It's no secret that the country’s recent economic recession made competing for a share of consumers’ wallets a challenge for chain restaurant operators. Now that the recession is over, consumers are increasing their restaurant spending accordingly. In fact, Americans dined away from home an average of four meals per week in 2013—a 60 percent increase since the end of the recession, according to a recent report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
However, this increase in restaurant spending doesn’t mean that chain operators are out of the woods just yet. According to the ACSI, with the economy improving, consumers are now driven more by quality than price when dining away from home—which means that offering guests an elevated, satisfactory dining experience is more crucial than ever. By doing so, operators can also seize an opportunity for growth.
“Guest satisfaction can really make the difference between a chain thriving and surviving,” says Bev Cain, senior vice president of operations at Sandelman & Associates, a foodservice consumer research firm. For example, Cain says that a restaurant can overcome a less-than-ideal location by delivering an over-the-top guest experience. “Consumers are willing to drive further for satisfaction,” Cain says. “They tell us all the time that they drive past other options for better food, faster service and better value—all of those things equal higher satisfaction.”
Additionally, satisfied guests are more likely to become repeat customers, which is a key driver of revenue for chain operators. “Guests who are satisfied are going to return,” says Cain. “Higher frequency drives higher loyalty, which is key in a soft market.”
However, measuring and improving guest satisfaction can be tricky. For some operators, improving satisfaction can be as simple as emphasizing order accuracy—for example, according to research from the NPD Group, 64% of consumers probably won’t start their meal until their side of mayo is delivered. Cain agrees. “For QSRs, accuracy is extremely important,” she says. “More and more, consumers have specific desires in the way food is prepared.”
Here are some additional strategies chain operators can use to improve guest satisfaction:
- Focus on food first. According to Cain, first and foremost, it’s all about the food. “Restaurateurs can get tied into things like friendliness or service, but you can’t compensate for food that doesn’t taste good,” she says. “If you really focus in on a few things, make sure your food is tasty, fresh and high quality.”
- Use social media to connect with customers. Consumers increasingly rely on social media and online reviews to evaluate restaurants before making restaurant choices. Operators can’t ignore this; according to Cain, engaging with customers via social media and having a strong voice can positively impact a chain’s satisfaction rate. “Greater social media talk can help a chain attract more, and higher-quality franchisees as well,” she says.
- Look beyond receipt satisfaction surveys. Consumers are usually willing to complete surveys and talk about their experiences, says Cain, but measuring satisfaction rates exclusively by receipt surveys can be misleading, since consumers who had a negative experience may not be incentivized to participate. To get a bigger picture, operators can try utilizing market intelligence to determine why they might be missing non-customers or why previous customers aren’t returning.
This post is sponsored by Unilever Food Solutions