We are in a time in the service industry where people not only want to go out, but they do so more and more without occasion. Remember that steak house your parents used to take the family to when you were growing up for birthdays and anniversaries? They’d ask you what you’re celebrating that night, hopefully, you got away without an embarrassing display of attention via musical number and they’d bring you a mediocre slice of chocolate cake.

Sound familiar?

Gone are the days where ‘going out’ is a once or twice a year occurrence. So why do people go out? And in an age where bars and restaurants of all styles, quality, and price are in abundance - how do they choose? Or more specifically, what keeps them coming back?

Your answer might look something like price, quality, location, environment, or staff. All of which are valid answers, but we’re not quite there.

People sit at your table or your bar, not because of what you offer, but because of how you make them feel.

You all know I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek and his talk, Start With Why. He explains that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. In regards to the service industry, your ‘why’ directly correlates with how you make people feel. Your ‘why’ keeps people coming back.

I’ll explain:

1. Establishing your ‘why’ creates an experience.

Your guests aren’t looking for a transaction, they want immersion. If they wanted a transaction, they’d buy a 6-pack and eat a bowl of cereal at home. They’re looking to be a part of something, to be special, while also part of a group. When you create an experience that takes people on a journey, you have provided a unique and lasting memory for this person.

2. You set clear expectations.

Setting clear expectations is the secret love language of your guests. Before they walk in the door, they have an idea of what you offer and how they’ll be treated. When they arrive, they don’t look around wondering what to do or where to go. They’ll appreciate that you have figured everything out for them so that all they have to do is travel through the great experience you’ve created for them.

3. You allow your guests to self-select.

Setting expectations and self-selection go hand-in-hand. Have you ever heard the phrase, “If you try to make everyone happy, you make no one happy”? When you have a clear reason for why you exist, you give people the opportunity to decide if you are the right fit for them or not. The biggest mistake you can make in a business is trying to be the right fit for every person that walks in the door. Here’s a perfect example I learned from Bartender at Large’s interview with Amor y Amargo: say you and two friends are looking for food. One of you wants a burrito, the other sushi, and the last wants fried chicken. Well, no matter where you go, two of you are going to be disappointed, right? When you set a clear expectation, you give guests the opportunity to decide if you’re where they’ll dine tonight.

4. You create brand loyalty.

How many times have you seen that picture on social media of someone visiting California and their first stop is In-n-Out? Or that bartender who went to New York and just had to go to Death & Co? These businesses have created a brand experience so big that it has expanded beyond their four walls; they’ve created loyalty. Would you argue that there isn’t another place to get a burger in all of California or another place to get a pretty good Oaxacan Old Fashioned? No. But, you go to these places because they have clearly established and articulated their ‘why’ and you’ve self-selected that you want to be a part of it.

5. You can articulate your brand internally.

It happens all too often: a talented mind opens an establishment that makes a great product, establishes a base of regulars, and gets the business moving in the right direction. But without articulating why you’ve started all this in the first place, you’ve become a creative lynchpin. Once that person leaves the position, the purpose is forgotten. The drinks are just drinks. The food is just food. Best case scenario, you’re brand will stay the same as when it opened. Articulating that purpose with your staff allows them to take ownership (much like your guests will) and evolve the brand as times, trends, and needs change.

6. You hire for your brand, not the task.

Like the saying, ‘there’s a million fish in the sea,’ there are plenty of people who can fill the job requirements. The job is likely not what’s unique, it’s that position within your brand and your ‘why’ that’s special. When you hire people who believe what you believe, you have happy employees and managers, consistent service, higher employee retention rate, and as a result of all of that: happy guests.

7. You leave room for innovation.

When all you’ve established is ‘what’ you offer, you box yourself in and refuse sustainability and innovation. You’ll end up with the same offerings time and time again and eventually, someone else is going to come through town and do what you’re doing better than you. Here’s an example: say I opened a restaurant that only serves burritos. That’s great, people love burritos. But will people always want burritos? Will I always want to make burritos? The likeliest of answers is no. Instead, opening a restaurant that highlights South and Central American culture through food and beverage leaves my business open to innovation, creative exploration, and a sustainable business model.

While there are only seven reasons here, I’m positive there are endless more on why your service-based business needs and deserves a ‘why.’ Your guests will thank you, your employees will thank you, and at the end of the day, you’ll thank yourself for it.