Delivering surprises that keep customers guessing


Between birthdays and family visiting the city, I’ve had the good fortune of eating at the same amazing Italian restaurant twice in the past ten days. The first time we ate there, our meal included a surprise pre-appetizer snack, plus an after-dinner drink — all at no charge. Obviously, we were surprised and delighted, as the saying goes. But something interesting happened the second time. Since we expected to get the same freebies from our earlier visit, the delivery of these complimentary tidbits merely met our expectations, instead of exceeding them.

How do you fight people’s natural tendency to take the good things for granted? One approach is to keep them guessing. For instance, instead of always having the free appetizer or dessert, a restaurant might alternate between the following:

– Free side dish that’s not on the menu
– Complimentary bottle of house wine
– 25% off the check, no strings attached
– Coffee with the chef
– Limo drives you to your next destination

Obviously, it wouldn’t be cost effective to do these every night. But you should still make an effort to introduce some variety and randomness into the little bonuses that you use to surprise customers. By leaving them guessing about what comes next, you’ll help customers realize that your restaurant (or whatever business you’re in) cares about delivering a unique experience that’s a little bit different every time.