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Customers are less satisfied with their restaurant visits

Technomic's Take: Customer satisfaction has been dropping, especially with online visits. But in-person interaction can overcome this problem.
restaurant customer satisfaction
Customers are less satisfied with their restaurant visits, but in-person interaction helps. / Photograph: Shutterstock.

Technomic's Take

If you are experiencing declines in your customer satisfaction scores, you are not alone. Shifts in digital ordering behaviors and new customer acquisition may be to blame. But the general mood of the market is not helping matters. When you combine digital ordering behaviors with a general decline in national mood, we see satisfaction levels dipping and most often during online ordering occasions. The good news is that there are signs that a good in-person interaction can overcome that negative mood.   

Something is going on in the delivery market that is driving satisfaction levels down from 55% of consumers rating their experience as excellent in Q2 2020 during delivery orders to 49% today. One thing we know about consumers is that they tend not to be “wowed” by their first restaurant visit. More often their satisfaction with a restaurant goes up with experience. They come to know the brand first and then their satisfaction levels increase, as does their loyalty. The best way to build this type of ongoing, reciprocal trust between a customer and a restaurant is in a face-to-face transaction. In fact, we tend to see higher levels of satisfaction on orders that originate with an employee than other order modes.  On average there is a 2 ppt advantage to an in-person order. It is very hard to build trust with a customer online.

At the start of the pandemic, I held hope this would finally be the event that brought communities together, allowed people to disagree with each other respectfully and helped build trust among diverse people. That hope lasted approximately one hour. That was the moment I opened an article about the delayed NBA season and found a festering pool of anger in the comments section. Displays of common decency were eventually drowned-out by this pool and other similar pools. But there were many common displays of decency and many efforts to make do.  

One area where those common displays of decency thrived was the support shown to restaurants. Our business was all hands on the Zoom deck. Trade groups formed, legislation was passed and when the doors were reopened customers were grateful, save for those occasional folks who wandered out of their anger pool to harass our staff. On average, the goodwill for this industry overshadowed the negativity. The result was unprecedented levels of satisfaction. In total, the proportion of consumers who had rated their last visit to the top restaurant chains in the industry as excellent was as high as it’s been in quite a few years. Restaurants were being given credit for trying. Some were excelling, even.

Since that time, however, we’ve seen a collective erosion of goodwill that is largely driven by this growing pessimism among online orders. Customer satisfaction levels have dropped from a peak in the third quarter of 2020 to this year’s third quarter. The drop-off was particularly large for Quick Service Restaurants.. At its most recent peak, 51.5% of visitors to the fast-food chain space rated their visit as “excellent”. That number was about as close as QSR has been to fast-casual levels of satisfaction in the history of our tracker. Satisfaction levels have dropped 4 percentage points to 47.4%. Fast-Casual restaurants did not see the immediate pandemic boost in satisfaction ratings but have also seen their scores drop as well.

Interestingly, we are seeing a different trend among casual dining restaurants where in-person orders have been recovering and satisfaction levels increased over last year. Midscale satisfaction is also up compared to 2019 levels but has started to come back to earth.

The question is, what is missing from our online ordering experiences that is not translating into satisfaction? This is a question we are setting out to answer in a new off-premise channel study we are launching. My hypothesis is that the missing element is the trust-building power of a smiling face and a warm greeting. If I’m right, then the question become how best to replicate that online. At the very least, we know that is not happening presently in our market.  It needs to be.

The Future of On-Premise (technomic.com)

Technomic's Take is a weekly look at issues and trends affecting operators. Technomic is a sister company of Restaurant Business. 

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