No Satisfaction: U.K. Chains Face Increasing Consumer Demands

The latest National Customer Satisfaction Index (NCSI-UK), which was released last week, drew two big conclusions about the restaurant industry. The first is that customer satisfaction with all types of restaurant chains has decreased. Nearly every chain measured had lower scores. According to the NCSI-UK, “Customer satisfaction with limited service restaurants is down 1.3 per cent to an NCSI score of 77, while full-service restaurants fall 2.6 per cent to 76 on a 0-100 scale.”

The other conclusion is that, for the first time, customers are more satisfied with quick-service restaurants than full-service restaurants. The NCSI-UK credits fast-food’s price and speed, but also the segment’s improved quality and variety of products. Customers pointed to a deterioration of food and experience at full-service chains. I suspect the problem has a bit to do with customers’ increased expectations—today’s consumers just have higher demands.

It’s easy to recommend that restaurants simply do better: continue to improve food and service and patrons will come. But when consumers are already hesitant to spend, and their dining-out choices continue to increase in number, attracting guests and maintaining their satisfaction gets ever-more challenging.

We can narrow down some effective steps with an acronym: IDEA. Innovation, Differentiation, Evolution, Adaption.

  • Innovation depends on improving existing menu offerings and the quality of service. For example, menu developers that offer compelling limited-time offerings give customers a new reason to visit the restaurant. A current focus is on balancing “healthy” with “indulgent.” Service is another way successful concepts improve their brands. Quick-service concepts have been working on improving staff interaction. Within full-service, successful concepts encourage waitstaff to offer suggestions—based on customer input, not on margins.
  • Differentiation, distinguishing a brand’s core offerings from the competition, is key to any business but certainly within the competitive restaurant industry. It creates clarity with customers and defines for them when and how to use your product.
  • Evolution is about enhancing the experience, understanding the core customers and improving the offering to suit them.
  • Adaptation is simply meeting today’s changing consumer demands. For example, consumers are less likely to eat according to a three-square-meals schedule. Offering menus beyond traditional dayparts accommodates them, and offers the added benefit of creating revenue at off-peak times.

Again, these steps may sound easy, but each requires strategic planning and ongoing work, all while staying true to the essence of the brand. Restaurant brands that want to raise their satisfaction scores, however, will strive to innovate, differentiate, evolve and adapt to please their guests and attract new ones.

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Darren Tristano

Darren Tristano is President of Technomic Inc. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations.

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