We like the research that comes from San Clemente, CA-based Sandelman & Associates for one key reason: its methodology. As it has done quarterly since 1988, the firm uses telephone surveys to quiz restaurant customers about their most recent visits to selected chains. If you want an unvarnished picture of how a restaurant is doing, you can’t beat exit interviews conducted with its actual customers, even if there is a bit of a time delay between the purchasing occasion and the customer’s reporting of it. Put enough of these interviews together-Sandelman’s full-year sample size was 76,002 real-world QSR patrons-and some interesting themes emerge.
Separately, the firm conducts a national study to determine which attributes of the restaurant experience matter most to customers, regardless of where they are eating. Those results, reported with the scores for the study described above, are where it gets interesting.
For example, you’d expect that a food item’s taste and flavor would be the most important attribute in any customers experience. Yet only 71.3 percent of QSR customers rate it "extremely important" on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 indicating "not at all important." The top-scoring attribute instead was "cleanliness of restaurant," noted by 76.6 percent of customers.
What’s interesting here are the sizes of the gaps between what customers want and what QSRs deliver.
For "excellent" food taste and flavor, the all-chain average was 40.9 percent, a 30.9 percent shortfall from the 71.3 percent "importance" figure. It’s worse on cleanliness where the all-chain average (35.1 percent) means there’s a 41.5 percent differential.
Another key criterion: "friendliness/courtesy." It’s of high importance to 54.4 percent of customers; only 33.8 percent of chains deliver it. Other attributes scores, with "importance" shown first., followed by the actual all-chain averages, are:
•Quality of ingredients: 63.2 percent/37.2 percent
•Temperature of food: 58.3 percent/42.3 percent
•Variety of menu items: 34.6 percent/33.7 percent
•Speed of service: 50.8 percent/31.3 percent
•Accuracy in filling orders: 66.9 percent/ 43.9 percent
•Overall appeal to kids: 34.4 percent/23.0 percent
•Convenience of locations: 47.6 percent/31.9 percent
•Value for the money: 56.0 percent/29.8 percent
Perhaps the most interesting results came on the "healthy/nutritious food" attribute, ranked as important by 43 percent of respondents, with the all-chain average coming in at 23.1 percent. That 43 percent figure is up from 35 percent in 2001, and the Sandelman people point out that "it is the only attribute of the 12 studied that posted increases for five consecutive years."
So what’s the takeaway here for full-service operators? The disparities between what customers say is important and what chains deliver are sizable, and employing strategies and tactics in your restaurant that would exploit these shortfalls could really pay off. Where to start? How about addressing the biggest gap: cleanliness. It’s already a point of emphasis of for most full-service operators, but redoubling your efforts could really pay off. No one wants to eat in a messy restaurant, even when the meal costs as little as most QSR ones do.