What Do Michelin-Starred Restaurants Have In Common With User-Centred Design?

The goal of user-centred design is to elevate products and services to create high-quality experiences for those who interact with them. Businesses are increasingly recognising that they can no longer look at users as transactions and are now focusing on delivering great service at every touchpoint.

From working as both a sommelier in a Michelin-starred restaurant and as a UX designer, I’ve thought a lot about how these experiences relate. When considering what is ‘good’ service, Michelin-starred restaurants set the benchmark. They are defined by their service and exude the traditional notions of what excellent service means.

As it turns out, many of the principles of hospitality are universal and translate well to those working in user-centred design…

Guests, Not Customers

As a sommelier – or really, anyone working in a Michelin-starred restaurant – you have to exemplify the service standard of the establishment you’re working at. We always referred to our patrons as ‘guests’, not ‘customers’. Referring to them in that way had a subconscious effect on the thought process and attitude we held; when you host guests, like you would at home, you want them to feel comfortable and act as they normally do. When user testing, we want participants to do the same. We want to observe their behaviours naturally, in order to tailor solutions specific to their needs. So, try not to think of your participants simply as one of a ‘group’ – think of and treat them as you would your guests.

Empower Your Guests

In order to deliver the best experience for our guests, we would guide them in making their own decisions – rather than telling them what to order outright. For example, when a guest had no knowledge of wine whatsoever, we would tailor our approach to suit the level that was appropriate to them and allow them to make the right choice themselves. Remember, “the customer is always right” – and this is no different to any interaction a user may have with a product or website. The manner in which they choose to interact should be guided and they should feel empowered and able to make decisions for themselves.

“The customer is always right”: Sommeliers and UX designers have to guide guests/users to a decision that is beneficial to them

Always Be a Step Ahead

Part of what distinguishes good service from excellent service is the anticipation of guests’ needs. As a professional sommelier, I would never let a wine glass go empty or leave a finished glass on the table. As a designer, you must similarly be aware of all the ways in which a user might interact with your product and anticipate their needs. As you won’t be looking over them when they’re using the product, you must consider their mental models and prepare solutions that will mitigate problems.

Calm On The Surface

When I was working as a sommelier, we would often use the analogy of a duck in a pond to describe the nature of our restaurant. On the surface all is calm, but the legs are working furiously below to keep the duck afloat, and in a restaurant, the calmness of the dining room is in stark contrast to the frantic kitchen. When moderating user testing, I find the same dichotomy. Getting the mixture of neutrality and attachment is key. Become a gracious host, a leader and a neutral observer; calmly coaxing the user, while vigilantly documenting their thoughts and behaviours.

Be In Control of Every Interaction

In order to maintain a high level of service, we developed a script: a sequence of service we were expected to maintain. This was used as a foundation, and it was expected that, as a sommelier, you would go above and beyond this in order to create truly memorable experiences for guests. But what elevates the experience you have with a product when there are so many to choose from? Often, it’s the small delights. The automation of a form, an address look-up, or gamification – all of these go beyond the expectations of the user and can really make a difference.

Even the smallest ‘delighter’ can make a big difference to a user’s experience

People Remember How You Make Them Feel

A restaurant ‘experience’ is common and revolves around a series of events well within the expectations of the guests. So, it takes something special to make the experience transcend those expectations. Your guests (and users) are more likely to remember how they felt, rather than what they did (or even what your product was). As designers, we should always be looking to change things from just a ‘function’ to an experience, how to make an experience a delight and how to remove any anguish from a difficult task.

At Bunnyfoot, we’re experts in using emotion and persuasion to create truly exceptional user experiences, both online and off. Think we can help you? Get in touch.

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About Bunnyfoot

We are psychologists, interaction and design experts, researchers, usability specialists. We cover Web, software, mobile, print, service design and more.
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