Tips to live by
Naturally, restaurant brands are trying to achieve different things in regards to customer experience. Not every brand is going to push all of its resources into superior food quality. Speed might not matter as much to certain guests at certain restaurants. Value is relative to the experience and the offering. It’s all about identifying a core guest, writing a narrative around those goals, and then reinforcing and promoting those pillars with every avenue available. Don’t tell customers what they want. Figure it out and then give it to them, as seamlessly as possible.
Here are five key learnings from the study:
Avoid the fun killers
Quality food and friendly staff are essential. Not one brand in the top 10 scored below average on those measures.
Find your center of gravity but keep your appeal broad
It’s impossible to be all things to everybody, the study said. Quick service, in general, has had less of a problem with this notion than casual dining in recent years. But those chains are starting to come around, too. Chili’s, in one example, sliced its menu 40 percent in 2017 so it could focus on core items, speed up service, and improve back-of-the-house execution. What followed? The best traffic performance in more than a decade.
Develop a distinctive and authentic proposition
Gone are the days when a one-stop shop would cut it. Diners look for authenticity now. From sights and sounds to smells even, customers want to know exactly where they are when they’re eating.
Keep your visitors coming back for more
As any restaurant chain can attest, repeat visitors are essential. There are only so many LTOs or discounts you can devise to inspire new business. Leading brands strategically tailor their propositions to encourage habitual usage.
We might be there already, but if we’re not, the app and loyalty war is about to ignite. People typically don’t use more than a few apps, even though they’ve downloaded 700. But those they do lean on, they frequent more than they take steps in a day. For restaurants, inspiring true loyalty through mobile mediums is the golden egg.
Convenience is king
Winning restaurants develop solutions to serve their menus through home delivery, in-store pick-up, and automated kiosks, as well as offering all-day menus when it makes sense. Take Shake Shack as a case study. Not too long ago the burger brand was pretty straightforward from an accessibility standpoint. Walk in, order, grab your buzzer, and sit down. Now, there are five ways to order. Guests can still walk in, of course, but now they can also use a self-serve kiosk in some locations; access the brand’s newly refreshed mobile app; tap its recently launched web-ordering platform; or dial up one of Shake Shack’s delivery pilots via third party. Can restaurants meet guests at these off-premises opportunities while still guarding four-wall experience? That’s the challenge ahead.
What do you stand for?
OC&C notes that winning brands successfully navigate the tension between standing for something while being broadly accessible. That’s no easy task. And again, it’s not for everyone. Some smaller fast casuals might want a very specific customer to walk through the door. In general, however, it’s important to find a center of gravity and appeal to multiple demographics.
Specialize in serving the needs of a specific demographic or attitudinal customer set (say, value hunters or millennials). Top chains target the customer segments with growing spend potential, and that fit their brand goals.
It’s worthwhile to own a specific type of trip across all customer groups (birthdays, date night, and so forth). Being excessively occasion-led could lead to a slowdown during non-target dayparts, though. Whether or not that’s a problem depends on the brand, and how much volume is coming during the sweet spot. Dunkin’, for instance, has pushed afternoon business in recent months, using deals like cheaper espresso and a $2 snacking menu. But this initiative unfolded as the chain appreciated robust breakfast sandwich transactions—75 percent of which were coming with a beverage. That daypart churned along, giving Dunkin’ whitespace to innovate in the p.m. In other terms, it didn’t sacrifice one for the sake of the other. McDonald’s has experienced a slowdown in regards to breakfast sales lately. The issue being a daypart one (less transactions in the morning as opposed to less breakfast item purchased). To fix the issue, McDonald’s focused on menu engineering, like the Donut Sticks, and shifted toward local value instead of national in an effort to compete with nearby restaurants. How much of this is tied to pushing breakfast to an all-day platform? While McDonald’s is enjoying higher checks, how can it improve guest frequency moving forward?
Offering a genuinely differentiated experience through a unique selection of dishes or service style can set a restaurant apart. Unique service styles are often associated with serving particular occasions as well. And that doesn’t always boil down to food. This is one reason fine dining has been a solid performer in recent years. Today’s diner buys experience as much as food sometimes, especially given the improved consumer confidence and people’s tendency to spend on eating out. That doesn’t mean you need to toss in a prix fixe menu and hire a sommelier. Even the friendly nature of dining at Chick-fil-A is a very specific experience. You can expect it every time you pull out your wallet. And that’s the selling point. Consumers are usually seeking out something specific when they pick a restaurant. The question is: Is it clear what your brand offers? And are you delivering it?
Below is an example of some success stories.