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Tatsu Ramen: young, healthy, passionate, friendly #myexperience
In a previous blog post I had promised a series of user experience cases outside of human-machine scenarios. This is my first deliverable as the visit to Tatsu Ramen in Los Angeles inspired this series.

After a visit to a restaurant you are hopefully left with a belly filled with yummy, yummy food. What you are also left with though is the impression the place left on you. These two aspects: the product (in this case the quality of food) and your experience nearly play an equal role on the decision if you will be returning to the restaurant. If either stink you will not be back.

Your meal can be the most amazing deliciousness ever but if the environment made you feel uncomfortable you will most likely not return or only return reluctantly, maybe once a year. However, the meal can be anything from okay-ish to excellent but if the experience was amazing and made you feel comfortable you will be back more often. After all we are social animals and when it comes to food the social aspect plays a large role (Google it. There are many scientific papers out there on the subject).

#myexperience summed up

Tatsu Ramen is:
  • a delicious, authentic ramen restaurant
  • that serves healthy and balanced meals (even for vegetarians and vegans).

  • a young and passionate business that caters to a young urban clientele
  • with very friendly staff and owners that care about their staff.

I don't know if this is all true. But it was #myexperience, the impression I was left with and the reason why I would return.

What shaped my #myexperience

photo from yelp review

On a rare overcast and chilly Los Angeles day all I wanted when entering Tatsu Ramen was a warming bowl of deliciousness. The place is hard to miss, while heading down Melrose especially if you have love for ramen, bold design and the color black. I very much enjoyed the ramen (check out their yelp reviews ) but what really excited me was the set up and user experience in the restaurant.

You enter the restaurant via a small patio lined with bamboo. I have never been in Japan but in China and walking through a bamboo forest is one of my favorite China travel memories. Obviously this small setup is not as impressive as the giant Chinese forests but there is something about the fresh green colors, the shade that bamboo throws and it's movement in the wind that set a great mood, when walking in.

left photo from yelp review, picture on right from seriouseats.com

Inside the visitor is greeted not by friendly staff but by a row of iPads that are lined up on the wall, which you can use to place your order. This is not only a clever way to optimize waiting lines, which can be important if you are on a lunch break but it is also true to the origin of ramen shops as they exist all over Japan.

The ordering process itself is done in four easy steps, that actually managed to put a smile on my face. William Khoe, who created the app in collaboration with Tatsu Ramen were nice enough to send me a few screenshots. Thanks for that guys!
First you slide through the list of ramen broths, which you then start customizing for instance by spicing it up or adding greens up to "hulk" level. The application is super easy to use with a clean design. Like in Japan every dish is displayed with images, even the sides. The highlight for me however was the wording: charming, brief, friendly and lingo within target group.

The screen for the tip jar made me laugh out loud! When leaving the restaurant you pass an iPad that you can use to give tips. The text on the tip jar changes every few minutes. Again the inspiration for this tip jar came from real life tip jars. The difference is that the tip jars on pages such as http://funnytipjars.com/, are most likely to be made by the employes themselves, while Tastu Ramen's tip jar came from the bosses, sending an important message to the guests:

Tatsu Ramen has a sense of humor and cares enough about their staff to come up with funny tip jar sentences that nudge the customer towards a tip.

Again the screen catches your eye and is super easy to use, which is especially important in this use case (on my way out the door, maybe even rushing because parking enforcement in L.A. are like ninjas). The bottom line is, that these examples are charming and turn tipping into an enjoyable task and people leave the place smiling.

image on right taken from reddit

But where are the people?

The people of Tatsu Ramen can be felt in many ways. The very friendly, attentive but not too clingy (yes Los Angeles, what you praise as awesome service feels kind of clingy to Europeans) waiting staff is one contact point. The large and rarely private tables are lined with condiments that include as much fresh garlic, sesame and nori as you want. I have rarely seen such thoughtful condiment stations and the amount of pictures on yelp tell me that many guests feel the same and see this as another contact point communicating that the the restaurants wants every guest to enjoy their ramen to their individual preferences. Another non-human contact point are the bowls themselves. Each bowl has two messages for the visitor. One can be seen when the bowl is full, at the beginning of the meal and encourages you to start enjoying your ramen. The other message is towards or at the bottom of the bowl and includes helpful information such as "No, we cannot give you the recipe".

So even though the guests order and tip on iPads and rarely interact with the staff an ongoing communication can be felt. In fact the communication was so on point that it leaves it's guests with a clearer image of the restaurant than many other businesses would probably die for.

image on left from yelp, image on right from yelp

At this point I was really interested to find out more about who the people were behind this place. Good thing I visited the restrooms or I would not have found exactly the story I was looking for presented in a manga panels. I even learned a few new aspects about the restaurant, namely that everything was made fresh and that they really do care about the quality. To be honest I did not read up on the actual story and do not know if the founder Ryu had actually taken this journey but at this point it wasn't important. This was only additional information - the icing on the cake - that was given to an already happy customer.

All the listed gadgets, items and design aspects were part of #myexperience and the user experience in this restaurant. Tatsu Ramen shows what can be achieved if a little love and much thought go into this aspect of the restaurant.

Did you know...

...there is an entire blog devoted to user experience in restaurants
...you can do basic A/B testing for restaurants