Casual dining chains outstripping market on repeat business

Zizzi

No matter what market category they find themselves in, all foodservice operators are aspiring to the same thing: to send customers home content and with a longlasting impression of the place they have just eaten at. A new survey reveals just who is doing that the best. FEJ reports.

You can have the most expensive kitchen in the world and purport to offer the richest menu possible, but it’s all worth nothing if customers depart the premises with the feeling that their meal wasn’t up to scratch. That prospect isn’t something that casual dining chains have to worry about at the moment, however — not if the latest industry figures from global information provider The NPD Group are to be believed. They show that the sector is outstripping all others when it comes to winning in the customer satisfaction stakes.

For the year ending March 2015, consumers said they felt ‘strong overall satisfaction’ in 77% of visits to casual dining chains in the UK. This means they rated the overall experience as either ‘very good’ or excellent’, with this figure representing an increase of 10 percentage points since year ending March 2009.

Branded pub groups came in at second place in the list (‘strongly satisfied’ in 73% of visits) while quick service restaurant (QSR) chains scored 67%. The figure for branded pubs is 10 percentage points up since year-end March 2009, while the QSR rating is 14 percentage points better.

Overall satisfaction

The NPD Group says ‘overall satisfaction’ is driven by many aspects of a visit to a foodservice outlet, including the quality and taste of food and beverages, the quality of service, ambiance, value for money and whether consumers themselves feel valued. The customer satisfaction survey revealed the following trends:

Quality of Service: Branded pubs and QSR chains are strong in ‘quality of service’, chalking up a ‘strong satisfaction’ score in 70% and 64% of all visits respectively. These results are up eight percentage points and 14 percentage points respectively since March 2009.

Speed of service: Some 62% of all visits to branded pubs and 67% to casual dining outlets were considered to be strong in terms of speed of service.

Cleanliness: 72% of consumers gave casual dining outlets a ‘strong satisfaction’ rating for the cleanliness of the restaurant. The figure for branded pubs was 65% while the QSR sector scored 63%.

Consumers no longer expect an ‘average’ experience

While all these specific measures within overall satisfaction show that the majority give their visit a ‘strong’ rating, there is room for improvement. At QSR chains, for example, more than one third of visits (36%) do not provide ‘strong’ quality of service. For branded pubs, 38% of visits fail to offer ‘strong’ speed of service and a ‘strong’ level of satisfaction with cleanliness is missing in 35% of visits.

Consumers are much more prepared to try new brands, which means that attracting and retaining consumers is growing increasingly difficult for operators.

“We believe our data shows that consumers are increasingly demanding and less willing to accept an average experience,” remarks Cyril Lavenant, NPD’s director of foodservice for the UK and France. “They are much more prepared to try new brands, which means that attracting and retaining consumers is growing increasingly
difficult for operators.

“The choice of an outlet either for food or beverages is driven less by the need for convenience or by ‘habit’. Consumers are more likely to make decisions based on quality and variety of food, as well as price. Foodservice outlets need to understand those are all parts of creating that sense of ‘overall satisfaction’ if they are to drive footfall. If you provide great food, but your service does not follow and your outlet is not clean, you are likely to lose customers.”

BBQ burgerCapturing the ‘return visit’

The NPD Group says operators need to make sure that consumers find their visit as satisfying as possible if they want them to come back. The survey found that 71% of consumers who had described a branded pub as offering ‘excellent’ overall satisfaction say that they will definitely come back to one of the chain’s outlets within four weeks.

However, this intention to return drops sharply to 42% when consumers describe an outlet as only offering ‘very good’ satisfaction. The NPD Group says this significant difference in terms of the all-important return visit between ‘excellent’ and ‘very good’ underlines the importance of striving for the highest customer satisfaction standards possible.

Recovering from recession

Why is customer satisfaction important? The British foodservice market has seen five tough years and is now nearly 500 million visits smaller based on year end March 2009. Each month, Britons eat/drink out 16.4 times. This is a decrease of 1.2 visits compared to pre-recession times.

“Many chains have worked hard to evolve their business model and we see positive results,” says Lavenant. “While independent outlets have lost 1.4 billion visits since 2009, chains have gained 900 million visits.

“Branded pubs and QSR chains have performed well in terms of increasing customer satisfaction. In particular, many operators have focused on training their staff to deliver a better service. Operators who offer a full package to consumers will be the winners.”

But as Lavenant warns, being able to deliver that “full package” means investing in refurbishment of outlets, food, beverages and staff — and it means gaining a much better understanding of consumers.

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