on their face or in their words.

  15. Already I can relate your dining experience with some basic principles which we can follow in blogging world as well:
    1. Keep blog design decent, not too jazzy
    2. Simplicity is the key. Nobody wants to read technical jargons, heavily decorated sentences
    3. Create the content which can be fun to read and gives mental satisfaction
    4. Occasionally provide surprise gifts (can be in the form of free e-books, badges, t-shirts). This goes long way in building long term relationship
    5. Create positive image in the mind of reader
    6. Treat reader as a super priority and think about unique ways to make his experience as pleasant as possible. After all he is investing his time to read the post :)

    Great post darren, as always!

  16. Sounds like a really fantastic restaurant. I love how you can look at the deeper structure of any business and apply it to your own (or even to any other aspect of your life).

  17. You can learn new lessons of life everywhere.

    First Impression is always important.

  18. Yes, Content is THE King and so is THE Customer!

    Focus on the Positives had set the mood for this post.

    Won’t you agree?

    They are the Maha Truths!

  19. Man Darren…why do you have to go get me hungry and make want to go to my favorite restaurant.

    You know that reminds me of one of my favorite restaurants here in toledo,OH. You know I was in sales and its funny how you can normally tell the choreography of successful restaurants, but you know what I like it because its professional.

    Anyway I have to say the unexpected gift should be something every company should start embracing because, yes that is a BIG ONE for me a love free stuff. And if you give me free stuff I will free obligated to give you my money later.

    good stuff Tom I agree with you on this point

    Hey Darren thanks once again…

  20. Hi, Darren,

    Especially liked this post, because you remind us to be “in the moment” and observe non-judgmentally. BTW, I added Problogger to our division’s Google Reader today. We’re encouraging our staff to listen and engage, and Problogger offers valuable information.

  21. Hi, Darren,

    Especially liked this post, because you remind us to be “in the moment” and observe with all our senses. BTW, I added Problogger to our division’s Google Reader today. We’re encouraging our staff to listen and engage, and Problogger offers valuable information to help encourage this in a thoughtful manner. Thanks!

  22. Darren really liked this post.

    Once in a blue moon, I have a great dining experience like you did. The one thing I can tell is that right from the moment you enter, until the moment you leave, the restaurant is trying to optimize your experience. They have a system in place for every second of your night. It’s pretty amazing.

  23. Mmmm. Looks yummy. Sounds like a really great restaurant. Thanks for the detailed description of your experience. It’s always great to read up on personal customer service experience from a trusted source.

  24. As a fellow Melbourn-ite I agree with you, loved Maha. Something that has changed since our visit, is the freebie at the end. For us, it was a tube of spices, not pastries.

    I think the lesson there is that if you want to perceive to add value with a give-away, it still needs to be something the client wants, otherwise it seems a bit gimmicky and unnecessary. We left our spices in the crazy box that came with the bill, thinking it all seemed a bit over the top, pastries would definitely have come home with us and left a different impression.

  25. Excellent article. This is the kind of dining experience that brings customers back. Just had a conversation with one of my restaurant clients who called to tell me how pleased he was with us. My response, it not what we’re doing, it’s what YOUR doing inside the restaurant that creates the return customer. This is a perfect example. Thanks for sharing.

  26. It seems we can learn how to blog from our daily experience. It is because blogging activity is similar with our real life i think.

  27. Good post Darren. I’m still working on improving the first impression on my blog, focusing on simplicity and adding even more extra value (gotta work on to get some gifts in there as well).

    As a side note, it’s kinda funny that the restaurants name “Maha” translates into “belly” in Finnish, so it’s just too perfect for a restaurant :)

  28. One of your best posts yet, and that’s saying something!

    This really got me thinking about going the extra mile and creating fond memories for my customers.

    Thanks for such a creative piece!

  29. every new restaurant/bar my husband and i walk in receive a top-down inspection. the good, the bad, and the ugly. for us, it always goes back to this: it’s the little things. they’re the things that make something good, great.

  30. Sounds like a wonderful restaurant experience and, like anything, once you experience this high level of customer service it’s something you alway notice later in the next situation and what is done well or not done well, even if the price point is lower. It’s like when you get a new pair of shoes, you suddenly start noticing everyone else’s shoes.

    Blog analogy: can you still create a really effective and powerful blog while spending relatively little?

    I had a similar transforming experience having tea at the Chinese Tea Gardens in Portland, Oregon, a few years ago. Everything was very detailed and specific – the hot cloths for our hands, the way the hot water was poured, the way the tea leaves were designed to blossom in the cup. I took quite a few of unplanned photos.

    I’m curious, though, what dishes you ate?

  31. Brilliant observations! Because we do not make decisions in isolation, contrast is one of the most effective ways to frame the buying experience for customers, I believe. It is extremely persuasive.

    The same can be said for simplicity.

    Look at how Flip took over the video camera market by stripping its product down to the bare essentials.

  32. First impression last. Especially when food is great, customers will never forget, and they will come back for more.

  33. Hi Darren – I was interested to see there were 3 musicians playing over in the corner – Victorian liquor licensing is currently threatening this sort of thing, especially in hotels and similar. If a pub or tavern trades after 1am Friday and Saturday, they routinely require expensive security guards and cameras any time music of any type is played, even on a quiet afternoon or Tuesday night. So the music is getting cancelled – lots of musicians are losing gigs. The Greek Deli in Chappel St is an example (their story was on the 7.30 report).
    I am doing a website about it all – http://musicdoesntmakeyouviolent.com/
    Sorry about the shameless plug – things are getting desperate!
    Cheers – Robin

  34. Same goes with blogs. Some blogs are very high qualtiy and demand sponsers to pay a premium on that. Also they will product content that is high quality for there customers rather then product a quick 400 word post.

  35. Enjoyed this post very much. I have been in customer service for a few years now, this has given me another way to improve many things. I am trying to do a blog, and improve my site. By asking about the good things you will find out how to improve more.

  36. As always superb post bud. I’ve had a blast reading your posts and have found them awesome. Don’t stop posting

  37. Your post has been more than helpful. I just started a blog and I’m not getting any traffic at all. Can you help me out? Thanks Dave

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