reports that the tastiest thing served at the world-famous Inn at Little Washington is the service itself.

Few restaurants — indeed, few businesses of any kind — seem so adept at fulfilling their customers’ every need. Founded in 1978 by chef Patrick O’Connell and Reinhardt Lynch, who who oversees the business, the Washington, Va., hotel and restaurant has won nearly every honor in its field.

Regardless of what business you’re in, there’s a lot to learn from the Inn at Little Washington’s approach to keeping its customers happy.

People, O’Connell believes, aren’t impressed by what you know or what you can offer until they see that you care. And you can’t possibly care in any meaningful way unless you have some insight into what people are feeling and why.

Enter the “mood rating.” When a new party arrives in the dining room, the captain assigns it a number that assesses the guests’ apparent state of mind (from 1 to 10, with 7 or below indicating displeasure or unhappiness).

The mood rating is typed into a computer, written on the dinner order, and placed on a spool in the kitchen where the entire staff can see and react accordingly. Whatever the circumstances, O’Connell’s goal is crystal clear: “No one should leave here below a 9.”

To that end, restaurant staffers spare nothing in their attempt to raise the number — be it complimentary champagne, extra desserts, a tableside visit from one of the owners, even a kitchen tour.

O’Connell says, “If guests ran into terrible traffic on the way over here, or are in the midst of a marital dispute, we need to consider it our problem. How else are we going to ensure that they have a sublime experience?”

Photo by Inn at Little Washington.