The changing & unchanging customer demands


The changing & unchanging customer demands


As I was perusing an article on “Top Restaurant Trends 2023”, I pondered on how exhausting it must be for operators and brand managers to keep up with it all. It feels like operators have a succession of new and challenging hoops to keep jumping through in order to please customers and keep up with constantly evolving trends and needs.

Consumers want more experiential, more digital, more options to cater for more dietary requirements and more Instagrammable content, but less carbon. Additionally, due to the cost-of-living crisis, it would be great if the cost of the meal could also be cheaper.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to any operator that cost has become the top influencing factor over value when customers are choosing which venue to go to. Pre-pandemic, HGEM’s consumer research showed that the reverse was the case, and value was historically more important than cost.

I digress. The point I am trying to make is that it can feel overwhelming trying to tick all the boxes. That is, until you step back and look at the wider context. From our experience over 20 years of helping operators measure and improve their performance, we often find that in the quest to keep reinventing, it’s easy to lose focus on the foundations – the core standards and processes that need to be in place regardless. This is backed up by output from focus groups on popular brands, where it’s common to hear complaints about surprisingly basic expectations.

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The key to start with is to have a core framework for the guest experience that’s being constantly reinforced through communications, training and recognition. Crucially, this framework should also articulate the “why”, so that teams understand how their actions impact the perception of the brand and the integrity of the service journey.

I’ve seen beautifully considered service frameworks that have high exposure through launch events and team onboarding, but which quickly drift out of consciousness when they collide with established culture.

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To really turn your framework into what happens consistently on all experiences, it’s important to evaluate performance – regularly and objectively – and involve teams in learning from the results. And not just by telling them how they’re doing – listening and learning is a two-way street, and we have seen in our results the close correlation between team happiness and customer satisfaction (eNPS versus NPS).

Measurement should involve both subjective sources (like reviews and surveys, where you capture emotions and reputation) and objective sources (such as mystery guest audits, where you capture facts and detail). And it doesn’t all have to be based on ratings – artificial intelligence models are now very good at mining opinions and sentiment from text to find patterns you may not have considered when designing your framework.

Another mistake we sometimes see is considering all standards and processes to be equally important. They’re not. It’s easy to see which have the biggest impact on loyalty by breaking down the net promoter score (NPS) by how guests answer certain questions in a survey. To cut a long story short, there are no real surprises. Did I feel welcome and looked after? Was the experience well-paced (both food and payment)? And was my food tasty (and the right temperature)?

These show the biggest variation in NPS based on the answer given. Close behind, these are several measures that guests will usually only comment about when they notice something obvious – cleanliness, for example – but that have a big impact when things aren’t right. Nail these first before moving on to things that you might think are more important than guests do!

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In summary, let’s finish with a cliché. While some customer demands are ever-changing, don’t take your eyes off the demands that always stay the same. If there’s anything to take away from this Friday morning distraction, it’s the fact that service, pacing, food quality and atmosphere have been important to customers for as long as there have been restaurants and are highly unlikely to fall down the priority chain over things like “geopolitical dining”, or whether you should embrace the Pantone colour of the year (since you asked, “Viva Magenta” for 2023).

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