By Sharon Webb
IN LATE afternoon on a mid-winter day the atmosphere at Raspberry Farm Café in Christmas Hills is cosy.
Outside the wind is bitter but a fire burns brightly in the generous fireplace and afternoon tea customers tuck in to scones with raspberry jam and cream and delicious-looking desserts.
It’s tempting to think it’s all about the luscious food - but the ambience and the view of the small lake and surrounding fields take the last bit of tension out of tight shoulder muscles.
But all of that is not why Raspberry Farm Café recently won the Great Customer Experience Award given by the Tasmanian Hospitality Association.
The association recognised the efforts of the venue owners and their staff in providing their customers with a great customer experience, measurable through social media analysis.
Customers have a memorable experience at the café, comment on Facebook, Instagram and Tripadvisor – and then Raspberry Farm Café comments back, setting up a conversation. It’s interactive.
According to manager Elise Chilcott, ‘We have almost 15,000 likes on Facebook, quite a heavy traffic page.
‘We respond quickly to comments and aim to answer every question. We respond in some way to everyone who posts a photo. For everyone there is some sort of acknowledgment.’
The award was a complete surprise.
Unlike many tourism awards, Raspberry Farm Café did not nominate themselves. Yet there they are in the fabulous company of fellow Tasmanian venues such as Black Cow Bistro, the Watergarden Bar and St Helens Furneaux Restaurant.
So, after beginning as a tin shed on the side of the road selling raspberries and soft drinks, what does a 25 year old café in rural Tasmania need to do to win a great customer experience award?
Oh yes, the location and ambience come into it, as does the imaginative food. ‘Customers want raspberries. You find a place and we’ll put a raspberry in it! ’ says Elise.
But Raspberry Farm Café has also put in the hard yards with customer service, training staff to acknowledge customers within five seconds of entering the café and to read the needs of every table.
‘Customer service expectations have changed – it must be way better than it ever was,’ said Elise.
‘With the advent of social media we must be consistently good at what we do.’
According to café supervisor Peta Robertson reading each table is key.
‘It’s about responsiveness: tourists like us to know the area, some people want a joke around the table while others want us to deliver the meal and leave them to it.’
Good staff with the right attitude and skills are critical, says Elise.
‘We have a stable local staff of around 26 in winter. In summer staff numbers grow to 40 plus.
‘Former staff members call from overseas to ask if they can a have a summer job. We don’t often advertise – it’s mainly word-of-mouth.’
Raspberry Farm Café understands its clientele to the extent that it doesn’t just employ cheaper juniors.
‘We’re looking for people who want to work, who have different levels of experience, different personalities, aged into their sixties,’ said Peta.
‘We have absolutely amazing staff; we’re a team, it’s a team environment, we can’t do it alone.’
And finally, yes, it is about the food. A few weeks ago a special dessert with the unlikely name of A Walk in the Forest splashed on social media with 462 likes and 301 comments: chocolate mud soil sprouts magic mushrooms and raspberry cream-filled tuile logs adorn the delightful scene.
‘We serve a raspberry latté, a soup all year round and raspberry waffles will never leave our menu,’ Elise said.
Another thing: this café makes 8.5 tonnes of chocolate-covered raspberries a year. Yes. And they give away 3.5 tonnes over the counter.
Elise has recommendations for start-up cafés.
‘Know where your values are, and your community and their expectations. And once you’ve got your brand, whatever that may be, build on that.’
Of course, having chocolate-coated raspberries on the counter is a big help as well.