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by Marcella S. Kreiter

Chicago, IL — We’ve all been there: sitting in a restaurant, enjoying a quiet meal when the waitstaff comes charging through with a cupcake topped by a candle and singing some form of “Happy Birthday.”

A targeted 7-year-old may be thrilled; a 30-year-old, not so much.

The secret to whether this sort of attention translates into repeat business is all in how it’s done, said Cele Otnes, a business professor and marketing expert at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

“When done well, (marketing rituals) can be huge sources of bondedness,” Otnes said. The problem, however, is that many such rituals are not well thought out or well executed and wind up annoying customers rather than making them loyal, repeat clients.

Otnes presented research on the topic recently at the European Association for Consumer Research Conference at Royal Holloway University of London.

Otnes found that workers in costume who give polished performances made customers feel special and left a positive impression.

The now-defunct Marshall Field’s department store chain was a master of ritual.

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