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Everything I Needed To Know About User Experience I Learned In A Restaurant

by Craig Wright

User Experience design is full of talented professionals from every corner of the digital age. Some are behavioral psychologists, some are graphic designers and some are developers… the list goes on and on.

Me? I learned everything I need to know about User Experience from working in a restaurant. The web business, just like a restaurant, is not about converting visitors into customers it’s about converting customers into loyal followers and advocates for your brand. Today I use the same five basic principles I used in my restaurant days to drive my clients success.

1. Begin at the beginning

In a restaurant the experience begins as soon as you walk in the door. It’s crucial to make the right impression in the beginning. It sets the tone for the entire meal.

It’s the same idea on your site. Users make decisions about your site, your company, your competency within seconds of landing on your site.

The site needs to look good
Like it or not “presentation is everything” on the table and on the web. If your site’s greatness is lost in a sea of clutter, bad color and mismatched fonts, you don’t look professional or competent and make it just that much harder to establish trust.

Make sure the site is well organized
Different users have different ways of finding things. Make sure and take steps to organize your site to accommodate the most common styles and make your content searchable.

The site needs to be easy to find
If you can’t be found it doesn’t matter how good your site looks or how well organized it is. This is an ongoing effort and there are a number of designers and search engine optimization professionals out there to assist you.

2. Know who you’re serving

When approaching a table, I make an evaluation of the mood of the people at the table. This way I can anticipate their needs and match their expectations. Different people want different experiences.

Likewise with your site, being everything to everyone may seem like a safe bet, but it’s improbable and likely not necessary. When working to define your market make sure and document beyond demographics. User experience designers use tools like personas, use cases and workflows to document user’s motivations, barriers and likes/dislikes to drive a delightful experience.

3. The Devil is in the details

The customer looks to the waiter for information about the food, drinks, the lighting, the temperature… anything to do with their experience.

Just like in a restaurant, your users are looking for details beyond the transaction. The success of your site depends not only on the usability of the site, but also the consistency of the experience across browsers, operating systems and devices.

4. Timing is everything

In a restaurant, on time is the only time that matters. Too soon or too late diminishes the customer’s experience. Similarly, on the web being prompt and timely is a make or break scenario.

Site owners need to be aware of the ever present load time of the site. It is and has always been a frustration point for users. Make sure that the tasks required are not so laborious that they become a barrier to conversions. And require only the minimal information to complete the transaction.

5. It’s not over till I say it’s over

Just because the food is delivered does not mean that the waiter’s job is over. A drop in the level of service at the end can ruin all your hard work and planning. Once the purchase is made there is still opportunity to make the customer feel special. Remember that even delivery of the product on time is something that will be tied to your site.

The summation of all these truths is that the level of trust and loyalty you build is proportional to the attention to detail that is paid delivering delight and enjoyment while users consume your services.



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Craig Wright

Craig Wright is a user experience design consultant With a passion for designing web
applications that are easy to use and beautiful to look at. Follow him on Twitter @uxcraig.


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  1. Steven says:
    August 15, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Great article. It’s true that many basic business principles are valid across the bad, whether it be an online enterprise or a bricks-and-mortar store.

  2. Jennifer Ritchie says:
    August 10, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Ha! Loved this post! I am still in the hospitlaity business – but trying to move towards the web design and marketing side of it – brilliant how you combined it all in a nutshell.

  3. Dave says:
    July 4, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    I left a 7 yr. career in F&B/Restaurant management, 15 yrs ago because of this exact reason. People always ask how I got into UX. To me it has always been about the end user experience. I started getting feedback from diners via comment cards, food committees and mystery shoppers way back right after college. Now I do the same to improve screen experiences.

  4. Scott Berkun says:
    June 28, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    I’d love to see you compare the UX of McDonald’s to the UX of a small, fine bistro.

    • Craig says:
      June 30, 2012 at 8:07 am

      I’m game for that Scott. I am currently, however, recovering from “analogyitis”. That’s a condition caused by writing a blog post comparing one thing to another. Sadly it leads to non-stop comparing of things in your personal life possibly resulting in divorce and/or mutilation. It’s like a compulsion… oh rats.

  5. Craig says:
    June 25, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks Brian! I agree. I choose a new place to eat in one of three ways: Word of mouth, online reviews or drive by and see if the parking lot is full. The method I use is determined by how close I am to the restaurant I guess. Either way it’s about creating advocates for your brand.

  6. Brian (Restaurant Engine) says:
    June 25, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Great piece, Craig.

    As a web designer serving restaurant sites, I’ve come back to this analogy a lot in our writing as well. Dining in a restaurant provides so many opportunities to hone in on (real world) user experience. From the waiting area to the table to the menu to interactions with the waitstaff and of course the presentation of the food.

    These days, the experience starts at the Restaurant’s Website more than ever (and other small biz sites as well). It also ends there, as customers will come BACK to the site or their Yelp profile to leave a review.

  7. Columbus Brown says:
    June 22, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Great analogy Craig. We really need to think about the people we serve when we do design. People have gotten used to “fast food” but are users appreciate quality service iand a friendly environment that gives you just enough attention at the right time.

    • Craig says:
      June 23, 2012 at 9:03 am

      Fast Food! Why didn’t I think of that!? Nice one Columbus.

  8. June 22, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Nice post, Craig. I was a waiter and bartender for about two years–and hated it. I couldn’t believe people not only wanted me to bring them drinks, but refills as well. As you can imagine I didn’t make a lot of money. So I became a writer. 😉

    • Craig says:
      June 24, 2012 at 11:39 am

      Thanks Demian! Glad you escaped.

  9. Brooke Dunagan says:
    June 22, 2012 at 11:27 am

    I never thought of it this way, but makes sense. I also worked as a waitress in my college days and I can see where all of this really applies. I’m looking forward to your future posts!!

    • Craig says:
      June 23, 2012 at 8:58 am

      Thanks Brooke! I knew folks from the industry would get the connection.

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