How to ‘WOW’ customers at a buffet

The luxurious and extravagant hotel on the island of Palm Beach, Florida touting two turrets with waving flags reminiscent of a Roman palace immediately creates the illusion of a magical kingdom fit for the most discriminating clientele. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Breakers Hotel sits on 140 acres of manicured lawns, hedges, pools, spas, hotel rooms, and exquisite restaurants. The staff ranges from 1600 to 1800 depending on the time of year and covers 50 languages. From the moment one arrives, the promise of a truly regal customer experience is realized.

So it came to be my family’s desired location for Christmas dinner; the dinner buffet in the Ponce de Leon Ballroom. And the “WOW” customer service experience began. From the smiles of the welcoming staff as we drove up to the grand entrance, to the lobby with the vaulted ceilings, tufted sofas, and the attentive service personnel ready to direct their guests to whatever direction they might be headed, ensured a lasting family memory.

At one time buffets were designed, at least from the customer point of view as an “all you can eat” experience where massive quantities of food were presented without much thought to presentation. Today’s guests expect elegance, upscale ambiance, an easy traffic-flow to navigate through different stations, and an upbeat and attentive staff.  So how did the Breakers exceed customer expectations?

Two hostesses greeted us as we approached the dining room and within moments led us to our table. A live band played soft music; the saxophonist was incredibly talented. The buffet was set up on both sides to accommodate either section of the dining room with an exquisite dessert table set off to the side. There was never more than a few moments wait to scoop up a delectable selection of food ranging from salads, cold displays of jumbo shrimp, oysters and little neck clams, to caviar, hot buffet items, and carving stations; each selection skillfully presented amid a backdrop of exquisite Christmas decorations, ribbons, and wreaths. After all isn’t presentation at least 50 percent of a buffet’s appeal? The wait staff was able to anticipate and react to their guests requests, and were knowledgeable about vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free diets including questions about ingredients for food sensitive diners.  Managers in well tailored suits, hostesses in professional holiday fashion, and waiters anxious to please and attentive to every detail knew when to approach and when to leave guests to the privacy of their special family moments.

A good buffet showcase such as the Christmas Day Dinner is more than just a fine dining experience.  It actually serves as a showcase for banquets and special services. The ability of this extraordinary customer experience draws people into the hotel who may not normally visit, but who have been so impressed by the services and venue may now one day plan a wedding, social occasion, or business conference. And from this experience comes our family telling our other relatives what a wonderful afternoon we spent at the Breakers, and the good reviews pass on and on. Of course, the story of this exceptional experience can’t be complete until I mention a few of the desserts which included gourmet hot chocolate shots, peppermint bark, walnut rum balls, and egg nog mousse martinis. There just wasn’t a frown in the place!

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