Adapt or Die: How to Change Gears to Meet Guest Expectations

Image: The James Room

The public doesn't always see a bar or restaurant in the same way as the operator.

Sometimes, after the doors open for the first time, guests decide they want to experience a venue in a way never intended by the owner.

That unexpected decision can lead to an internal struggle for an owner and operator. They've poured their heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, finances and time into realizing their dream and bringing their vision to life. It's understandable they'd want people to honor their original vision and use the space as intended.

However, support from guests—in the form of money, repeat visits, word-of-mouth advertising, and social media brand advocacy—keeps doors open. What will (or should) win out, ego or profits?

Missy and Kristin Koefod, owners of 18.21 Bitters and operators of Drafts+Dogs in Atlanta, GA, designed The James Room with a specific vision in mind. This included daypart programming and hours of operation.

Check this out: Brand Identity Separates Bars and Restaurants from Successful Destinations

Their guests had a different idea for how they wanted to enjoy The James Room. The venue was going to be a hit—the Koefods are shrewd businesspeople with a passion for hospitality. But The James Room became a hot spot almost immediately. The venue is at once a stylish cafe to start the day, a hip restaurant to enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner with high-quality cocktails, and a fashionable late-night cocktail lounge for Atlanta's movers and shakers.

Amidst all the change, though, the Koefods have never deviated from their core values. As chic and popular as The James Room is, it's also approachable, comfortable and familiar. The bar and restaurant is about inclusion, not exclusion.

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The Koefods were presented with a quandry within days of opening The James Room's doors for the first time: Stick to their original vision or adapt to how their guests viewed the venue. Missy explains their decision below.


What was the original vision for the James Room?

Originally, we expected the front half to be a coffee shop by day and aperitif bar by night, and the back to be a sit-down, restaurant-style cocktail lounge with heavy food and closing late evening, but not a late-night establishment at all.

How long after opening the James Room did you notice guests were altering the original vision?

Haha! It is still changing! We originally, at about a week in, noticed that people recognized us for great cocktails and were treating us as a cocktail bar, and requested later and later hours. We now see that at daytime, people also want to have cocktails and heavier food and are beginning to offer that up front.

How quickly did you adapt and make changes to deliver the guest experience?

Within a week we shifted to a late-night establishment and have continued to quickly evolve to meet guests needs. As a new establishment you might have an idea of what you want to be but your customers are ultimately the boss, and they will dictate what they need from you. It is up to you to rise up and meet their expectations!

What were the biggest changes made to the original vision for the James Room and the guest experience?

I think the hours were our biggest change, and the volume of cocktails offered. We noticed that guests wanted way more cocktails than our already hefty 40 cocktail menu, and so we added quite a few options for them!

Has the adapted guest experience stayed true to the James Room brand?

Absolutely! We still stick by our core principles of experience, hospitality, inclusion, and diversity, and provide an excellent product and experience to each and every customer.

Are you enjoying the changes you’ve made and the “new” version of the James Room?

I am! We love the variety of guests we have the opportunity to serve, and are thrilled when we have the opportunity to serve them better and meet their needs!

Has adapting the guest experience proven profitable?

Yes. We have a greater volume of guest and a high volume of repeat guests!

What lessons have you learned from adapting to how guests want to experience the James Room?

Don’t fight change!

Check out The James Room cafe, The James Room bar, and the official website.

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