The Art of Creating an Addictive Restaurant

How do you make your restaurant so appealing, so addictive, that it draws guests back again and again?

It’s a question that always troubling restaurant owners. 

This is where restaurant marketing becomes a deeply creative endeavor. It's all about storytelling. And the part that resonates with people is HOW the story is told.

There are various frameworks we can use to construct a compelling story which captivates your guests.

Framework 1 – The Hero’s Journey

This framework has been used as the structure of several blockbuster movies including Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and The Godfather, just to mention a few.

From your guest's point of view, their experience in your restaurant can resemble the hero's journey with your staff acting as guides on the adventure through the exotic world of food and drink.

There's the call to action (hunger, special occasion), the challenge (what to select), the triumph (finding new combinations), and finally, the resolution (feelings of a really great time) which leaves your guests, their relationship, and their memories in a profoundly altered state.

The whole framework is detailed in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Framework 2 – The Impresario Model

What if you thought in terms of orchestrating the whole experience that you provide for your guests? Much like a gastronomic conductor.

Being a restaurant impresario is like a cross between horticulture and performance art. You strive to create the perfect environment for your guests to enjoy the moment. Then, you stage manage the creation, selection, and serving of your culinary masterpieces.

Framework 3 – The Addiction Formula

The third framework, and the one this article considers, comes from the world of music. The Addiction Formula by Friedemann Findeisen analyzes the addictive qualities of music by deconstructing modern pop music into its component parts.

If you're into music, songwriting, or any form of marketing, this book will blow your mind. It also gives us a powerful framework for thinking about how to create a remarkable experience for your guests. The reason hit songs are so popular is because they follow certain patterns that are appealing to humans.

Introducing the Energy Curve

At every point in a piece the music, the song has a different energy level. When viewed in this manner, you can draw a graph of the energy curve of any song. Ideally, it will look like a rollercoaster. The energy levels of any experience must change regularly, or your audience will get bored very quickly.

While most music tracks only last a few minutes, we can apply the idea of the energy curve to a visit to your restaurant which may last more than an hour. The next major idea is the concept of gratification and anticipation. It's the prospect of getting something that we greatly desire that compels us to keep going.

In music, the choruses provide gratification, while the verses provide storytelling and give listeners the space to anticipate the gratification provided by the next chorus. In a restaurant setting, gratification is provided by the food and drink, while the anticipation is the wait between the courses.

The Rules

Rule 1: The lowest point in the energy curve occurs right at the beginning.

Rule 2: Consider the energy peaks. These are the high points of the experience. A great story always distributes its big moments. The number three is always a good place to start as it's deeply embedded in the human psyche. The three-chorus song. The three-act play. The three-course meal.

Rule 3: Each peak is preceded by a lower energy section that builds towards the peak. After the second peak, the energy level goes way down, lower than after the first peak, but not as low as the energy at the beginning.

Rule 4: Keep the biggest energy peak till last. Always end well as this is one of the most important factors that people use to evaluate how good the experience has been.

Crafting the Curve

When creating your guest experience, use the energy curve as your guiding principle.

It’s always a balancing act. Too much repetition and you'll bore people, too much change and make them feel unsettled. Get the balance right and you’ll provide people with an interesting and memorable experience. Consider every aspect of what you provide. The environment, the food and drink, the staff, the other guests, etc. Every interaction, every impression formed will increase or decrease the energy of the experience.

What are the big moments of your restaurant experience? Some events shift the energy level suddenly, for example, serving a new course to your guests. Other aspects of the experience lead to a gradual change in energy. 

For example, a subtle tension builds as guests wait for the next interaction with your team. This increasing tension lets them know they're approaching a moment of gratification (more food or drink) If your service is too quick and you don't allow sufficient tension to build, your guests will feel rushed and won't fully appreciate the next peak. But make them wait too long and the tension will become unbearable. Eventually, it will lead to a complaint, or will ruin the experience causing the guests not to return.

Find the perfect moments and ways to switch between anticipation and gratification. Work out how to guide your guests through the experience, set energy levels, and transition between sections. This framework will have enormous impact on your guest, yet it's so subtle that its noticeable only to the initiated. When you know the formula, you can identify the various elements and their function within the overall structure as you listen. And the same is true of your dining experiences.

Master Riding the Curve

Once you master the art of creating energy curves, you can provide variations for your regular guests. While some energy curves will resolve fully, providing the anticipated gratification, other visits will end without proper resolution, depriving them of the ultimate gratification sought, and encouraging them to visit again in search of it.

This avoids the risk of boredom and plants the seeds of addiction. It's the element of unpredictability that keeps people coming back. Sometimes they get the reward they seek, other times they must wait. If you can record your guest’s feedback on each visit, you can use it to home in on their ideal energy curve. Bear this in mind and use their favorite energy curve when you know they're celebrating a special occasion.