University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee's School of Hotel and Restaurant Management conducted a national survey of more than 1,000 restaurant goers. The goal of this survey was to pick out key factors that determine success for restaurants. Although information technology use was not included as a major polling point, the results suggest that IT can have a significant impact on satisfaction and a customer's willingness to return to an establishment.
First, here's a quick look at some of the general findings for American diners' "favorites." Overall, the survey found that consumers spend 25% of their food dollars at restaurants. Their favorite cuisines were (in order) American, Italian, Asian, Mediterranean, French and Fusion. Their favorite restaurants were (in order): Olive Garden, Applebee's, Red Lobster, Outback, and Chili's. The overall success factors for restaurants are the classic "must-haves" for a good dining experience, and rank in the following order: good food is most important, at 17.6%, followed by atmosphere (14.4%), price (13.6%), good service (12.8%), and finally decor (11.2%).
What makes "quality" for consumers?
Digging a little deeper into service, diners described a restaurant as being of high-quality for these reasons: "My order was served without errors," "The restaurant maintained the quality of service during busy times," "My server was dependable and consistent," "My server served me in the time promised," and "The servers were clean and neatly dressed." In short, "quality" means a pleasant server delivering the correct food, in a timely manner. Two of the three areas — accuracy and timing — can be directly improved with the use of technology. Even server disposition is improved when they are armed with tools that help them perform better and earn larger tips.
With so many variables impacting a restaurant’s success, the researchers next chose to identify key features that impact overall guest satisfaction, their likelihood of returning to the restaurant, and finally, their likelihood of recommending the restaurant to others (and in the age of online reviews, recommendations are more important than ever). To identify these important dynamics, we conducted a multiple regression analysis. All success factors were regressed against "likelihood of recommending the restaurant" and "satisfied with the restaurant." Here are the specific factors we measured:
• The restaurant's decor was typical for the image of full service restaurant.
• My server served me in the time promised.
• The taste of food was excellent.
• The portions were large enough.
• The menu was detailed enough to understand the ingredients.
• The greeter welcomed me to the restaurant with a friendly smile.
• The restaurant provided good value for the price.
These statements are important predictors of satisfaction and ensuring that the guest will recommend the restaurant to others. At first glance, they may not appear directly connected to the use of technology in the restaurant. However, if you drill deeper into how these attributes can be accomplished, many can be directly and indirectly supported by the use of technology. For example, a handheld point of sale system will ensure the fast delivery of food to guests, without errors. The use of kitchen technology can improve order accuracy and time-to-table. An electronic menu, perhaps offered on a tablet computer, can provide guests with a great deal of information on their food choice, including nutritional information and beverage pairing suggestions.
Managing the online reputation
Savvy restaurants know the importance that consumer-generated content sites play in purchasing decisions, but it may come as a surprise that online reviews and reputations are now the number-one factor influencing why people choose — or don’t choose — a restaurant. According to our respondents, the motivators for visiting a restaurant for the first time were: good online reviews, reputation, recommendation, price, and atmosphere.
These results reinforce that owners and operators need to monitor social networks and respond to both positive and negative comments. Negative comments should be taken as constructive criticism and as a service recovery tool.
When looking at a random selection of restaurant Trip Advisor reviews, it was clear that many do not actively respond to any comments. Ignoring these reviews is no longer an option. The dependence on technology in restaurants in order to conduct and grow business will only increase, and restaurant owners must participate in the discussion.