Restaurant customer service has been a big focus as patrons—particularly millennials—seek a dining experience, not just a meal out. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s just one part of the equation that adds up to return visits, and industry-wide data is telling a concerning story.

 

Satisfaction with service rose more than 10% this spring, compared to last year. Yet just over 6% of patrons expressed an intent to return to these restaurants that they feel treat them well. So what is the disconnect?

 

Food Quality

While customer service ratings improved significantly, food scores dropped 1.2%. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but any decrease in overall food satisfaction is tied directly to your bottom line (you’re in the food business, after all). And the lack of growth in this area is even more concerning, since it’s heading in the wrong direction, and will influence your referrals. Customers who feel “meh” about a restaurant’s food will take one of three paths when discussing the restaurant with friends and acquaintances:

 

  • Say nothing (your business isn’t discussed or recommended)
  • Speak ambivalently (your restaurant is ok but not a top choice—or “used to be better”)
  • Recommend against dining with you (your restaurant isn’t among the better places to eat, and may even decline further)

 

Word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful advertising channels for local restaurants, so maintaining high quality and always aiming for improvement is important not just to satisfy customers but to “prove” that a patron’s recommendation is valid.

 

The Restaurant as Commodity

Competition for restaurants is very high—and it’s not just from other restaurants. While patrons do prefer an “experience,” the simple need of getting a meal (and even enjoying it with friends and loved ones) can be met in a number of ways:

 

  • Buying groceries and cooking at home (even higher-end meats, organic vegetables, exotic grains, etc., are available in many stores)
  • Ordering delivery or picking up takeout—even from convenience stores, which are making strides in their food offerings
  • Making a quick trip through the drive-through (it’s not just for “fast food” these days)
  • Choosing to dine at a quick-serve or sit-down chain, or a local pub or restaurant

 

The choices are so numerous, that it’s a challenge to stand out—but you must.

 

Lack of Loyalty

Brand loyalty has continued to decline across many consumable categories, from groceries to the service industry. Each time the economy dips, private label and “cheap” options get sales boosts, but as the economy recovers, often buyers don’t return to the “name brands” they were once loyal to. Even a decade after the 2008 economic plunge, customer loyalty is only to what meets the need at the price they’re willing to pay. This, compounded with millennial buying behaviors, means that restaurants have to excel not only at food quality and customer service, but in building a culture to attract and retain patrons—and employees, for that matter. Make your customers happy—but to keep them coming back, make them part of a community.

 

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