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Some businesses dont seem eager to keep customers
The Taylor Road Shopping Center in Ceres has shown signs of neglect that does nothing to entice customers. This photo was taken a year ago. It looks the same, if not worse today. - photo by Jeff Benziger

I am big on "atmosphere" when talking restaurants.

If a restaurant has atmosphere I'll overlook the shortcomings of the food. To me, part of enjoying eating out is the experience of the décor and atmosphere. Call me weird but if the food is just "okay" and the ambiance is great, I'll choose that over a place that serves great food in lackluster surroundings.

When people go out to spend $25, $30 or $50 for a dinner, they want good food but they also want an experience. They want to be entertained by some element of the visit.
But consider why some eating establishments don't survive. They don't make a visit an "experience." There's no gimmick. There's no atmosphere. Let's face it, if it's quiet without music, or if the acoustics are bad or if the walls are bland and the lighting is fluorescently shrill, there is nothing to give added value to the dining experience. And needless to say, we are social animals so we like to see others dining when we're out dining. There is nothing sadder than to walk into a restaurant and see no one else dining inside.

Let's also face another key point: The restaurant has to make it appear that it wants you there. It is an incredible turn-off to see a frazzled waiter or waitress who signals that you are adding to an already busy night. That's why Applebee's will often post an employee and greet you at the door, as if to say the valued visitor as arrived and welcome! Studies show that 68 percent of customers who don't come back do so because service stinks and the owner or an employee appears indifferent to the customer.

It appears to me that many businesses - not just restaurants - have failed to grasp how they appear to the customer. Exactly one year ago this week I published a column titled, "Many businesses fail to make the customer feel like returning." In my column I took the owner of the Taylor Shopping Center at Mitchell and Whitmore to task for the sloven appearance of the center. Concrete bumper stops are missing and the flower beds are nothing more than weed and trash collection pit.s The center is also replete with signs that are against the Ceres sign ordinance. Even after attention was drawn to the neglected landscaping of the center in my column, nothing has been done in 12 months to fix the problem. The thing is we are not talking a lot of money to fill in bed with decorative bark and shrubs and plants to provide a cheery entrance that is welcoming. So as it stands, customers of Subway, for example, continue to be greeted by the unpleasant sight of dead weeds and trash where landscaping was intended to be. I can't think of a better way to make the customer feel valued than investing a little bit to beautify the center.

But sadly, if we've been to a place we visit often we get used to its quirks and shortcomings. Thus a visitor to our home can spot things like clutter or deferred maintenance that we are so accustomed to that we can't see it anymore. The same is true of our town. Visitors to Ceres will see things and comment, "Why is that allowed?" while the townspeople hold no great expectation for improvement.

Things must improve if Ceres is going to shed its aesthetic shortcomings. The sign ordinance needs to be enforced, not relaxed. The Chamber could help encourage businesses to do things that invite not repel. The Ceres City Council needs to be lobbied to strengthen its code enforcement program for the appearance of Ceres holds great sway over future economic development. Customers can also ask merchants to do a better job, if necessary, of improving appearance if its negatively affecting the community. At the same time, Ceres residents can strengthen their economic community by doing business in their community and rewarding businesses that do their best to serve their customers and make them feel welcome.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at