Going out to eat teaches us about UX

First of all, let me start by saying I was particularly excited about attending this talk. I would be lying if I told you I don’t watch an episode of an Anthony Bourdain show at least once a week, so when I heard there was going to be a talk about how restaurant experiences can teach us about UX (i.e. combining my two favorite things), I was doing my happy dance.


Jimmy Chandler, UX Architect, Co-organizer  and presenter of the talk, started off with showing us one thing we New Yorkers are all too familiar with, the Shake Shack line! Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 1.09.46 PM.png

What is that make people stand in line for hours on end when there are countless of other options? The answer: brand loyalty.

How can restaurants build brand loyalty to their customers and how do they treat different customers with different needs?

Fun Fact: The factor that angers restaurant-goers the most? Waiting for a table – especially when they tell you 15 min and it takes 45.

Stress or Pleasure?

Let’s say you are going out to eat and want a great experience. Sure, when deciding where to go, you could say you care about the food, the service, the atmosphere, and the cost, but the real key for the restaurant is to manage your expectations by communicating clearly.

Wait in the Shake Shack line or hit up a food truck??

First Rule of UX is that you cannot avoid communicating.  Every behavior is a kind of communication.

Think about the countless of interactions you take when going out to eat (deciding where to go, making a reservation, ordering drinks, eating, using the restroom, the list goes on). Each interaction will cause you to experience either stress or pleasure.

Danny Meyer, the mastermind behind Shake Shack and countless other top-rated restaurants, attributes his success on delivering a great restaurant experience to his customers to two factors: service and hospitality.

  • Service, the technical delivery in a product, equates to a product being usable, useful, and reliable.
  • Hospitality, how the delivery of a product makes the recipient feel, equates to a product being delightful and engaging.

Great service includes really taking the time to get the details right. Jimmy gave a great example about Google Maps, and how they put the pin of a place you are looking for on one side of the road, so you know where to look.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 1.48.41 PM

Impeccable service at the notorious French Laundry

Great hospitality is what makes an experience go from good to unforgettable.  You want all of your customers to feel like they are being listened to, being treated with respect, and being treated the way they expect to be treated and beyond.

To create great service and hospitality, you need two things: cognitive empathy and insight.

  • Cognitive empathy is the intent on understanding someone and how their reactions are different than yours
  • Insight uses cognitive empathy to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something.

When you put great service and hospitality together, you can generate a deep emotional connection with your customers. But so what?

Why should you care about your customers’ emotions?

The issue with many companies today is that they think they can only get insight from analytics, which isn’t to say analytics isn’t important, but it only gives you the what. smile-woman_Companies must understand the why in order to solve the problem, and to do this, they must talk, understand, and observe their users. This will help companies understand their user’s mental models, which explains how someone’s thought process of something works.

So back to the million dollar question, why do we care about emotions?
Emotions help us make decisions. 

“A few years ago, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio made a groundbreaking discovery. He studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. He found that they seemed normal, except that they were not able to feel emotions. But they all had something peculiar in common: they couldn’t make decisions. They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions, such as what to eat…So at the point of decision, emotions are very important for choosing.”

-Jim Camp, Decisions Are Emotional, not Logical: The Neuroscience behind Decision Making

If you want your customers to choose you over someone else, it will be highly dependent on the emotions your customers feel with your product. Better interfaces create more efficient and happier customers, which builds up a positive connection between you and your customers.

And what happens when your customer keeps coming back? They build that brand loyalty we were talking about earlier, which create your most valuable customers.

REMEMBER: Your product is a series of interactions of stress and pleasure. Delightful design fulfills people’s emotional needs, and to have that insight, you must talk, listen, and observe your customer. 

Next stop for me is validating all of this research by eating at Rasika in DC, as per Jimmy’s recommendation. To be continued…

Check out Jimmy’s presentation here.

To learn more about designing for emotions, check out the books Jimmy recommended: Designing for Emotion and Seductive Interaction Design (which are now on my reading list).

A special thank you to Jimmy ChandlerMotivate DesignNYC Code and Design Academy, and the UX Lab Meetup for putting on this event!


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