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I am a regular visitor at local food outlets because since I joined campus I have been staying alone. I stay outside the college campus, and most of the time I feel very lonely. I do not find fun eating by myself in the house, and that is why I prefer eating in the local food outlets close to where I stay. When I came to Bath, I visited a number of restaurants, but I always felt that they lack the specific services I needed in terms of products offered and product delivery methods. I was taken to this restaurant by one of my classmates who told me that he liked the services they offer. I was sceptical, but I decided to give it a try. When we were approaching the restaurant, I knew that there was something unique about it. It was at about eight in the evening. The ambience of the place was evident even before one enters the restaurant. From the dress code of the waiters and the waitresses, to the colour choices of the seats and walls, and the seats in the restaurant, it was evident that the management was keen on setting a unique theme for the place. The figure below shows the place where we were seated.
One of the most important factors that define customer satisfaction, according to Shankar, Whittaker and Fitchett (2006), is the impression that he or she gets when using products or services of a given firm. In fact, Canniford and Shankar (2013) say that impression often helps in defining the level of trust and the value that a customer places on a given product. People tend to judge the value of a given product based on their first impression, and my impression about this restaurant was positive. At first, I had high expectations of the services offered at this firm based on the referrals made by other firms and the recommendation I received from the friend who accompanied me to the restaurant. The physical appearance of the place confirmed that the place was as good as I suggested. Goulding, Shankar, and Canniford (2013) say that customer referrals are often critical in the hospitality industry where competition is increasingly becoming stiff. When customers are thrilled, Cova and Shankar (2011) say that they tend to be evangelist of a given brand or specific product by telling friends of the experience they had. The Circus Restaurant had learnt the art of offering the best value to their customers as a way of turning them from loyal customers to evangelists who can help in promoting its brand within the local market.
As we entered the restaurant, one of the waitresses approached us with a broad smile and directed us to one of the seats at the far end of the restaurant. I was pleased by the curtsey and expression of joy in her face. In the hospitality industry, the kind of interaction that customers have with the attendants matters a lot. Sometimes customers may be unsure about what to order or how to make a specific order in a manner that is befitting. Such a customer needs reassurance from the attendant. That is what we got from this waitress. Her name was Pauline. She made us feel really comfortable as she walked us to one of the tables. We told her that we needed privacy and comfort, and her choice was the best. She engaged us in a little pleasant chat as she took our order. It felt as if we had known her for some time although we were meeting for the first time. According to Shankar, Elliott and Fitchett (2009), sometimes what creates a difference between a good and a great service are little things that most firms often ignore. The ability of employees to make customers develop a sense of belonging is critical in the hospitality industry (Barnhart & Peñaloza 2013). It is important to make customers feel at home whenever they visit. That is exactly what Pauline did with us. She made us feel relaxed and comfortable. She even asked us about how comfortable we felt after we had seated. Her question, though genuine as part of customer feed-back program common in a few other restaurants, was asked in a sincere manner that showed concern for our comfort. This was amazing to me, given that it was asked before we received the service. It was a confirmation that she was willing to make any necessary adjustments to ensure that we were comfortable (Giesler 2008). I felt that it was a more responsible manner of asking for customers’ feedback than when it is asked after services have been rendered.
The waitress left after taking our orders. My friend and I were pleased by the soft background music at the restaurant. It was loud enough, but not in a way that would interfere with a conversation in any way. Ahuvia (2005) says that one of the common mistakes that some food outlets make is having loud music that makes it almost impossible for people to have a meaningful conversation. A restaurant without music is boring. Even when a customer is in a jovial mood, the quietness in the chosen dining place may cause boredom. On the other hand, when the music is very loud, it may become annoying. One of the reasons why people visit restaurants is to have conversation over various socio-economic, political, religious, or private issues. When the environment is very noisy, then they cannot have any meaningful discussion. The sound of music should be bearable. One should be able to listen to the music and derive joy from it while at the same time be able to converse with others without having to shout. That is the kind of environment that has been created at The Circus Restaurant. I looked at my friend and noticed that he was smiling. All this while he had been keenly monitoring me and was certain the place had exceeded my expectation. The music was good, the place comfortable and clean, and lighting was just perfect. It is what one would prefer on a perfect date with a loved one. However, we were not on a date that particular evening. We were there to have some fun, and as it turned out, it was a pleasurable experience.
According to Schau, Muniz, and Arnould (2009), waiting time is a critical determinant of customer satisfaction in the hospitality industry. When customers are forced to wait for a long time before they get the services they need, their level of satisfaction may be low. They may develop a feeling that the attendants are less concerned about their needs. Pauline did not take long. She came back after a short while with our order. She was wearing the same smile as before, but this time round she appeared a lot more at ease in our presence. She cracked a joke and asked us our names. We felt that we were talking to a friend, not an employee of the Circus Restaurant. Being able to create a bond between a customer and a firm’s employees during the first day of meeting is not easy. It requires trust and it often takes a while for the trust to be developed. It may involve a number of meetings for genuine trust between a customer and an employee to be created. However, the first meeting we had with this particular attendant resulted in an instant sense of trust.
A unique bond was created and we felt very comfortable in her presence. The experience was thrilling as we settled down for our meals. In an assuring manner, she invited us to have our meals and informed us that she would be back soon to check on us. Having highly talented employees is not easy. A firm’s success largely depends on the capabilities of its employees. Loyal customers are created by a team of employees who know how to interact with customers in a way that will make them thrilled not just with the services offered but also the manner in which these services are offered. Pauline was such a talent. She knew what to do to make us feel relaxed and comfortable and she did exactly that. The figure below shows the conceptual framework that can be used to enhance customer service and create a pool of loyal customers.
As shown in the above framework, creating customer loyalty starts with creating internal quality service. It is through employee’s satisfaction that internal performance can be improved. Satisfied, experienced, and skilled employees help in delivering quality service. Customers can only be satisfied if they are offered quality service. The framework shows that customer satisfaction leads to customer loyalty.
The Product: Chicken Tikka Masala and Rice
The meal was another pleasurable experience that I had not anticipated when we planned to visit the place. We had both ordered for Chicken tikka masala which is one of my favourite dishes. The recipe for chicken tikka masala may be common, but the preparation often differs from one cook to another. What was presented to us at The Circus Restaurant was one of the most delicious chicken tikka masala I have ever tried in my life. There was a unique taste because of the spices and preparation method that was used. In the food industry, one of the biggest challenges that firms face is to find the best way of meeting the needs of customers. Customers have varying tastes based on their social background. What one customer considers delicious may not be the same thing that a different customer may prefer. At The Circus Restaurant, most of the popular meals such as chicken masala come in various tastes as defined by different spices. Customers are informed of the different spices that define different tastes of the meal they want to order so that they can understand what to expect. The meal was wonderful and I could see that my friend was also enjoying the experience. I sensed that there were other secret ingredients that made this meal have a unique taste. It gave this product an edge over similar products offered at some of the other restaurants I have visited in the past within this town.
The mode of presentation also matters a lot in the hospitality industry (Coskuner & Craig 2013). The manner in which the food is presented shows professionalism. We were both served by one person. However, she demonstrated high level of professionalism in her services. The manner in which she arranged the cutlery before us demonstrated that she knew what she was doing. Sometimes poor service by an attendant may affect a whole experience at a food outlet (Goulding et al. 2009). Pauline seemed very experienced at what she was doing. The level of cleanliness was another striking feature that was very pleasing in the service received from this restaurant. I am always very keen when it comes to hygiene. It is the primary factor that often determines whether or not I will visit a given food joint again after the first visit. In the past, I once developed stomach problems after taking contaminated meal at a restaurant. Since then, I became very conscious of everything that I order. Everything presented before us was sparkling clean. It was evident that this firm was not taking the issue of hygiene lightly. It was treating it with seriousness that it deserved and as a customer visiting this place for the first time, I was pleased. I was certain that although I was not aware of the level of cleanliness at the kitchen, whatever was presented to me at the table was a proof that the firm takes seriously the need to maintain high level of cleanliness. I noticed that my friend was smiling at me in an assuring manner, as if to reaffirm the fact that the experience was beautiful.
When we entered this facility, I knew that the price for the services here will be more expensive than where I had been in the past. The more time I spent at this restaurant the more I felt that it was justified to charge high price for its premium products. On this particular day, I was ready to pay the high price because I was thrilled with the services offered. As soon as we finished our meals, we signalled Pauline who came to clear the table. She made fun of us, wondering how thorough we were with our meals. We all laughed as she cleared the table. My friend looked at me and asked me to rate the services we had received on a scale of one to five. He knew that I was thrilled and he was right. I told him that I would give it a rating of 5 out of 5 because it was the best I had ever imagined. My main concern at the moment was pricing at the restaurant. Depending on how they charge for their services, I would have become a regular or occasional visitor at the restaurant. As a student, I have to be price sensitive even in instances when I prefer premium services. Pauline walked towards us with our bill in her hands. She then said,
“I hope the meal and the service in general was within your expectation. Here is what you owe me for everything I have offered you this evening”
I was pleased by the fact that she personalised the service. She looked at it from the perspective of everything being her responsibility. Her statement showed that she was ready to take the blame in case we were not satisfied by the services offered. I looked at her and we both smiled as I took the bill from her. I did my best to hide my fear from her as I knew the price had to be high. When I looked at my friend, he was smiling too, a fact that gave me reassurance. When I finally saw the bill, I was able to understand why my friend was smiling. The premium service we had received was worth £ 15.2. The total cost was £ 19.00 but given that my friend was visiting for the second time with another customer, he was given a coupon that lowered the cost by 20%. I could not believe this because I had been paying more for less at other restaurants. My friend James and Pauline smiled as I held the bill with amazement. Although James offered to pay, I was convinced that this was the best food outlet for me as long as I am in this city. Pauline said to us softly,
“You will always get the best at the least possible price whenever you visit The Circus Restaurant. We have your interest at heart in all that we do.”
Her statement hammered in a pint that was already sinking as we got up from our table. She walked us to the door and bid us farewell as we walked out of the restaurant. That was something that I did not expect, but it meant a lot to me. The whole experience was completely different from what one would expect when visiting a restaurant. It was as if we had visited a family friend, not a busy restaurant. James drove me to my apartment and then left. The incident remained ingrained in my mind. As Epp and Price (2008) say, it may be very challenging to offer a thrilling experience to a customer. However, once a customer is thrilled, he or she becomes a loyal evangelist who is ready to convince others to purchase particular product so as to get the same experience. I was thrilled by the experience and became a loyal customer of The Circus Restaurant.
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In the catering industry, creating repeat purchase is the best way of ensuring that there is sustainability in a firm’s operations (McNay 2010). However, customers can only make repeat purchase if they are convinced that the value derived from the product meets their needs in the best way possible (Dahl et al. 2013). My experience at The Circus Restaurant made me even more reluctant to prepare my own meals at my apartment. The cost of taking my meals at this restaurant is not significantly different from what I would spend if I prepare my own meals given that I now do not have to hire someone to wash my utensils. Cases where I have to throw away food because I did not eat it at the right time have also been eliminated. The second time I visited the restaurant alone, I was pleasantly surprised that Pauline clearly remembered my name. This showed how serious she was in terms of delivering value to esteemed customers of this firm. Hackley (2007) advises that where possible, a firm should make a commitment to develop personal relationship with its customers. It is the responsibility of the employees to help in creating this close relationship.
Pauline is currently a personal friend and I am one of the most common customers of The Circus Restaurant. Sometimes I visit purposefully to see my friend Pauline. Caru and Cova (2003) say that when a customer develops personal attachment with a firm, it may not be easy to convince them to try products of other firms. Such customers develop a feeling that they are part of that organisation (Kozinets & Jay 2004). They have the desire to see such a firm succeed because they want it to always be there so that they can continue getting the unique experience every time they purchase their products. That is the feeling that I developed since the first time I set my foot in this restaurant. A unique bond was created that left me permanently attached to this firm. It was not just the unique service that we received from the waitress but also the superiority of the product offered, the ambiance of the place, and the friendly pricing strategy of this firm that turned me from a visitor to a loyal customer. I am yet to find a local restaurant that is capable of offering the same value as what I always receive when I visit The Circus Restaurant. I do intend to continue using its services as long as I am within this town.
I am currently staying in an apartment within the town close to my college. I come from a very large family and I am used to the idea of eating together with others. When I joined college, I started to prepare my own meals, but in most of the cases, I would be forced to throw away food because of lack of appetite. I rarely enjoy meals that I personally prepare. Every time I am forced to throw away food, I feel hurt because I know someone somewhere lacks the same, and therefore, it is an immoral character. That is why I often consider taking meals at restaurants where there are many people. It reminds me of the family I have back at home. I consider myself an important customer to the local restaurants within Bath because I have to take at least one meal every day in a restaurant. In some cases I would make two or three visits for the three daily meals at my preferred restaurant. It means that a firm that manages to make me their loyal customer can benefit a lot. This is coupled by the fact that sometimes I visit these restaurants with my peers.
When I visited The Circus Restaurant, I had no idea what to expect. However, the truth is that I had visited many other restaurants within the town but was yet to get the kind of services that I need. It is true that there are a number of restaurants that are located in modern structures and are better looking than The Circus Restaurant. However, most of these restaurants are often poor on issues such as customer service, level of cleanliness, or pricing. The day we visited The Circus Restaurant for the first time, I expected to experience one of the most common disappointments that I have often had at other places. However, it was pleasantly surprising that in every stage of the experience at this restaurant, things got better. At every stage that I thought something wrong could happen, I ended up getting the best I could imagine and that was amazing. There were four things that made me love this restaurant and I believe most of the loyal customers of this firm also love these factors.
I highly value cleanliness, especially when it comes to anything that goes into my mouth. I have visited other restaurants in this town before and one of the major turnoffs has always been poor hygiene. Poor hygiene may manifest itself in various ways. It may be unhygienic dress of the attendants, dirty seats and tables, dirty floor, dirty cutlery, or any other item within the restaurant. I believe that a restaurant that highly values hygiene will ensure that every part of the room and every item within the restaurant are clean. The workers must also be tidy at all times. It is only when this is done that I can believe the food presented before me was prepared in a hygienic manner. The level of hygiene was a major factor that made me become a loyal customer of this firm. Every time I take a meal at this restaurant, I am convinced that I am not putting my health into jeopardy.
The second factor is courtesy and level of professionalism demonstrated by the attendants of this restaurant. Every human being, from a very tender age to old age, wants to feel that they are appreciated. I also have the desire to be in a place where I feel I am appreciated as a customer. When I visited The Circus Restaurant for the first time, it was evident that I felt the firm valued me as a customer. Pauline, one of the employees of this firm, showed me that I am of great value to this company and as an employee she was willing to do all that it took to ensure that I am satisfied. The first impression often matters a lot and indeed the impression I got the first time I entered this restaurant has turned me into a very loyal customer. I have developed personal attachment with some of the employees of this firm and sometimes I feel I am part of this organisation. I feel I have a role to play in making The Circus Restaurant a successful firm. I may not know what might happen in a near future, but I am sure I will remain a loyal customer of this firm as long as I am in this town.
I, like many other people, like good meals prepared with utmost care. This is the third factor that has made me become highly attached to this company. Back at home, I am used to certain way of preparing meals. When I visited this restaurant, I came to realise that I can get that which meets my expectations. Low-fat products are some of the meals I prefer most given that I am not a vegan but highly value my health. This firm offers me the best value every time I purchase their products. Having become a popular customer at this restaurant, I noticed that there is always an effort by the employees to provide the best value to me. There is close coordination between the cooks and the waiters and waitresses. When a customer visits for the first time, the waiters and waitresses are keen to understand the desired product in the best way possible. They then relay the message to the chefs who often strive to meet the expectations of the customers. This is what happened on the first day that I visited this restaurant. The quality of the products that was delivered to us turned me into one of its most loyal customers.
The fourth factor that made me a loyal customer of this firm is their pricing strategy. The Circus Restaurant location means that it serves many students from the local learning institutions. As a student, I am very keen on managing my expenses. It is true that I have very supportive parents who are always keen on offering me the best at all times. However, I do not want my lifestyle to be a financial burden to them. As such, I have been keen on managing my expenses, including the amount of money I spend in food. I did my calculations and realised that the money I spend to prepare meals at home, most of which I am forced to throw away, and on the cleaning services, is almost the same as what I spend taking my meals at this restaurant. The only difference is that I feel part of a larger community when I visit the restaurant. I also avoid wastage of food. The price is very reasonable for a student like me, and that is why I have remained a very loyal customer since the day I made my first visit. Taking two meals a day at The Circus Restaurant does not in any way affect my budget negatively.
One can easily think that I am not hard working given that I prefer taking my meals at the restaurant than at home. However, that is not the case. One of the main reasons why I eat in the restaurant is because I am not a good cook. I have tried it several times and the outcome is not always as pleasing as I would prefer. Another important factor is that currently I do not have a roommate at my apartment. Taking a meal alone is not easy and most often I am forced to throw away a meal. At the Circus Restaurant, I have created a family. The family is very supportive of me emotionally, especially Pauline who has become a personal friend, so I get more than just the quality service they offer. Since the first time I visited this facility, I have felt that I have a new family close to me. They have filled a hole in my heart that was created when I left my family miles away to come and study at this institution. I have a surrogate sister in Pauline and the only way of always being close to her is to visit this restaurant as often as I possibly can. I believe in the services offered by this firm because to me they are my family that cares a lot for my well being and would not do anything to purposely harm me. I have developed a unique trust with this firm, through its employees, and that is why I have remained loyal to the firm since the time I made my first visit. In fact, I have become more loyal to this company than the friend who introduced me to the services offered here.
It is possible that part of the reason that has turned me into such a loyal customer of this restaurant is the loneliness that I often feel once we part ways with my classmates at school. I often visit these friends and they too come to my apartment after classes. However, there are cases where I become very lonely that I feel I need to get out of the house. This happens often because most of my friends are active in various sports but I am not. They often travel out of town for various tournaments and when am left behind, I find it fulfilling spending time with other people that have become very close to me. This is so because in the past I had a serious problem of anxiety and panic attacks. Although I was able to overcome this problem through therapy, my true source of healing was through the loving and caring family I had. The family members were always close, and that provided me with some sense of security. When I joined college, I had to leave my family behind, but it meant that I had to create an immediate replacement with people who care for me. I found this care and love in this firm through a number of its employees.