Thursday, July 11, 2019

Encore Post From The Road: "5 Things That Great Dining And Great Museum Experiences Have In Common."



I'm on the road vacationing with my family this week.  We will no doubt be enjoying many wonderful new museum and food-related experiences during our travels, so I thought I'd share this "encore" of one of my most popular posts that ties together the similarities between great dining AND great museum experiences.

ENJOY! 

Let me tell you about Bigelow's.  It's a little "hole in the wall" sort of place near my home on Long Island known for its fried clams. Bigelow's has been in business in the same spot since 1939.  I went there for lunch today with my youngest son Philip, and in-between our sighs of pleasure and chatting it up with our fellow diners, I was reminded of how much a great dining experience is like a great museum experience.

1) Everyone Knows Where It Is

I know you can use Google Maps or Yelp, but if you ask somebody at a hotel front desk or a taxi driver where a local restaurant or museum is, they should be able to tell you right away. If the place is really good, they should also be able to enthuse about a memorable experience that they or a friend had there recently.  I remember visiting a city whose (unnamed) museum was practically across the street from the well-known professional football stadium, and not one taxi driver knew where that museum was located or had even heard of it.  That's sad.

2) You Feel Welcomed Right Away

Even if it's the first time you've been there, a great museum or dining spot makes you instantly feel welcomed and at ease.  It's a combination of the physical entry sequence (starting in the parking lot) and the staff people at the entrance that do the trick. You feel like you are in the right place and are starting out your visit in a positive way.  Think about the qualities of the places that always make you feel welcomed (and the ones that don't!)

In the case of Bigelow's, you see the stools around the horseshoe-shaped counter (so you know where to sit right away) and the straightforward menu board lets you see your options (so you can start thinking about what you'd like to eat or drink as soon as you sit down.)  

Contrast that with some museums where you have no idea where to pay your admission, or how to figure out which things you want to do or pay for.

Welcome to Bigelow's!

3) Friendly Staff Anticipate Your Needs

You never wait for your water glass to be refilled, or twiddle your thumbs waiting for the check at a great restaurant. That's because the people who work there are alert and genuinely attentive to their customers' needs.  Great museums have actual floor staff interacting with visitors, not just chatting in a corner by themselves.  Wonderful dining and museum experiences share an important social component.  A positive interaction with a staff person often adds to the overall experience.


4) You Tell Friends About The Place And Want To Take Them There

A fantastic experience at a great place is one you want to share with other people. There's a reason "word of mouth" advertising is so sought after --- you can't fake it or spend your way there.  If you had a remarkable museum experience you tell other people about it.  And you want to go back there to share that positive experience with people you care about.  I've written blog posts about "museums worth a special trip" those places you would travel out of your way to go see based on a friend's recommendation.  I would definitely put places like The City Museum in St. Louis, or Chanticleer Garden outside Philadelphia in that rarefied category. 

Bigelow's is worth a special trip!


5) Memory Makers!

The best museums (and restaurants!) are memory makers.  They are the places that are part of every story that starts with "Remember the time we ..."  They are the places that you want to post on Facebook or Instagram because you felt the experience was worth capturing and sharing.  The picture at the top of this post shows my friends Bistra and Nadia from Muzeiko in Bulgaria after a lunch we shared at Bigelow's.  They asked for me to bring them somewhere that was real "Long Island."  And even though they both grew up thousands of miles away, they loved it!  And what business can ask for more than that?

As you are starting out your New Year and thinking about ways to improve the museum(s) you work for, maybe a trip to your favorite local restaurant can give you just the right kind of "food for thought" to inspire making some memorable changes for your visitors!

Facebook-ready "food for thought" from Bigelow's!


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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul is an instigator, in the best sense of that word. He likes to mix up interesting people, ideas, and materials to make both individual museum exhibits and entire museums with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.)

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Monday, July 1, 2019

What Makes A "High Quality" Museum?


How would you define "quality" in the context of museums?  It's a slippery term (like "World Class" which we've written about before here on ExhibiTricks.)  Every museum wants to be described as "High Quality" and "World Class" but what do those terms actually mean, in a practical sense, and how do you know when you truly have become a high-quality organization?

“High quality” to me means something of lasting value, something special that is meaningful over time and across generations.  And museums that can be described consistently as high quality are quite uncommon.

What does high quality mean to you, or to the museums you work in or visit?   

I'd say that all "high quality" museums have a strong capacity to create programs and exhibits internally. 
Not necessarily everything, but many things.  High-quality museums know their strengths and build upon them. Great museums also know what their weaknesses are, and where to look for help in those areas.  

Put simply:

High Quality = Internal Capacity 


As a practical matter, the way to develop a truly high-quality museum experience means having a clear sense of what you want your museum to look like two, three or more years in the future—not just two months after opening! That means investing for the long-term in thoughtful experiences, staff, and expertise. ("Invest in staff, not stuff!" as Jane Werner might say.)

In my exhibit design and development practice, I often ask museum collaborators two simple questions: How will you (the staff inside your museum, not contractors or consultants) 1) fix things that break or don’t work? and 2) transform great new ideas into real exhibits and programs? If you can’t come up with credible answers to both questions, I’m afraid that not only will you be constantly racing to “put out fires” in the form of problems that could have been anticipated (as opposed to the many un-anticipated ones you’ll encounter) but your bright, shiny museum will soon become dingy and boring, not only physically, but in its intellectual and emotional spirit as well.

Creating a strong institutional culture of internal capacity is the key difference between a great museum and a mediocre one. Building and investing in strong institutional capacity doesn’t mean that you work in isolation.  On the contrary, carefully understanding the strengths and weaknesses across your institution makes it clear when and where you need to invest time and resources. Those investments in time and/or resources can involve seeking out expertise in your local communities, sending staff to national or regional conferences or local professional development opportunities, or (gasp!) bringing in consultants to help build up internal capacity in other areas of institutional need. There are many choices.

What is not a choice is doing nothing. Because doing nothing will surely begin the slide from “high quality” to “who cares?” And is that the kind of museum you want to be part of? 





Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul is an instigator, in the best sense of that word. He likes to mix up interesting people, ideas, and materials to make both individual museum exhibits and entire museums with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.)

If you would like to support the content on ExhibiTricks, please consider making a small donation through our PayPal "Tip Jar"