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Reinstating The Restaurant as the Third Place

· restaurants,Customer feedback,Consumer Trends

This past weekend, I was stopped on the street by a canvasser who was introducing one of the new home-meal kits. They were advertising their products as a way to start cooking for yourself and eliminate the need for takeout or going to restaurants. The budding restauranteur in me had a moment of panic – if these meals could be delivered to your door and make the average person feel like a chef, what impact would that have on the restaurant industry? Would it in fact undermine the need for restaurant establishments and make an already competitive business that much harder?

This thought loomed overhead during my walk home that day: how do restaurants remain competitive in this changing market place? Why would someone choose to go out to eat on a random weeknight, when now the barriers to cooking at home have been lowered.

In all my work with restaurants over the years, there has always been an emphasis on delivering a high quality of service and creating a positive consumer experience. But in this day and age of technology, multi-tasking, and information, do restaurants still know what their customer wants? And moreover, do restaurants know how to differentiate between the desires of different customers?

There are of course the textbook answers to what today’s diners want: transparency and authenticity of ingredients, understanding of the “story” behind their food, healthy and diverse options, etc. etc. But that is also what these subscription services are providing. To differentiate from such meal options, restaurants need to understand how their customers want to feel when they are there – not just their preferences in food, but their preferences in experience.

Operators must ensure the guest experience is consistent and exceptional to lure people out of their homes. The subscription services have invested significant sums of money in their logistics and operations departments, ensuring consistency in deliveries – subscribers know exactly what to expect each time they open a package, and that is comforting. They need to be able to expect the same each time they open the restaurant door.

But how does one ensure such consistency and consumer satisfaction? Moreover, how do you even know what a customer wants, before their bad experiences and dissatisfaction begin circulating on social media? It is vital to have some form of customer engagement to get feedback from your guests every time they come into the restaurant. To succeed, restaurants must learn from their guests and adapt accordingly.

The subscription component of these food-delivery services enables companies to track consumers over time: their preferences, successful meals, and disappointments, allowing them to modify accordingly. Moreover, with this operational structure, food-delivery companies almost always have the opportunity redeem themselves because the customer is set up to receive another batch of meals. They have customers locked in from the moment a single order is placed—an intrinsic or requisite customer loyalty is immediately established. But in the realm of fine dining, it is not as easy to incite the same customer loyalty. There are no “punch cards” in fine dining settings, where guests are incentivized to return again and again. The fine dining equivalent to “buy ten meals, get one free” needs to be “buy one meal, want to come back for more,” which will only occur with superior service and overall dining experience. But how can a restaurant create this? Without creating records of every moment of every guest experience, how can restaurants capture their guests’ changing preferences and satisfaction levels?

Restaurants need to open the door for customer feedback and opinions and leverage the channels available to do so. By hearing directly from your guests you can be as adaptive and create the same subscription mentality as these home-meal kits.

About the Author: Andrea Oran

Andrea has spent most of her career working in various facets of the food & beverage industry, with an emphasis on restaurant operations, including work with Union Square Hospitality Group, Calle Ocho, La Pecora Bianca, and other New York City restaurants. Andrea is a graduate of both the Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, and she is pursuing her MBA at Columbia Business School.

About Servy

Headquartered in New York, NY, Servy is a next generation mystery dining platform. Unlike traditional secret shopping, Servy diners for their meal, providing restaurants with organic feedback from their target clientele. Servy helps restaurants measure performance, understand consumer preferences, and ensure standards are upheld at all times.

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