My wife and I welcomed in the New Year sitting in the same restaurant, in the same seats, at very the same table where I proposed on New Year’s Eve six years ago. We have a standing reservation at Boca Restaurant every NYE at table 77 however our loyalty to Boca goes well beyond the tradition of celebrating our engagement.
A few years ago, my wife made a reservation at Boca, for my birthday celebration. In the end, she ended up having to cancel the reservation. Several months later, my wife made a different reservation at Boca, this time for a dinner with our family. My wife didn’t do or say anything special when she made this second reservation — it was just your normal, run-of-the-mill phone call.
The four of us sat down for dinner that night and ordered our drinks. They were delivered to our table, along with a plate of fried pickles. Note that Boca is a high-end restaurant; they do not serve fried pickles, and we didn’t order them. Nonetheless, there was a plate of my all-time favorite comfort food, sitting in the center of the table, and prepared just how I like them (cut into chips, not spears — this is a critical detail!).
Excited, I look over at my wife. She looked very confused. It was at this point that our server looked over at me and said, “I understand you love fried pickles. These are compliments of the chef.” As the server walked away, I leaned over to my wife and thanked her for putting a bug in the chef’s ear.
“I didn’t!” she responded. “When I made your birthday reservation, I mentioned that fried pickles were your favorite, but that was months ago.”
Through this conversation, we realized that Boca obviously has some type of reservation system that allows them to make notes about customer preferences. Not only do they have this system, but they make a point of actively referring to and using it, as the delicious plate of fried pickles sitting on our table proved. We were blown away.
BLOW YOUR CUSTOMERS AWAY
Had the pickle chip incident happened on my birthday as my wife had originally orchestrated, I still would have been impressed with Boca. However, the fact that it happened months later at the least expected time made it a truly memorable moment. I will forever be loyal to Boca. It also bears mentioning that my undying loyalty came at virtually no cost to the restaurant. It is also something they never could have accomplished through any amount of marketing or advertising dollars. Intrigued, I started researching the Cincinnati-based Boca Restaurant Group, including interviewing the CEO and chef, David Falk. All told, Boca has over 650 employees spread throughout restaurants in four different states and continues to grow.
Based on my own experience, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Boca has a company-wide mandate to “blow people away,” or, as they refer to it, BPA. As Falk puts it:
“Our highest ethos in the organization is BPA. It was all predicated on the idea that I was scared to death when I opened my first restaurant because I didn’t have anyone to blame for my failure but myself. I just kept saying over and over again, ‘We have to blow people away.’ Soon, BPA became a noun and a verb. ‘We have a BPA on table 77’ or ‘We BPAed that table.’”
Team members at Boca actively and regularly look for opportunities to blow their customers away. As I can attest to, it works!
As Falk shared with me, over the years, Boca has even codified the process of blowing away. It consists of three primary steps:
1. Aggressive listening, which has to be done in a covert way
2. Creative and organic ideas, which have to be genuine and spur-of-the-moment
3. Flawless execution
The idea here is to keep the BPA system as open and flexible as possible. Falk explains, “It nullifies the power if you try to make it too regimented. Genuine hospitality and generosity are really hard to find.”
While we are looking at BPA through the lens of the customer in this chapter, it doesn’t have to stop there. Falk explains, “My favorite BPAs are when we BPA our staff or our staff BPA each other.”
I am personally deeply inspired by this BPA policy, but it’s not something most establishments actually do. Obviously, BPA results in an incredible and memorable customer experience. However, for it to be more than just words on a page, Boca has to do a very important thing: they have to empower their employees. To truly blow people away involves more than just polite, route service. It requires going the extra mile. If team members have to check in with their manager each and every time they want to go that extra mile, it would amount to nothing more than good intentions much of the time.
By empowering your employees, you open the floodgates for unparalleled customer experience. You are essentially handing over the keys to each of your team members, allowing them to create the kind of personal connections and lasting memories that foster a deep-seated loyalty to your brand.