When I worked in restaurants, I always assumed being hospitable and giving the best service possible required that I gift my regulars on the regular.
And yes, a free chartreuse nightcap is sure to grease the wheels, but it's a bonus, a gift.
Hospitality isn’t about giving away something – or somethings – for free to show your guests you care: it's about creating an environment that is welcoming, accepting, accommodating, and appreciative, where guests can have a good time with you and return time and time again for the same delightful experience.
We had the chance to catch up with Haley Fortier and Kristie Weiss of haley.henry and nathálie – two hip wine bars in the heart of Boston who source and serve small-production, natural wines from around the world (nathálie specifically focuses on female produced varietals) – and pick their brains about hospitality, reinventing a traditionally "stuffy" restaurant concept, and creating memorable guest experiences.
Trendy and traditionally "elite", wine bars are a labor of love. Here's a familiar scene: You've finally gotten a reservation or been invited to join friends at an intimate wine-bar where the menu reads like the dictionary from some Romance language.
You're surrounded by a very cultured crowd and wouldn't dream of showing your cards, so when the server arrives you opt to 'fake it 'til you make it' and stumble your way through ordering a varietal you only picked because you studied its city of origin for a final project in your high-school french days.
The whole experience was uncomfortable, anxiety inducing, and, the worst part is, after all that, you hated the wine.
Both Fortier and Weiss emphasize the importance of making their guests feel at ease. Says Weiss,
“When people see ‘wine bar’, they think it’s going to be slightly pretentious and stuffy. For here (sic) and haley.henry, I think that our biggest thing we teach the staff is to take the pretension out of it. We try to make it extremely approachable. We’re fun here - we have nicknames for the wines and we have fun with that. I hope that translates to the guest so that when people come here, they don’t need to feel like they know it all. I feel like our hospitality is that we’re welcoming you into our own space and we hope you’re having as much fun as we are.”
To the haley.henry and nathálie teams, meeting the needs of their guests – whether that means explaining the where, why, and how behind every wine on the menu, making recommendations based on a guest's preferences and palate, or fading into the background to let the evening's company and conversations take center stage – is paramount.
Here's the tricky thing about hospitality: in today's restaurant industry, it isn't an act reserved solely for those dining within the four walls of your restaurant. Extending hospitality to your guests from the moment they come in contact with your brand – whether that's on a recent Instagram post you authored, on a popular review site like Yelp or TripAdvisor, or on a third-party reservation platform like OpenTable or Resy – shows your customers the commitment you have to creating a memorable dining experience.
This is something Fortier has not only come to recognize, but also leverages as an effective restaurant marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) tactic.
“The experience for the guest doesn’t start when they walk through the door. Sometimes it starts if they’re calling us to make a reservation or they’re just calling us to speak about something," she says. "It has to start at the first moment of engagement. That’s the opportunity that you have. There’s so many places to go and so many new restaurants so when they come to our restaurant, we’re lucky.”
To build on this philosophy, Fortier and Weiss have hosted events, programs, and promotions that pique their guests' interests and encourage their repeat patronage. haley.henry offers Flight School during limited hours every Saturday, where guests have the opportunity to learn about the producers, the grape varietals, terroir and more of wines included in three featured flights.
In October, both locations ran an Orange October promotion where guests were given a punch on a punch card every time they visited haley.henry or nathálie and tried a new orange wine; after completing 10 punches, the guest would unlock access to free swag.
Both Flight School and Orange October are meaningful opportunities for both staff and guest, as they give both the opportunity to connect and build lasting relationships grounded in learning, storytelling, and great wine.
This is the stuff truly memorable dining experiences are made of.
Wine, Dine, And Delight
Does your restaurant have a unique approach to creating a memorable guest experience? Tell us your story in the comments section below!