Guest Experience Challenges for Restaurant Brands

From quick service to casual dining, today's restaurant brands have a lot on their plates. With new expectations for mobile experiences and changing consumer tastes, gaining and keeping your competitive advantage can be truly challenging.

professionals eating in a restaurant

Guest expectations are changing, providing a consistent brand experience is growing more difficult, and enterprises are struggling to keep up with trends in mobile technology. Here are three of the biggest guest challenges facing the restaurant and food service industries today:

Mobile continues to change the game

For years, businesses have been hearing about how important it is to provide great mobile experiences. But new data make it clear that mobile experiences –especially online ordering – are even higher-stakes for restaurant brands. Studies are uncovering that there is a strong relationship between online ordering and brand loyalty. According to a National Restaurant Association/LevelUp whitepaper, consumers who have placed an order online visit the restaurant 67% more frequently than those who haven’t.

As mobile ordering gains popularity – 46% of smartphone users use their phones at least once a month to order restaurant takeout or delivery – you will be under pressure to provide frictionless experiences within your mobile apps.

Your guests have high standards for in-app experiences, and expect to be able to easily view menus, make a reservation or call-ahead seating arrangement, see wait times, order pick-up or delivery, and even use their own device to accomplish the same tasks enabled by at-the-table devices, like ordering and payment.

They want to be able to find their own answers, and when they’re struggling, they want instant help from a human who already has all the context of what they were looking for. It’s no longer enough to have these options on your website: your customers have gone mobile.

Shifting guest preferences and expectations

Today’s restaurant guests, especially Millennials, have higher standards than ever—even for quick service restaurants (QSRs). Concerns about diet and nutrition, food allergies/sensitivities, and sourcing of ingredients are all taking center stage in the minds of restaurant-goers.

As a report from the National Restaurant Association explained, “The typical restaurant guest today is not the same as the typical restaurant guest 20 years ago. Having essentially grown up in restaurants, younger generations have a very sophisticated world-view when it comes to food.” According to restaurant operators, there has been a major increase in guest expectations for restaurants in terms of nutrition, allergy issues, sourcing, and sustainability over the past two years alone. 

The report concluded that, “Operators will need to carefully balance how to cater to these precise tastes without becoming too niche or alienating more mature guests.” Brands must also be equipped to accurately respond to guest questions about these issues, and as ingredients and sourcing both change over time, they must also be able to quickly update their answers while preserving an audit trail of past information.

A perfect storm for brand management

Restaurants are struggling with the reputation economy, where a brand can live or die based on what is being said about them online. The challenge for large brands is that reviews on sites such as Yelp, Google, and UrbanSpoon reflect guest experiences in individual locations, not with the brand as a whole. No amount of TV ads with catchy jingles can make up for a poor experience at a restaurant location, and online reviews carry a lot of weight. Studies show that eight out of 10 consumers trust online reviews about a business as much as a personal recommendation. A Harvard Business School researcher found that a one-star increase in a restaurant’s Yelp rating correlated with a 5-9% increase in revenue.

The more locations your restaurant brand or franchise has, the more difficult it becomes to maintain a consistent experience across all of them, and this is often reflected in online ratings and reviews. Brands must focus their energy on keeping the experience consistent among different franchises and operators. You must also ensure valuable guest information is captured across the board, from in-store surveys to the corporate call center. Lastly, it’s important to track what’s being said about your brand on social media and review sites. All of these strategies allow you to identify issues, respond to trends, and head off future problems.

Addressing challenges in your industry

These challenges have some common themes, including the guest experience, brand consistency, and technology. When done right, all these elements combine to deliver better loyalty and higher revenue. Astute helps leading restaurant brands like Darden, The Cheesecake Factory, and Dine Brands power exceptional guest experiences. Here’s how:

Helping guests help themselves. Millennial guests care more about ingredient sourcing, allergens, and nutrition than they did even a couple of years ago. They’re also accustomed to finding answers when and where they want them – which is all the time and everywhere. Astute’s software allows brands to provide the right answer every time through self-service on your website, in your mobile app, or via messaging apps. If guests can’t find what they’re looking for, it’s easy for them to seamlessly transition to talking with one of your live agents, who is already up to speed on what they’re trying to do.

The one right answer, always and everywhere. The same knowledgebase that can help guests answer their own questions (such as, “Is there gluten in this dish?” or “Where do you source your coffee beans?”) also equips your store associates and contact center agents with reliable, accurate information that changes as your ingredients and policies change – and even tracks past responses in an audit trail, reducing risk.

A consistent service experience. Franchising and expansion can cause fragmentation in the guest experience. But by using a unified system for guest engagement that includes case management CRM, social media, knowledge management, self-service, and smart escalation, you can bring more clarity and consistency to each guest interaction.

Harnessing first-party guest data. Astute’s guest engagement software serves as a single source of truth, delivering first-party insights that you can use to adjust your menus, design new marketing strategies and promotions, and plan changes to your restaurant locations. Being tuned into what your guests are saying about you – and your competitors – through social listening and other guest data can help you stay ahead of emerging trends.

Learn more about how Astute can help your restaurant brand stay competitive. Request a demo of our guest engagement solutions today.

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