Think about the last time you visited a new restaurant. After your meal, did you think you’d be back? If you didn’t, it’s not hard to guess why. Chances are, you were unsatisfied with either the food, the service, or the atmosphere. Those three things (along with price/value) are the primary dimensions of keeping restaurant customers satisfied. Restaurateurs know that for you to come back, they have to:

  1. Serve great food
  2. Make you feel welcome and appreciated
  3. Create an environment that enhances your enjoyment of your meal.

A miss in any one of these three areas diminishes the restaurant’s chances of seeing you again. It means you won’t be recommending the restaurant to your friends anytime soon. Regular misses in any of these three areas will put a restaurant out of business, and it won’t take long.

To create successful events — events that people want to come back to again and again, events that they tell their friends about — you can apply the same approach.

Serve Great “Food”

Bottom line: people visit restaurants to eat, and they attend your events to consume your content. If your content isn’t great, your attendees won’t be back.

Treat content planning as an opportunity to put together a great meal. Don’t be satisfied with simply filling a list of agenda slots. Start planning earlier than you think you need to. Find great speakers (as opposed to great resumes), real speakers who know how to their deliver content well. Work with them to develop event content that surpasses your attendees’ expectations. Help them resist the urge to focus on their needs over your attendees’.

Plan your agenda (your menu!) with care. A restaurant wouldn’t serve you cake before your salad. Your agenda should unfold in a way that helps your attendees reap the most benefit from the content that you and your speakers have worked so hard to prepare.

Provide Great Service

In addition to great content, people attend events looking for a couple other things. They want to network, and they want something we’re going to call being-not-hassled. They want the mechanics of your event to work, without headaches. They’re like diners who look for great service at a restaurant.

When you’re organizing your event, keep in mind that the networking opportunity you provide is just as important to attendees as your content. Create networking opportunities in your agenda. Don’t force attendees to choose between your content and networking. Think of unique ways to facilitate networking, beyond simply creating time for it during the day. If you’re considering an app for your event, make sure it includes simple tools for attendee connection and communication.

Great restaurateurs know that great service brings diners back, and that service perceptions can color everything else about the dining experience, for both good and ill. Event planners should think through and emphasize the service level they provide just like restaurateurs do. This includes not only how you communicate with your attendees before and after the event, but also at the event in situations, such as the on-site check in desk, that might seem insignificant to the event planner.

Create the Right Ambiance

People don’t return to restaurants that are dirty, or garishly lit, or too loud. And event attendees don’t return to events in which the atmosphere got in the way of the value received. On the other hand, people often do tell their friends about restaurants with a really great atmosphere. And event attendees do spread the word about events where the content was great, the networking was a seamless fit, and their ability to make the most of both was super-easy.

Make sure that the organization of your event doesn’t get in the way of your attendees’ ability to œenjoy their meals. Make it easy for attendees to realize the value in your content and the networking opportunities you provide. Set up video feeds to display important content sessions in your networking areas. Keep things physically close, to minimize the time attendees have to spend moving around. Set up simple displays that keep your agenda close at hand, no matter where an attendee might be at the time. Provide lots of charging stations.

These things are the final piece in putting together an event that attendees – just like diners in a truly special, well-thought-through restaurant – will appreciate, return to, and recommend to their friends. Whether your event’s goal is to build your brand, build a community, generate leads, or drive actual sales, thinking like a restaurateur regarding content quality, service quality and the right ambiance will give you a huge leg up in achieving event success, both for the event at hand and for years to come.