One obvious, popular, and overwhelmingly effective marketing/operational technique that we've seen blossom over the past few years is simply putting a face/name to the business. Does this mean hiring a celebrity chef or entrepreneur to represent your company? I dont think so... I think it means giving the customers someone to connect with a deeper level than just the server (although the server may be doing an excellent job of being that face).
I personally really enjoy seeing the Chef or the restaurant spending time meeting customers and making the busy times their key time to be socializing and discussing food with customers. This added piece of the experience helps the customer subconciously frame the story that we all so deeply require in order to have a deep connection. Give the customer a great story to tell their friends and you can all but guarantee repeat customers and a flood of new ones while your at it. If you've ever been through a Chef's Table experience you might know what this connection is like. All of a sudden you're not just eating a 7 oz Filet Mignon with seasonal vegetables & roasted potatoes. At a Chef's table you're eating a hand cut Filet Mignon, grilled exactly how you like it and delicately seasoned with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. With it you get to enjoy roasted beets & carrots from a local farmer named Dave Phillips and potatoes grown in the local community garden. I'm thinking the experience just improved for you?
The challenge of course is finding a Chef who is socially outgoing enough to adapt to this role. We need to start training our Chefs at a basic level to become customer professionals as well as experts of the knife. We need to create expectations of them as we would expect professional bartenders, not only as technicians, but as the face of the business.
Happy New Year! I'm looking forward to another great year in 2012