The Secret of one the Nation’s Most-Awarded Restaurant to Handle Customer Expectations


Today we want to introduce you to The Inn at Little Washington. Never heard of it? Let us tell you is a double five diamond institution located in the middle of nowhere in the State of Virginia. And how did they earn these recognitions? Micah Solomon, a customer service consultant and Forbes’ contributor, shares in his article “How the Nation’s Most-Awarded Restaurant Handles Extreme Customer Expectations” their secret to always keep up, year after year, with such customer expectations and fulfill them successfully. And here, we will discuss what could you extract from it to apply for your restaurant and perhaps what could be done differently.

In an interview done by the Forbes Magazine to Patrick O’Connell, Proprietor of the institution, he was asked about their secret to always fulfill these super high customer expectations, and he explained that there exist five (5) stages in the dining experience, each of them very significant and the more understanding you have of them, the more likely to surpass their expectations.

Patrick O’Connell, Proprietor, The Inn At Little Washington, in his kitchen

Image credits to Forbes Magazine retrieved from the article “How the Nation’s Most-Awarded Restaurant Handles Extreme Customer Expectations” with Patrick O’Connell, Proprietor, The Inn At Little Washington, in his kitchen.


Anticipation, Trepidation, Inspection, Fulfillment and Evaluation. These five words describe a system of thinking used by the chef O’Connell to train his personnel at The Inn. He explained for the magazine the meaning of each stage, and the importance of establishing a process to standardize a uniform service delivery. Let’s review the interview he had with Micah Solomon and these stages in detail in order to understand Mr. O’Connell winning philosophy.


Stage # 1: Anticipation

This stage starts from the very first moment the customer enters the establishment. We agree with this, but we also believe, this stage could start way before. For example, when calling to book a table or when accessing your restaurant webpage, some anticipation is being built in the mind of the customer even before taking a step into your restaurant. However, as Chef O’Connell states, as soon as the diner step in your establishment, they will be immersed in a sensation of:


Stage # 2: Trepidation

This stage is the confrontation of the image they had in mind of your restaurant with the reality. At this moment, the customer starts, unconsciously, doubting if his or her expectations were too high. Chef O’Connell stated that during this stage is common that guests will inevitably bring all the negative baggage of previous bad experiences with them. This is what he calls “restaurant bruises”

He describes to the magazine that only when the guest is seated at their table and feeling relaxed while enjoying the first drink, is when they begin the process of:


Stage # 3: Inspection

In this stage the customer is now looking at the overall picture, unconsciously (or sometimes consciously) searching for imperfections and flaws. As he states, it is crucial they don’t find any. In order to keep up with this stage, you should look for any flaw in the service, in the appearance of the establishment, in the cleanliness of the tables, etc. Synthetizing, you must to be aware of every detail so you could work in fixing it before your customers discover them.

Only at the moment when the customer is enjoying the ordered dish, is when they will move to the next stage:

Image credits to Christina Ricchiuti from

Image credits to Christina Ricchiuti from


Stage # 4: Fulfillment

During this stage the customer will feel temporarily satisfied by thinking “Everything’s been great so far”. But as Chef O’Connell emphasizes, it would be wrong to think that this is the final stage.

As the meal concludes, another mind discussion will take place, where they will compare the meal with other he or she had previously, and rate it accordingly. After the payment is made and your customers leave (hopefully happy) your establishment, then starts the process of:


Stage # 5: Evaluation

This is the final stage and it could last weeks or months. Also because they will repeat the same five stages process with the following dining experiences they will have, contrasting them with the one that customer had in your restaurant. Only, when that person comes back, you could satisfactorily say yourself your restaurant is over the hurdle of Evaluation and that customer is yours.

What do you think about the proposed process by Chef O’Connell? Tell us your comments! We consider them interesting to apply in any kind of service experience. We want to take advantage of this article to thank Micah Solomon as he was the one who shared this valuable interview with the Chef O’Donnell.

We strongly encourage checking his articles and books here. His work could be a key resource for you to improve substantially  the way your service is offered.