Operations | December 2012 | By Jennifer Gregory

Experience is Everything

Study shows upscale elements may be key to quick-serve satisfaction.

Playing slow, soft music in the store could improve customer satisfaction.
Playing slow, soft music in the store could improve customer satisfaction. ThinkStock.com
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Fancy table linens and candles aren’t typically found in most quick-service restaurants, but incorporating them could be the secret to a happier customer.

During a recent Cornell study, one group of customers ate in a standard dining room at a Hardee’s restaurant in Champaign, Illinois. A second group dined in a Hardee’s resembling a fine-dining restaurant with linen tablecloths, candles on the table, and soft jazz music playing.

Customers in both groups ordered the same amount of food from the menu, but patrons in the fine-dining section rated the food quality higher.

“When you elevate the environmental experience, you certainly increase satisfaction,” says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of foodservice strategies at WD Partners. He says results stem from the halo effect: When one attribute of an experience is improved, it increases satisfaction in other areas.

Going so far as to incorporate linen tablecloths isn’t practical or even desired in most quick-service restaurants, but simple changes can increase satisfaction, says Brian Wansink, co-author of the study.

“One of the easiest changes you can make is to play slow and quiet music, such as jazz standards,” he says. He also suggests adding indirect lighting in the dining room .

“Operators should be looking at anything and everything that might enhance the frequency of visits and purchases,” Lombardi says.