Watching Georgio

We are in a recession, aren’t we? Then why is one of my favorite restaurants, Stresa, in Manhasset, bustling on this Wednesday evening? Yes, the food is great, but it takes more than great food to keep people coming back in a down economy. Then I realize—everything I need to know about customer loyalty can be learned by watching Georgio.

Georgio, one of the owners at Stresa, greets me as though I’m the one special customer he has been waiting for all day. As I watch, I see that he and his partner replay the same warm greeting with each new diner. Lesson #1: Make your customers feel valued, particularly your returning customers.

Our table has two diners who want adaptations to the dishes to accommodate an allergy and a vegetarian modification. Georgio answers with a smile and a “No problem.” At a nearby table, he remembers a personal preference and suggests a change of ingredients. Lesson #2: Be flexible and be proactive in anticipating your customers’ needs.

With finely tuned radar, Georgio notices a diner picking slowly at her food. A few quiet words and the dish that was ordered “well done” will be exchanged for the new preference, “medium rare.” Lesson #3: Invest in the long term, even when it means losing money in the short term.

The waiters, servers and busboys move around the restaurant with almost ballet-like precision, bringing dishes to the right diners and refilling water glasses and breadbaskets promptly—all with a quiet politeness. Lesson #4: Treat the people who work for you well and train them in good customer service by leading by example.

I like to imagine that because of his consistent good humor, Georgio must live a charmed life—free of those annoying life irritants that put a scowl on the faces of even the most resilient people. But I’m sure there are days when his car doesn’t start or employees don’t show up or the wrong ingredients are delivered. Lesson #5: Never make your problem your customers’ problem.

I doubt that Georgio and his partners think in terms of relationship marketing or have ever considered customer loyalty programs. Their only program is to do the basics well, do them consistently and make every customer feel treasured.
Now that I’ve studied my lessons over dinner, I’m going to order a big slice of their famous lemon cake.