By Andrew Carlson, Foodable Industry Expert
I have never been one to go into the new year making predictions about what’s going to happen, because the truth is, in this industry, it can change instantly. Something working one day doesn’t guarantee it will continue to work two or three months from now. You have to be willing to adapt — and adapt quickly.
This is why we are seeing smaller chain restaurants on the rise. It’s easier for smaller businesses to activate change within itself than it is for major companies like McDonald’s to make changes. (But that’s an article for another time.)
Here, we’re going to cover the reality check of evolving consumer expectations throughout the years, and how you can prepare for 2017.
1. Guests Want More Information: Your Team Must Be Knowledgeable About Your Product
Jon Taffer, bar consultant and host on reality series “Bar Rescue,” always says that “your front line is your bottom line.” He has decades of experience to prove it, but somewhere along the way, people were abandoning that practice (or so it seemed to be taking a back seat). This is no longer acceptable in a world that is oversaturated in restaurants.
Your team must be knowledgeable about your brand, your vision, and everything that is listed on your menu. It’s no longer acceptable to know the bare minimum. Customers want to learn more about what they are putting their money toward — they want your front line to answer every question they have.
It’s your responsibility to create a training program that empowers your staff to be able to engage on a deeper level with your customers. Of course, there will be people who want a meal and to leave. That’s not the customer profile we’re talking about. We’re talking about the frequent diners who are always out looking for the next hot spot. The more knowledgeable your staff is, the better chance they have at upselling specials or offering suggestions to get the customer to dig deeper into their pockets and enhance their experience.
2. Guests Want to Feel Special: Your Team Must Create Customized Experiences
This goes hand-in-hand with being knowledgeable about the product. Customers are walking into a restaurant based on a type of feeling they get when they see it. If they are consciously choosing to dine in your restaurant, they’re looking for something more. They’re looking for something that will disrupt their current life and get them to enjoy the moment of dining in your establishment.
The way to do that is by creating one-of-a-kind experiences that get them to feel special. It’s easier to achieve than you think. It starts with your hiring process and intensifies into your training program. Once your employees hit the floor, they should be able to read the customers and customize their dining experience based on first impressions.
You wouldn’t treat a table of business associates the same as you would a family of four dining with two young children. So, why are you training everyone to read a script over and over again? That’s not going to drive sales. What’s going to drive sales is creating one-of-a-kind experiences that will get them to realize that you truly care about their time at your restaurant. Do that and you will win people for life, not just 2017.
3. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
There is nothing worse than bragging to all of your friends about how amazing a restaurant is, only for the establishment to fall flat the next time you are dining there. Consistency is a requirement when it comes to customers spending their hard-earned money to dine with you.
It’s very rare that customers will forgive a restaurant for their lack of consistency. That is why Starbucks is the coffee giant that it is: They are consistent in everything that they do. Tourists especially will go to brands they know are consistent, and even when they don’t get that experience they crave, they get the consistency.
If you bust through with one-of-a-kind experiences and prove to your customers that you are consistent, you will dominate your area.
4. Pay More Attention on Social Media
Now more than ever, customers want their social media posts to get attention from the place they dined in. If they put a photo up on Instagram, they want the restaurant to take notice of their photo, and they hope that the photo is good enough to be reposted by the establishment. (Or a “like,” at the very least.)
It may sound silly but, in a world that is connected via social media, they want to connect with your establishment on another level once they have left. A notification on their phone that your establishment “liked” their photo sends endorphins through their body and entices them to come back.
It’s all about engagement and engaging with your restaurant once the experience is over. This allows them to relive this experience and get them to come back in for another experience.
At the end of the day, we are in the business of creating reactions. It’s our responsibility going into 2017 to put a focus on leaving each customer better than when they come into our restaurants. If you create an atmosphere and an experience that is unlike anything they’ve had before, you’ll continue to have people come back time and time again.
Half the battle is getting your customers to come back. Perfect the experience within your four walls, and then hit the ground running on your marketing efforts to get more people into your four walls.