Why Fit In When Your Business Can Stand Out At the mouth of Monterey Fisherman's Wharf lies Paluca Trattoria, a "coastal chic" restaurant focused on keeping the history and authenticity of its location alive.
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Behind the Review host and Yelp's Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week's episode of the podcast.
Sometimes, you just need to get away from it all—and fast.
Yelp reviewer Valerie A. and her husband needed to escape the California wildfires last year and wound up in Monterey. They hadn't really planned to be there, so they weren't visiting as tourists. As such, they didn't want to do anything touristy. They just wanted a really nice dinner.
They found Paluca Trattoria, an Italian restaurant right on Fisherman's Wharf, which is normally crowded with tourists and waits can be lengthy. But Valerie saw that Paluca Trattoria was using Yelp Waitlist so she added herself to the online queue.
"I was looking around to try to get reservations and everything was booked. So I liked the fact that I could check in on the waitlist," said Valerie. " I did that, and we walked around for a little bit, and then [when we got the alert,] we headed back to the restaurant. We checked in and were able to get a seat right away, which was really great."
Yelp's waitlist technology was an added value not just for the customer, but for the restaurant too.
"We [used to have] a huge rate of no shows or people that were very late. The conundrum was we'd have all these tables booked out for reservations. We're holding these tables while we've got other people physically standing there saying, "Why are all those tables empty?'" said Paluca Trattoria owner Ashley Tedesco.
"What we decided to do during our busiest months and particularly on the weekends, is offer Yelp Waitlist exclusively. And what that allowed folks to do is as they're approaching and getting closer, they could time it out, being more realistic about when they could show up and then hop on the waitlist."
For Paluca Trattoria, that meant no empty tables, no big crowds waiting on tables, and no revenue left behind.
While the waitlist feature was convenient, it wasn't the only draw for Valerie and her husband. They really enjoyed their visit from start to finish. The food was excellent, but the service—and their server—really stood out, and Valerie mentioned that in her review too.
"The menu was great with lots of traditional Italian classics and some fresh seafood. Our table was nice on the water, but just far enough away so we weren't freezing. They have plenty of heat lamps for added warmth. Our server Rosemary was really friendly and accommodating and we had a lovely evening."
Leaving a personal note about exceptional service is a great way to help business owners recognize outstanding employees, who might otherwise not get the recognition. It's also a great way to incentivize staff to be the best they can be.
"When someone goes out of their way to mention their name, we feel like that's pretty spectacular," said Ashley. "That doesn't happen a lot these days. So when it does, they must have done something really incredible. That's one part of the reviews that I really love is when they call out our staff members, it really does make their day in so many ways."
Successful employees can almost always be traced back to the way they are managed, and one of the best ways to encourage specific behavior is to model it yourself as the business owner. That's something Ashley and her husband Sal believe in wholeheartedly.
"You really have to model what you want your people to, how you want them to be, and how you want them to interact with your customers. We want to create an atmosphere where we feel like people are getting a lot of personalized attention and care," said Ashley.
"We're all working to make sure that everyone's having a good experience. I think that comes off to visitors, and I actually have had quite a few people stop me and comment on that, that they appreciate the fact that it's obvious we're all in that together."
Successful businesses learn how to play to their strengths. Paluca Trattoria's location on Fisherman's Wharf puts them in the middle of everything, and it allows them to promote their relaxed atmosphere and proximity to Monterey Bay, as well as the bay's friendly inhabitants, which are visible from the deck.
"You can see the sea lions and the fish even. Sometimes depending on the time of year and the weather conditions, you can see jellyfish in the water. It's really amazing for people to come and be able to sit and eat and see all that going on, pelicans and the seagulls. We have an outer seating area that's closer to the sailboats, and that's great for a day that has decent weather and not a lot of wind. People love to sit out there because they're closest to the boats and all the sea life," said Ashley.
When it all comes together, like it did for Valerie at Paluca Trattoria, it can wind up in a positive review on Yelp. Valerie says she prefers to give more positive reviews than negative, and she factors in more than just the food in her restaurant reviews. She also feels that leaving a good review is her way of making sure her favorite places can stick around.
"Did I feel welcome? Did I feel like I had a nice experience? Did I want to come back? And when I feel like if I want to come back, I should take the time to write a review so that they are going to get better reviews and other people will come because the more business they get, the more likely I'm going to be able to keep enjoying coming back to this restaurant. So I kind of look at it as like I'm making a small investment to help them be successful in the future, by putting my review out there and my thoughts out there."
It's not easy to run a small business, but it can be made easier if you follow some of these recommendations from Ashley:
- Use all the tools available to you. Technology like Yelp's Waitlist feature can benefit your business in real revenue terms, not just in customer service.
- Model the customer service you want from your employees. They'll look to you as a business owner to set the tone of the business, and then they'll pass that on to the customers.
- Play to your strengths, especially in a crowd. What's special about your business that no competitor has? Use those differences to your advantage to help your business stand out.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Ashley and Valerie, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.