3 ways restaurants can deliver superior service + continue to evolve the customer experience

Paul Tiedt | Nov 10, 2020 Paul Tiedt 11/10/20

As we enter into a new phase of the pandemic—one of colder temperatures, a potential third wave, and the added threat of cold + flu season—businesses relying on outside service will once again have to adjust operational procedures. This is especially pertinent to the restaurant industry, with 40% of COVID-cautious customers not comfortable with indoor dining.

Our latest BrandGeek® research gathered data from more than 5,000 consumers to help restaurants understand how customer expectations are shifting and what to prioritize to meet their evolved needs.

Here are 3 steps your brand should take to elevate service standards, deliver a safe + healthy experience, and drive customer loyalty:

  1. Clearly communicate your COVID precautions—especially through digital channels

    We’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again: if you’re not letting customers know how you’re prioritizing their health + safety, you’re losing their business.

    More than half of respondents state they are concerned about catching the virus when out in public—which means if they are going out, they’re only going to places where they feel safe. Consumers are vetting businesses’ safety measures prior to visiting, and 3 out of 4 of them are doing so through digital channels—particularly by checking social media or using Google search.

    customers 55+ prefer physical signage

    Make sure your restaurant’s safety measures are posted and readily accessible to consumers checking your brand’s website, social media accounts, Google business account, etc. It’s also important the messaging is fully aligned across channels and updated whenever a change takes place.

    Communication should cover mask guidelines, social distancing measures, occupancy information, and services provided (i.e., dine-in, delivery) and include your current menu, hours of operation, and explicit instructions on carryout procedures (i.e., curbside, designated pick-up counter). It’s also a good idea to mention if you provide outdoor/patio seating and if the area is heated—that 40% who aren’t dining inside at restaurants will appreciate the info.

    most important factor is masked staff

  2. Attract new customers by delivering an exemplary experience to their friends + family

    The pandemic shook many consumers’ long-lasting trust in their favorite brands—but if that trust was re-established, loyalty is now even stronger. In times of uncertainty, people often value the familiar and comfortable—which is why 1 in 3 consumers are hesitant to try a new restaurant due to the pandemic.

    As we said before, one way to drive new business is to inform potential customers of your COVID precautions. But another effective strategy is a bit of a no-brainer: make sure you’re delivering a highly satisfying experience to every customer so they will be more likely to recommend your brand to others.

    More than half of respondents stated that a recommendation from friends or family is what motivates them to break out of their comfort zone and try new a restaurant.

    friends and family are best referrals for restaurants

    In this time of economic struggle, restaurants can’t afford to provide anything less than stellar service—the stakes are too high. And when every experience counts, you have to make sure you’re continuously gathering customer feedback and acting on those insights. Get back to basics on what it means to deliver a highly satisfying experience and drive the level of customer loyalty your restaurant needs—now more than ever.

  3. Limit staff interactions with customers while still providing solid service

    In a recent retail study, SMG research showed in-store shoppers still want staff assistance—even with heightened concerns of catching the coronavirus in public. This aligns with the expectations of restaurant consumers, with 65% wanting as much or more staff interaction than before the pandemic.

    But this doesn’t mean business as usual. While your dine-in customers still want attentive service, they are more comfortable with some interactions than others. For example, customers are most comfortable interacting with their server—as opposed to the host/hostess or manager—but that comfort level drops if they feel the interactions become excessive.

    server interactions make customers most comfortable

    Brands should accommodate by taking a thorough look at the customer journey and finding ways to reduce the number of touchpoints. Provide digital menus, implement contactless payment methods, and encourage online reservations. Your customers are paying attention and these little details can have a very big impact.

As trends continue to change, don’t let your brand get left behind

There’s no way to know exactly what a “normal” dining experience will look like in a month or two. Will it require temperature checks at the door? Or include a mandatory surcharge (note: our research shows half of consumers are not willing to pay one)?

But even with so much uncertainty, brands should be prepared and ready to act. Our interactive playbook gives restaurants a step-by-step guide to navigating the evolving phases of the pandemic and leveraging customer + employee insights for optimal results.

Download your complimentary copy of the Restaurant XM Playbook and be sure to check out our COVID-19 Resource Center for up-to-date research on the pandemic’s impact on the restaurant industry.

Paul Tiedt | SVP, Research 
Customer Experience Update