A holistic approach to better restaurants looks at space, money, design, logistics, and human emotions.
Dr. Stephani Robson is senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies in the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. Her areas of expertise include hospitality design and development, design and environmental analysis, and environmental psychology. She describes herself as a “restaurant psychologist” due to her multidisciplinary approach to helping the various aspects of restaurant design and operation work together more smoothly.
What does it mean to be a “restaurant psychologist”?
I’m really interested in how to make people feel great. And that’s what the hospitality industry is like. It’s a relationship business. And so my area is, how do you use the physical environment to create those great feelings? If you get the great feelings, then it translates into productivity and profit for the operator.
When you first talk to people in the restaurant business, how do you bring them around to your ideas?
Usually I only have to make the case by saying, “Do you think you’re getting the maximum benefit from the resources you’re putting into your restaurant?” Everybody says no. That’s an easy one. And then I ask, “What are your top three resources?” And they all say the same thing, “Well, they’re food, labor…” And then they kind of vacillate.
So I say, “Your number-one resource that you are bringing to the table is space. Everything else other people are bringing to the table. Your resource is your space, so we’ve got to make the best use of that space.” And when you start working backwards from space, you can then begin to say, “Let’s focus on more engineering in the front of house and more psychology in the back of house.” Especially when you can demonstrate that this approach is going to show financial benefit.
Because these are businesses—these are tough businesses. So being able to demonstrate that these changes have an immediate, beneficial effect usually gets people on board. But there are a lot of people who it’s tough to make this argument with. They still think of restaurant design as being aesthetics in the front and factory in the back.
So when someone from a more traditional background resists a holistic view of restaurant design, what do you say?
Then I’m really naughty. I just say, “Okay, what’s your spend per minute in the front?” And they never are able to answer because they don’t have that data. The spend per minute—as un-hospitality a metric as that sounds—that’s the key measure of …….