When it comes to running a small business, predictable revenue really matters. Maximising the ways you can make money seems like good business, and it often is. However, it often comes at the expense of a positive customer experience.

Recently, I took my family to lunch with some friends at a family-friendly restaurant. Between the four of us, we have four children under three, so the in-house playground was a big factor in our decision of where to eat. As a parent of young children, my priorities as a customer are both unique and predictable.

  1. I want my children to be safe and happy with entertainment available at the location.

  2. I want good, simple food, delivered to the table promptly for a reasonable price.

  3. I want facilities for nappy changes and clean-ups.

All of these priorities were met by the restaurant, so we had a good time, but…

To charge or not to charge

Whilst in the playground, I noticed that the game machines were coin operated; around $2 per play. Now, the restaurant is quite within their rights to charge for this service. Supplying and maintaining the machines costs them money.

However, consider this common scenario:

Family arrives and kids race into the playground. The parents find a seat and begin looking at the menus, and the kids come racing out again, saying, “Mum, Dad, can we have money for the racing games?” Mum (perhaps begrudgingly) gives them a few gold coins, and off they go.

10 minutes later they’re back, asking for more money. Mum gets a little frustrated and says no. The kids get upset, a meal is had with varying degrees of happiness, and the parents decide to leave before the kids ask for money again.

Now, if the restaurant was to make those machines free, a few things would happen. The negatives, which are usually the only considerations in this decision, are:

  1. They would lose a couple of hundred dollars in revenue from the coins.
  2. They would have to bear the cost of the machines.

However, the positives are:

  1. The kids are happy and can play as much as they like.
  2. The parents get a bit of peace.
  3. The family stays longer, and probably buys a few more drinks.
  4. Everyone finds the whole experience a bit more positive, and recommends the restaurant to their friends, making note of the generous playground facilities.

A $4 nappy could cost more than $4

Whilst changing my child in the reasonably good family room, I noticed that they had a nappy vending machine. On first glance, this seems quite thoughtful. Sometimes you forget a nappy when going out, and having them available is very smart.

But, once again, we must look at the positives and negatives of charging for this item. The average parent knows that a nappy costs nowhere near $4, so it seems a bit excessive. Additionally, it could be interpreted that the establishment is taking advantage of the disorganisation of the parent to make money. This might even discourage them from going back.

What if they were free?

Obviously, the restaurant would bear the cost again. But, imagine the positive impression left on the parent. ‘Oh, a free nappy service. That’s really thoughtful. I don’t need one, but wow, that would be so handy.’ The parent is quite likely to remember that small act of generosity, and think more positively about the eatery as a result. They’ll tell their friends, and the effect snowballs.

Profit center, or positivity generator?

Free, barista-quality coffee (or a beer) available whilst getting your hair cut. Complimentary snacks for parents at an indoor playground. A stylist at a clothing shop for free, professional fashion advice.

Could you charge for these services? Absolutely.

But, should you?

At every turn, businesses should consider what their primary income source is, and how they can influence their consumers through the addition of extra services and ideas. The importance of a positive experience for a consumer cannot be understated.