Private School Marketing Lessons from a Restaurant on Captiva Island

I am on a much-needed vacation this week with my wife, Janine. We are celebrating our anniversary on Captiva Island. The weather has been perfect. In fact, every night we have enjoyed a gorgeous sunset like the one you see in the picture. After traveling all throughout Florida, I think Captiva is the most beautiful place in this state.

Last night we went out to the Old Captiva House for dinner. Everything about the evening was perfect. We had a table for two in the sunset room. Our server was very friendly and responsive. Janine had the grouper and I had the filet. Both were prepared perfectly and the presentation was outstanding.

At the end of our meal, after we had finished the chocolate mousse cake (I love anything chocolate!), the chef came by our table. In all of my dining experiences, I don’t ever remember a visit from the chef. He came to our table to thank us for coming to the restaurant and to ask us about our experience. It was this personal gesture that went the extra mile and made a lasting impression on an already over the top evening.

Then, as part of his conversation, which was natural and personal, he encouraged us to write an online review on Trip Advisor. He said that they had been rated the number one restaurant in Captiva and he would like to keep it at that rating. Knowing we were very satisfied customers, he knew that our review would be positive. He then handed me a card with information about the restaurant and a reminder to write an online review, including the web address.

Ironically, I had spent quite a bit of time reading the local restaurant reviews online before deciding on this one. I had made reservations at another restaurant but changed my mind when I read their mixed reviews–this is what led me to the Old Captiva House.

As I was thinking about this experience while enjoying the sun’s warm October rays on the beach, I was reminded of some important lessons for private schools from my dining experience.

First, most people will conduct research on the Web before making a decision. Just as I searched for restaurants and read the most recent reviews, prospective parents will do the same during their school search. I looked on Yelp, Trip Advisor and a few other sites. Your parents might be using,, Google, Yelp, Facebook, as well as your website, to learn more about your school.

Second, the power of someone else’s experience will either lead a prospective parent toward your school or it will push them away. Just as I changed my reservations from one restaurant to another based on the experience of others, prospective parents rely upon word-of-mouth to make their decision. Word-of-mouth referrals continue to be the number one reason why parents select your school or another school in your area. Parents will base their decision on what their friends are saying about your school.

Third, while this meal may very well be the most expensive one during our vacation, it was well worth the cost because of the entire experience—the host, the pianist, the linens, the presentation and preparation of our dinner, its mouth-watering taste, our server, the sunset view, and the chef. All of these individual factors contributed to a memorable dinner.

While your school’s experience can’t exactly be compared to a dinner, the analogy can certainly help. It is important to consider the entire experience at your school. If one part or one teacher does not perform to the highest standard, the overall experience can be affected and dissatisfaction can result. The entire experience should create a very satisfied parent.

Finally, the visit from the chef was a very personal conclusion to the entire experience. As I mentioned earlier, I have never had a chef come by my table to ask me about the food. In your school, the head of school and other members of the leadership team have a significant role. It is critical to step out of the office, connect with your parents, and ask them about their experience. And, when it is positive, you can ask them to go online to write a review. You may want to print a business card with some of the sites that you would like your parents to visit and write online reviews.

I loved everything about my experience at the Old Captiva House. It was obvious that they had their act together and delivered an exceptional dining experience from the moment we arrived. We left satisfied and it was a night to remember. Because of this, I will tell other people about my dining experience.

I hope that you will take these lessons and apply them to your school. It will make a difference and create an experience that will be remembered for a lifetime. And, word-of-mouth will be shared that will influence many in your community.