Retail and the 5 Senses, Part 4: Taste

Ever walk out of a business with a good taste in your mouth, even if it wasn’t a restaurant? For food and drink-based businesses, the importance of taste is obvious. For retailers, not so much. Let’s use this post to zoom in on how to capitalize on the human sense of taste, no matter which industry you’re in.

For starters, let’s look at the retail sector, then we’ll look at the restaurant/cafe side of things. How can that sneaky human sense of taste be used to a business advantage? Let’s take a look:

The Flavor of Retail


Taste is underestimated, but it’s closely linked to smell and memory. For example, when growing up, I always looked forward to accompanying my mother to the bank. That may sound odd for a 5-year-old, but my logic was sound. Every time I went to the bank, the banker (with my mother’s permission) offered me a Blow-Pop lollipop. Therefore, going to the bank was always an exciting trip. To this day, I can’t drive past that same bank branch without a fond feeling.

Offering your customers a treat just for coming to visit is one way to make an impression. Low-cost options like hard candy, popcorn, or coffee are always good options to offer people. Some dog-friendly businesses will offer dog biscuits as well.

Be careful to think through the implications of anything you do decide to offer. Popcorn may be fun, but it will mean kernels on the floor as well as greasy fingers and the smell of popcorn everywhere. Candy may be nice, but it could mean sticky little hands on surfaces. Coffee would mean having to re-fill the pot, and dog biscuits will definitely mean more dogs visiting.

Think it through, but make it purposeful. Place the treats where you want your customers to be. Have your employees engage customers in those hotspots. If someone comes up to grab a cookie, a friendly face should be nearby to greet them and make sure they’re taken care of.

Don’t feel like you have to offer treats every single day, either. Fridays or weekends (if you’re open) are usually the best times for anything that requires some sort of preparation or pickup/delivery (coffee, donuts, etc.). A bowl of candy may be easier to manage day-to-day, though.

Whatever you decide, make sure to set rules for employees. Without any restrictions in place, those customer treats may just wind up being consumed by your employees. Whether you set aside a different bowl behind the counter for employees or just prohibit them outright, it’s going to be best to have those standards set and communicated clearly to everyone on the team.

Let’s move onto some helpful insights for businesses whose business revolves around food and drink...

Taste and the Restaurant Industry


Obviously, taste is going to matter a lot if your business serves food or drink. Different strategies abound. The first thing to do is to define who you are; as in defining what you do and what you don’t do. The latter is more important.

Food and drink businesses generally fall into one of two major categories: Volume or Premium. Volume businesses operate on lower margins, but they move a lot of product. Scale is the name of the game. Premium businesses sell a lot less product, but their margins are higher. This means they appeal to different consumers. Both are money-makers, but the best businesses blur the lines between the two.

It’s typically best to approach from the Premium end of things and ask, “what’s the best-tasting way to make this ____”, whether you’re talking about burgers, cocktails, or even manufactured products like soap, candy, or custom-made jewelry. What is the best version of this product? If you make it, you get to decide.

Now it’s time to throw in the volume equation. “How does this scale?” You may have perfected an ideal hamburger with just the right amount of fat and spices, topped with fresh garden-picked veggies and homemade condiments— but if you can only make one burger every 15 minutes, that’s definitely going to cause a problem if it’s the star of your restaurant’s menu.

Next ask questions like, “could I use a store-bought mustard instead of homemade?” or “what would it look like to blend the spices beforehand, or have a custom blend shipped to me to save time?”. In other words, scale often means a different way of doing things. This may mean changes to the character of the product, but it’s up to you to determine what you’re willing (and unwilling) to offer and price your product accordingly.

Either way, start with flavor, then move to scale. If the taste just isn’t there, even the most efficient processes won’t save it in the long run. Once you know where you want to go, you can start tinkering with the fastest (and most consistent) ways to get there. People will wait if the end product is worth it, but only to a point.


The bottom line is the human sense of taste is one of only five external senses your customers have available to them. Include it when you’re planning out the sensory experience for your business.

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Stay tuned for part 5!


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