Why is it that you’d rather come to enjoy a drink at the 190 Sunset bar than anywhere else in Edmonds?
Agreed that Niles Peacock, the dapper man behind the bar in his signature waistcoat and jaunty neckerchief, is a dab hand at mixing up amazing cocktails. (He has just won the Best Bartender in Western Washington award from King 5.) But ask the Director of Bar Operations himself, and he will credit the success of his little watering hole north of Seattle to something else entirely.
Ambience. By `tweaking’ the ambience – and there’s no better way of saying this – 190 Sunset ensures that your experience at the seafood restaurant and bar is something you won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
“Most upscale restaurants work hard to create a beautiful ambience for their guests,” says Niles Peacock. “But it was at a mixology conference I attended some years ago, that I finally understood why ambience has such an incredible impact on people. And how easily it can be tweaked to make people’s experience of food and drink improve dramatically.”
It’s an incredible, hard-to-believe sort of story, so keep reading because this piece of unexpected wisdom will probably remain with you forever.
Niles was at this mixology summit along with a hundred other fellow bar managers, doing tastings, flavor profilings and a bunch of other mysterious stuff that only lab chemists and bar masters seem to do.
It was while comparing cocktails served both chilled and at room temperature that the attendees were given two pieces of chocolate for a blind tasting. The task was this: everyone had to taste the two chocolates and then write down their impressions of both on a note card.
Niles ate the first chocolate and found it to be deliciously rich, creamy and milk-chocolaty. In contrast, the second chocolate tasted dark, with earthy, bitter notes and none of the rich luxuriousness of the former.
When all the taste experts shared their findings on the two chocolates, it came as no surprise that most attendees had come to the same conclusion as Niles. The first chocolate was infinitely – definitely! — better than the second.
And then something happened that totally blew Niles Peacock’s mind: the organizer of the blind tasting announced that both chocolates were exactly the same. Broken off, in fact, from the same chocolate bar.
At first, Niles refused to believe it. But the proof was undeniable. Some of the top taste masters in the United States had indeed tasted two pieces of the same chocolate and confidently declared that one piece was better than the other.
How was that even possible?
It was ambience, you see. By manipulating the ambience, with soothing, classical background music during the first chocolate tasting and jarring, punky rock during the second, they subliminally `conditioned’ the experts to feel different during the two events. One music made them feel good, while the other made them feel agitated, and this difference totally changed their perception and enjoyment of the two pieces of chocolate.
That’s just how important our human brain chemistry is. Create an ambience with feel-good factors that release happy hormones like endorphins in our brain, and we enjoy ourselves even more. Create an ambience that causes friction, and stress hormones like cortisol take over, making the experience seem less remarkable and less enjoyable.
It’s just science. And smart barkeeps and restauranteurs who know how to manipulate this science can give customers the very best of times when they’re in their establishment.
Armed with this knowledge, Niles and 190 Sunset proprietor Tom Budinick set about to create an ambience that made guests feel good from the moment they walked in through the front door of the Edmonds restaurant The ambient harmony here is so subtle, you’d not even be aware of the fact that the lighting inside the restaurant is dimming even as the sun is going down to balance seamlessly with outside light conditions. Or that the music is increasing gradually in beat and tempo as evening approaches to match the guests’ rising desire after a long, hard day to just sit back, relax and be social. Or that the linen mats placed on the bar table are imparting the warm comfort of natural fabric texture to soften the cold, bareness of a bar countertop. Or that cell chargers are located conveniently under each barstool and purse hangers are in place so nobody has to worry about dying cell phones or getting the bottom of their handbags dirty.
The feel-good factor does not end with subtle and subconscious stimuli either. By serving customers in many intimate and personalized ways, every 190 Sunset guest is made to feel individual and special, and this in turn keeps them coming back for more hospitality here.
“Our closing time for example, is not cast in stone,” says Niles. “No matter what the posted closing time is, out staff will never show up with brooms and dusters and start cleaning while even a single guest is still on the premises. We want every guest to leave feeling as welcome as when they come in to the restaurant. Can you imagine the impression customers would leave with if harsh lights were suddenly turned on and the staff started disinfecting the menu cards and vacuuming the floor while they were still enjoying their evening? The unceremonious and hurried exit would be all they remembered afterwards.”
“Our Meet-Eat-Drink tagline really sums up 190 Sunset’s mission, and why we’re doing so well in spite of being a newbie and an `outsider’ in the close-knit Edmonds community,” says proprietor Tom Budinick.
“Whether guests are joining us for lunch, brunch, dinner or happy hour, meeting and socializing is a theme that runs through all the excellent food and drink we serve here. We want our guests to feel as if 190 Sunset belongs to them. It’s their own, secret happy place. And when they leave, feeling happier and more connected than when they arrived at the restaurant, we believe we have succeeded.”
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