The following is a description of a customer experience I had with my best friend at The Melting Pot restaurant in Austin, Texas in 2010:
“I have a Groupon for The Melting Pot that Juliann can’t use. You wanna check it out?”
My best friend Kim waved the offer in the air as I considered. The Melting Pot was one of the nicer, fine dining restaurants in downtown Austin where dinner and dessert consisted of fondue entrees. I wouldn’t have gone there normally since it was pretty pricey, but with a Groupon, how could I refuse? It sounded like a good deal to me. If I didn’t like it, at least I knew not to go there when I wouldn’t have a discount.
“Sure.” The following weekend, the two of us headed down to The Melting Pot for the very first time – me with my camera which I brought to all my outings because I like to catalog my memories – and we would leave with no less than a five-star impression of our experience there. The very first thing we noticed as we entered the restaurant was that everything looked really nice. It felt like a romantic place you would take your girl out to on your one-year anniversary, or something along those lines. But hey, going there with your best friend with a Groupon also worked out pretty well.
We were seated promptly, and soon afterward our charming waiter Bobby arrived on the scene. Well-groomed and dressed in a black dress shirt and slacks, he spoke to us as if he’d known us all his life, placing well-crafted menus before us and asking us if this was our first time at The Melting Pot. When we admitted to being neophytes, he gladly introduced us to his recommended choices while keeping the conversation casual and pleasant. What made the dinner even better was Bobby’s explanation of the vegetable bourguignonne base for our Seafood Trio, how long to stew vegetables and meat inside of the pot, and all these other little tips and tricks that only an experienced fondueist would be able to relay to novices like us.
As the night came to a close, I asked him if it’d be alright to record when he would pour Bacardi 151 rum into the chocolate in order to light up our Flaming Turtle dessert. He was all for it and even offered amusing commentary as he performed for the camera. When our checks for the night came in, we left thank-you messages on our receipts for Bobby; it was the first time I’d felt so inclined to write something more than a tip for a waiter. But hey, he’d made us laugh, feel good, and gave us more than just a well-served dinner in a fancy restaurant. He gave us a memorable dining experience reflective of the sophisticated casualness (or is it casual sophistication?) that The Melting Pot had to offer its customers.
The following Experiential Marketing Framework breaks down this dining experience into Sense, Feel, Think, Act, and Relate:
SENSE: The Melting Pot’s environment stimulated the visual senses the most out of all five. You would think olfactory senses would play a bigger role when it comes to a restaurant, but my memory of the experience is recalled mostly by visuals. I remember the way our waiter was dressed, his pristine, shiny name tag which read “Bobby,” the color of the menus which matched the walls, and the simple, minimalistic design of the logo on the top center of the cover. I remember private rooms off to the side and the marbled tabletops. I remember the way the Bacardi 151 lit up the chocolate a brilliant blue as it was poured into the fondue dip. This could all be because I am used to taking photographs of everything, and so my mind has started to function in the same way.
FEEL: My entire experience at The Melting Pot was highly pleasant and enjoyable; even if I don’t recall how the food tasted clearly, I remember laughing, feeling comfortable, and really enjoying my dinner. Therefore, I associate a good time with friends with that particular restaurant now. I would recommend going there to other people just because of the great service.
THINK: Because we were new to this experience, Bobby helped us navigate the selections on the menu and dutifully answered all of our questions, explaining what bases were used, what healthier options were, and what recommendations he had for us. In the process, Kim and I learned a good amount about fondue and dipping and were able to make educated choices on our entrees as a result of that experience.
ACT: My experience at The Melting Pot affected the way I would dip my fondue, or rather, the way I saw fondue. Up until then, I’d associated fondue with things like parties, get-togethers, and other really casual sort of settings. Now that I’d been exposed to fondue dipping in a fine dining restaurant, I began to realize that fondue could be quite the sophisticated affair, especially with such an attentive waiter, well-prepared vegetables, meats, and desserts, and long fondue sticks that solidified the classiness of it all.
RELATE: Having such a charming and wonderful waiter allowed my best friend and I to treat him and be treated as wanted guests, and on a deeper level, as companions. This sort of experience falls back on and reinforced my previous association of fondue being a casual affair with friends.