In a jaw-dropping indication that c-stores are beating restaurants on more than price and convenience, a new study shows consumers regard the service provided by the Wawa retail chain as superior to what they get at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse.
An analysis of social media chatter by White Box Social Intelligence shows Wawa is more likely to meet service expectations than all 619 restaurant brands the researcher monitors on a constant basis. Closest to the c-store chain in positive service evaluations was Papa Murphy’s, followed by Seasons 52, Fleming’s and Wienerschnitzel.
The data also show consumers’ intentions of visiting the monitored restaurant chains have continued to wane, by a hefty 6.4%, and that they believe the food quality of those brands has slipped from a year ago. Yet their estimation of restaurant service rose by 10.2% year over year.
Wawa was one of the brands that scored high in customers’ intention to return, with only Qdoba and Carvel ranking higher.
The information forms a new monthly benchmarking report from White Box’s parent company, TDn2K, the source of People Report and Black Box Intelligence data. The Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot scores chains on six attributes: service, food, propensity of customers to return, beverage and value.
Wawa’s top rating on service was indeed a surprise, says Victor Fernandez, TDn2K’s executive director of insights and knowledge. “It all depends on expectations, whatever the expectation of what good service is,” he says. “Obviously people expect something different from Wawa than they do from Fleming’s.” But they’re more likely to have those expectations satisfied at the c-store chain, he indicated.
The 1.2% dip in consumers’ estimation of chains’ food quality was also a surprise, Fernandez said. It could be a statistical blip that’s reversed in the May Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot, he suggested, or it could be the result of two more persistent factors.
“One is, the food quality is slipping and guests are noticing; somehow things are not as good,” he says. “Or are guests becoming a little more strict in their expectations? Are they expecting a little more than they were a year ago?”
One of the more dramatic data points in the April Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot is the indication that consumers’ intent to return to restaurants fell 6.4%.
Fernandez’s explanation: “There are way too many options out there. You have the same dollars, but now there are four places instead of three around you.” And one of those potential choices could be Wawa. “Those are very viable options now.”
He also notes a change in the consumer psyche. “Exploring is the name of the game now,” Fernandez explained. “Before, it was easy to go to the places you knew and liked. Now with social media and all those other places, it’s easier to find new places.”