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Research reveals 3 secrets of boosting restaurant traffic

A look at traffic gainers vs. guest-count losers shows these common traits.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The restaurant chains that grew their customer counts in 2018 all did it in one of three ways, according to research aired Monday by research firm TDn2k during its annual Global Best Practices Conference in Dallas.

The researcher noted that 33 of the chains in its research universe reported gains in customer traffic during 2018. An analysis of what they did differently from the 113 other concepts in the pack revealed they excelled in similar ways.

First, the gainers showed “the ability to grow their midafternoon traffic,” explained Zach Stanford, business intelligence advisor for TDn2K. “Their afternoon traffic was up 9.9%.”

Another area where they outperformed was in off-premise sales. Many of the 146 chains had boosted sales through delivery or carryout, but the takeout increases for the traffic gainers jumped at the head-turning clip of 15%, Stanford said.

The across-the-board differentiator, TDn2K executives noted, was the caliber of service the gainers provided, as measured by guest comments on social media. TDn2K’s White Box monitoring and analysis service looked at what customers said about all the brands. The chains that boosted customer counts in 2018 generated 6.5% more positive comments about service than did the traffic losers.

Good service “is easier said than done,” Sheryl Coyne-Batson, TDn2K’s VP of strategic partnerships, said from the stage. It’s particularly difficult to provide with the current tight supply of restaurant talent, she noted, referring to an overriding theme of the conference.

One thing the traffic gainers avoided was raising prices to boost per-person expenditures and overall sales. Traffic losers had a tendency to raise prices to offset the decline in guest counts—kicking off a vicious cycle. “Operations with negative traffic had almost 2% higher price growth than companies that had positive traffic,” Stanford said.

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