Foodservice has always been about delivering the best customer experience by providing the best food, most convenience and best service. However, during the economic recession, people tightened their belts, counted their pennies and scrutinized every purchase. The luxury of dining out battled the cost savings from eating at home.
This shift brought about long-lasting impacts that are affecting foodservice in various ways — from negative reviews online to restaurants being asked to explain each increase on menu prices. Consumers are learning to be more demanding for restaurateurs to gain their business. With tighter budgets, winning the battle requires offering consumers more enticements and 'bang for their buck.'
Every business process, new hire and menu change should have one end in mind: providing a positive, memorable customer experience. Studies show 80 percent of people repeat their business because of their experience rather than price or quality. The new goal is for restaurant owners to provide an experience that sets their restaurant above competitors. But how does one ensure customers wanting to blog, tweet and talk about their experience?
Feeling in control increases customer satisfaction and can be applied in multiple ways; online ordering, reservation capabilities and delivery tracking are just a few examples.
Mintel's Foodservice Trends Report showed that 58 percent of consumers like to customize their food orders. Fast casual and quick-service restaurants have picked up on this and show a growing trend in handing control of the meal over to individual diners. Restaurants like MAD Greens and Boloco let consumers build salads or burritos from an assorted list of fresh ingredients. Boloco even offers customized ordering online or by text, so the order is ready when the customer arrives.
Technology allows consumers to be more involved in the experience. At Scotty's Brewhouse, orders are customized and ordered via tabletop iPads in the restaurant. According to Domino's, its online order tracking system lets consumers follow their order's progression to within 40 seconds. And sales of their "Pizza Tracker" app reached $6.5 million in just over a year.
Ultimately, what determines good customer experience is the level of service your employees deliver. Leave a positive lasting impression and you'll generate repeat business. But it is important to realize that customer service isn't merely an employee having a smile on their face. It's all about the employee exhibiting a true passion for helping a customer enjoy the full experience at your restaurant.
To ensure that is the type of team you have, run pre-screening assessments and hire people who are service-minded team players. Then create incentives to encourage your staff to get to know your business; your mission, menu and regulars. Listen to your team and work with them on developing skills and their career. If they're invested, your customers are more likely to be engaged and satisfied as well.
HR efforts need to be focused not only on attracting top quality hires, but also on retraining them. In 2011, turnover rates rose for more than half of service-industry businesses. Listen to your team and work to meet their needs in the same way you want them to work with your customers.
Illusion of time
Fine dining has always focused on providing a leisurely experience for their diners. The focus isn't on 'fast' food, but on a quality experience. All restaurant verticals can take a note from the fine dining experience, even quick-service and fast casual restaurants that have consumers who spend less but expect more.
Not to say that quick-service shouldn't be quick or that fast casual should expect their customers to be okay with sitting at the table for over an hour. However, the consumer should feel that the restaurant itself has put time and effort into their experience. According to Mintel's survey, words like "fresh," "made from scratch" and "handmade" are all cues to diners that your restaurant is taking time to provide quality service.
Corvirtus reports that loyal customers make approximately 70 percent of all purchases. And increasing customer loyalty by a mere five percentage points can actually increase profits by more than 65 percent and growth by more than 100 percent.
With restaurants across the nation facing rising prices and costs, but unable to cut prices — it is time to emphasize the experience. Now is the time to look for ways to keep customers coming back by making their day just a little better or easier.