The Bear is more than a good TV show – it hides some behavioural science truths too

Research into customer service shows that ending on a positive note matters more than the experience overall – and is something marketers should consider when tailoring their customer journey.

Jeremy Allen White as Carmen Berzatto in FX’s The Bear.

Carmen Berzatto, lead character in restaurant drama The Bear, is known as Carmy to his friends. He’s anything but calm in the kitchen, however, because he’s filled with a fiery passion to deliver food service perfection.

You certainly don’t need me to pontificate about how good of a TV show The Bear is. Anyone who has enjoyed – or at least gritted their teeth – through its sublimely tense drama will testify to its quality.

But beneath the drama there are some interesting behavioural science techniques at work that anyone in the business of delighting their patrons could use.

In the earlier episodes of The Bear, Carmen’s cousin and business partner Richie doesn’t share his enthusiasm for the industry. That is, until a stint cleaning forks in a fictional Michelin-starred restaurant, after which he reads a book called Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect.

The resulting epiphany gives him a fresh zeal for flawless service, changing his whole approach to work.

The book is real, though, and is written by Will Guidara, co-owner of famous destination restaurant Eleven Madison Park. Guidara was in charge of front-of-house, covering every aspect of customer experience. The book is the story of how he and his business partner took the restaurant from a respectable middling establishment to one of the most highly rated experiences in the world, and achieved three Michelin stars.

How did they do it? You’ll need to read the book to get the full story, but there are a few standout ideas — and they have their roots in behavioural science.

The 95/5 approach

In his book, Guidara discusses the many ways the team delivered excellence. One was the 95/5 approach to budgeting. This involves managing 95% of the budget aggressively, as you would expect, trimming unnecessary costs, while maintaining quality. But the other 5% was for pure luxury: indulgence whatever the cost.

For the customer, this meant some wonderful, unexpected treats. For example, like many high-end restaurants they offer a wine pairing — a specially chosen glass of wine to accompany each course of the meal. Currently at Eleven Madison Park that offer is priced at $115 for 5 glasses of wine.

Most restaurateurs would serve five wines of similar quality, with each glass of wine (if sold individually) retailing at $20-25. Guidara did things differently: he’d serve 4 cheaper wines costing, say $15. And then he’d push the boat out for the last one, with $55 to spare. This meant he could really go to town with something special.

As he put it: “If you love wine, it’s always exciting to drink Grand Cru Burgundy. But the chance to do so almost never happens during ordinary wine pairings. So imagine how excited our guests were when it did! The rule of 95/5 gave us the ability to surprise and delight everyone that ordered those pairings, making it an experience they would never forget.”

Social proof and scarcity helped Monzo soar to successThere’s a gem of insight there: it’s all about creating one unforgettable moment even if you have to sacrifice elsewhere. And there’s evidence from behavioural science that backs up Guidara’s approach. Create a single, super-special moment, and it will define your customers’ overall recollection of their experience.

It’s called the peak-end rule. The classic study exploring this was a 1993 experiment by Donald Redelmeier and Daniel Kahneman. They investigated whether the peak and final moments of an uncomfortable medical procedure affected how people felt about the whole experience afterwards.

They found that patients’ impression of overall pain was closely aligned with the peak level of pain at any point during the procedure, as well as the intensity of pain during the final few moments. So, it’s the peak and the end that matter most: the average experience isn’t a particularly good guide as to what people will remember.

This is something you as a marketer can easily harness, by ensuring you offer a single, standout moment of intense delight — as well as ending on a good note.

Always end on a high

The idea appears again and again in Guidara’s book: there’s a focus on creating surprising, thoughtful or magical moments. Especially at the end of the dining experience.

As well as Redelmeier and Kahneman’s experiment, there are other studies that have highlighted the importance of these final moments in particular. For example, in 2008, Amy Do, Alexander Rupert and George Wolford at Dartmouth College explored whether the timing of a prize affected how well-received it was.

They organised a charity raffle, in which entrants had a chance to win movies on DVD. After the draw, they emailed 100 winners and asked them to pick which title they wanted from a list.

There were two lists: list A featured highly-rated films, as judged by Rotten Tomatoes. List B films were only mediocre. At a later date, winners were offered a film from the other list too. Some picked from list A then list B; the others, vice versa. They were asked how much they liked their prize overall on a scale of 1-7.

The results showed that the ordering was crucial.

So, participants had chosen two films from the same two lists — but were happier overall when they ended with an excellent film. This provides more evidence that it’s what happens last that matters most.

Guidara knew this, and sent his guests on their way with a gift. Whenever possible, he made these personal. In fact he went as far as to install a team — that he called Dreamweavers — who would generate tailored gifts for diners. They might rustle up a swan-shaped napkin for a swan enthusiast, or a pair of Tiffany champagne flutes for a couple getting engaged. They also had some nice touches ready to charm tourists — a map of the hidden gems of New York City, for example.

And this approach is easy for any brand to apply. Lovely little touches don’t need to be costly.

There’s the example of an estate agent who, rather than leaving a generic bottle of champagne in the fridge, goes to great lengths to tailor their gifts without spending a fortune. For one client, she removed a door jamb where the owner had recorded the kids’ heights as they grew, tied it with a bow and gave it as a gift. Her client was moved to tears.

But Guidara is at pains to point out that this type of gift can be done at scale. He recommends estate agents take a systematic approach to personalisation. So, expectant parents get safety outlet covers left in a drawer with a note, “I took this off your to-do list”; newcomers to the area get a guide to the best eateries and local hikes, or for young people, maybe it’s more about bars and clubs.

So, what could you do for your customers? What can you offer, however small, at the end of their exchange with you that will take them by surprise and make them smile?

It’ll be worth it, as Eleven Madison Park’s rise to success beautifully illustrates.

Guidara has since left the restaurant — maybe we should look out for where he plans to work his hospitality magic next. It’s sure to be a memorable experience.