In the early days of customization, consumers who encountered tailored experiences based on their buying habits found them suspicious, creepy, and maybe even downright a violation. But, as is common with repeated exposure to new things, consumers have become accustomed to the practice, and have begun to embrace the value of having their experiences personalized to meet their needs and interests.

 

A recent survey by CivicScience and Facebook reveals not only the shift regarding restaurant patronage, but the variables that impact how likely consumers are to embrace personalization—especially when it means giving up more and more personal data.

 

Accepting Customization

Among surveyed restaurant patrons, 59% said they were more likely to participate in a loyalty program if it meant a more personalized experienced (rewards based on purchase history). This is in contrast not to 41% less likely, but only not more likely. The difference here is striking. Personalization drives the majority toward more engagement, and doesn’t necessarily turn off the rest… it just means they aren’t more motivated. Considering this is the overall result, it may mean that personalized data-driven experiences should be on your radar for your restaurant business. If not now… then soon. But there are a few more data points to cover before drawing conclusions.

 

Overall, personal offers are widely appealing (or at least not a turn-off). But a “customized dining experience via mobile personalization” starts to concern consumers. 61% indicate they would not “enjoy” such personalization, while only 47% favor it. Why the difference? It seems that the more customers feel they’re being “watched” or “spied on,” the more quickly they retreat. But when benefits outweigh risks, they will gravitate toward custom experiences.

 

Customization by Demographics

Age and gender also play an important role in consumer behavior. Women embrace the experience more than men, 54% to 46%. A third each of Gen Xers and Millennials are comfortable with the concept, and more than a quarter of Baby Boomers (even seniors can appreciate targeted, relevant marketing).

 

Dining Habits

Where the responses get particularly interesting is in regard to how their dining habits relate to their comfort with personalization. Fast food/quick service patrons are overwhelmingly more favorable toward customization and data-collection via loyalty programs. Fast casual customers, the primary comparison in the service, were more reticent… unless they are only occasional visitors. In fact, those most interested in customized loyalty rewards were fast casual customers who visit less than once a month. In other words, “Motivate me, personally” to come back to dine. By comparison, fast-food patrons seem to be saying, “Reward me (personally) for being a frequent customer.” Not surprisingly, those who’ve regularly used restaurant coupons also embrace loyalty programs and customization more readily; after all, coupon programs based on demographics and behavior were the precursor to today’s Big Data.

 

Your Restaurant and Customization

What about your restaurant? If your establishment is quick service or fast casual, offering a loyalty program and reaping the data rewards is great for your business—and your patrons. But what if your business is more traditional or formal? Your customers may not be as accustomed to a personalized service model (at least, based on data), so you’ll want to use caution, but you can still benefit from the knowledge that customers are increasingly agreeable to, and even in favor of, customization.

  • Test a loyalty program with takeout customers. Even from a fine-dining establishment, takeout customers are like fast-food patrons with a different palate. Reward their frequency and provide personalized offers to test, build, and expand data-gathering.
  • Offer loyalty benefits initially around specials that appeal to a broad audience—and using email as a simple and trusted point of contact. Slowly build more offers, data gathering, and interactive touchpoints (social media, mobile apps, etc.) as the audience grows both in size and in trust.
  • Use outside resources to encourage return visits from infrequent customers. Create social media and offline campaigns to attract previous customers who visit less than once a month. Even if your establishment is more formal than a fast casual, these customers are looking not for rewards, but motivation that they will have an experience that appeals to their personal tastes. Use this consumer knowledge to draw them back in so that they can once again become constituents for whom you can increasingly personalize the experience.

Bottom Line

Customization based on personal data was once creepy and uncomfortable, but exposure and innate value have made it a valuable practice both for the patron and the purveyor. Current survey results demonstrate that consumers are getting on board—will you be ready to meet their needs and make the most of providing a customized experience that will keep each one coming back?

 

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