“Eat it and get out!” That’s the mantra for Ed Debevic’s, Chicago’s only retro themed diner. At Ed Debevic’s, guests step into a 50’s–style diner to experience the ambiance of a misty yore, complete with bobby sox, saddle shoes, and juke box. The surprise “twist” on this nostalgic experience is that the front-of-the-house employees are professional entertainers, trained to create a rollicking, in-your-face service experience.

Adhering to the motto “Eat and Get Out,” Ed Debevic’s service is anything but service with a sweet-and-dimpled smile. Dressed in mismatched orange and green floral prints that should have been lost in someone’s attic, the comedic cast does more than take orders. They’ll give them, to guests.

Don’t expect this diner to be a “please” and “thank you, sir” kind of place. The servers pride themselves on their snarky remarks and will drop their trays to do choreographed dance numbers on the soda counters! Their attitude -- complete with foot-tapping, gum-smacking, watch-checking, eyeball-rolling hesitation -- provides a quirky, magical charm that keeps customers coming back for more of their insults and meat loaf.

Ed knows how to run an effective restaurant. Ed also knows how to run a “storied” restaurant. The tactic he has selected is the one used by many of the service greats, including Cirque du Soleil, DisneyWorld, Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Orlando, Hard Rock Café, and many of the top hotels in Las Vegas. They all start with a front story or theme, use a back-story for depth, and include a storyboard to map out the customer experience. To this they add set, costume, and, if need be, script to convey the story.

The scoop on "storying".

Storying requires a compelling theme and an alluring narrative, complete with a back story. The main story or theme is what you see -- a fantasy land commanded by a mouse (Disney theme parks), a trip to Treasure Island (Treasure Island Hotel in Vegas), or a stroll through the streets of Paris (Paris Hotel), Venice (The Venetian), or New York (New York New York Hotel).

Storyboarding involves crafting the look and feel of the experience complete with set design, parking, customer traffic flow, signage and props. It considers every angle of the story from curb appeal to first impressions to the management of all the elements (tone and style, sight and sound) that impact the customer’s experience of the story. The intent is to alter the customer’s sense of reality. It weaves all elements -- space, time, and physical objects -- into a cohesive whole.

How do you begin using storying as a part of your service experience? Organizations that have mastered storying as their way to decorate their customer’s service experience would say there are four main components on which you need to focus:

1. Find or develop a strong front theme and back story.

Most organizations have a proud history or founding vision. Science Diet®, a product of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, traces its ancestry to Dr. Mark Morris, the veterinarian who saved “Buddy,” the world’s first seeing-eye dog, from death by feeding him a carefully crafted diabetic diet.

Everyone at Hill’s knows the “Buddy” story and takes great pride in being part of the tradition. Customers are carefully folded into the tradition of companion animal care through salespeople and company literature. What is your unit or organization’s back story? Is there a compelling person, event, or vision in your history? There’s the start of your story. No relevant story or theme in your organization’s legacy? Create one from another source.

2. Develop and use a storyboard of the customer experience.

Porsche automobiles have a long history -- their back story -- that begins on the racing circuits of Europe. The typical Porsche showroom tells the tale of that racing tradition through photos, décor, and written materials. The front story -- Porsche as worthy of the fast car aficionado’s attention -- is further supported by both an emphasis on performance data and a long list of available race car driver accessories.

Many salespeople enfold the customer even further into the magic of the high-performance sports car fraternity by pointing out a unique Porsche engineering feature: the car’s ignition switch is on the left side of the steering column. The reason? So drivers in cold-start races, like the 24 hours of LeMans, can turn the ignition with their left hand while simultaneously shifting into gear with the right, an advantage when tenths of a second count. That tidbit of Porsche lore brings the would-be purchaser into the Porsche story in a personal, vicarious way.

3. Dress your “set” in sync with your story.

The story of a quick service restaurant is usually some version of decent food served up in a hurry. Speed. The set, and accouterments, should reflect and reinforce that. A fast food restaurant on the shoreline of a popular vacation lake that is dressed with antique fishing gear, fun-in-the-sun sepia-tone photos, and posted info on current fishing conditions is clearly taking clever advantage of the enchantment of the locality. A particularly nice “extra” is equipping counter staff with a little information on what the big ones are biting.

4. Dress employees to fit the story.

Dressing employees to fit the front story is an obvious ploy in a theme park or entertainment venue. Yet, even in professional settings there are customs that dictate dress, like doctors in white coats and nurses in scrubs.

Are there natural costuming options for your “cast”? Is there a way of dressing that will create a sense of commonality or comfort for customers? Would an actual uniform make service employees in your organization more easily identifiable to customers? Might there be a way to share parts of your dress with customers, like Mouse ears, pilot’s wings, or a stage performer’s scarf? If you were an antique store, would you want to dress in period costume?

Customers today live in a highly stimulating world. Consequently, they can easily become bored with a ho-hum, nothing special experience. Using the methods borrowed from the world of entertainment might be competitive differentiator that enhances growth and profits. Service is fundamentally a performance. Make it a five-star one and watch your customers flock to your organization as a happening destination.