One of the best meals we had while in China was at a small restaurant called 1931 in Shanghai, in the French Concession area. The food could easily stand on its own merit, but there were many non-culinary details of our evening there that made it a delightful experience. Reflecting on that meal, these are some of the key ingredients to creating excellent customer experiences:
(1) Consistency of experience
The decor of 1931 was recently remodeled to a more sino-Western 1930’s look, complete with colored glass votives and lamps, flowery wallpaper, a painting of four 1930’s Shanghai women playing mah-jong in the parlor, and old jazz playing in the background (they even claim to have a Victrola!). The restaurant itself is very small, with only 8-9 tables cozily packed in a small space. The experience felt as if we had wandered into someone’s house in the Concession for dinner. (Unfortunately there was a sign prominently displayed in the restaurant that said no cameras allowed!)
(2) Needs anticipated
Although the restaurant is small and cannot accommodate many diners at once, there was no shortage of wait staff tending to our needs when we were there. Dressed in traditional qipao, the waitresses were attentive and responsive without being too intrusive.
(3) Quality beyond expectations
We had the pleasure of experiencing many wonderful meals in China at some of the nicest restaurants, and this meal tasted as good as the best of them. What made this one stand out was how finely prepared all the ingredients were: potatoes, scallions, and cucumber julienned into the thinnest slivers; vegetables minced so well that almost no chewing was necessary, the food just melted in the mouth. The chef at 1931 clearly recognizes that texture is as important as taste when it comes to creating a delightful meal.
(4) A surprise that brings delight
Shortly after we ordered, we were served three small appetizers served on a glass-blown caddy: roasted seasoned peanuts, tofu with cabbage, and soybeans with vegetables. The finely prepared appetizers did more than put us in a good mood over having bonus food before our meal; they gave us a preview into what was to come. As Brian Wansink has shown, our perception of the quality of a meal is greatly influenced by external factors beyond the food itself, down to the smallest details like where the wine comes from.
The surprise appetizers, attentive wait staff, and consistently 1930’s, cozy atmosphere set such a positive impression and warmed our perceptions toward the restaurant so that the food tasted even better than if the same dishes had been served to us at any other restaurant. We got a great meal and a nice lesson on creating an excellent customer experience.