Diner Survey (Summary)-June 1999
Coyle Hospitality Group (CHG) is a hospitality consulting company based in New York City that performs Quality Assurance consulting for upscale hotels and restaurants nationally. Currently, CHG has over 70 Auditors/Reviewers who complete the Quality Assurance Audits (QAAs). CHG distributed a survey sheet to the Auditors, and asked that they distribute copies to their associates who dine out frequently. HSI received 316 responses.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the survey was to gain insights into the following three important questions.
All of the 316 respondents were from the New York City area.
1. Why do people go to a particular restaurant
for the first time?
2. What’s more important, the food or the service?
It’s the food. The respondents said food was the most important aspect
when recalling their best dining experience by a nearly 3 to 1 margin over
service (62% vs. 21%). Additionally, when vowing to never return, nearly
half cited food (49%) as the reason. This has an interesting bearing on
the word of mouth concept. If a diner talks as much about a great experience
as they do a bad one (another argument altogether), then it is the food
they will talk about. It is interesting to note however, that service scores
more closely to food as a reason when the experience is a very negative
While the extreme experiences are telling, we asked questions that would indicate perception when things were a little off or a bit sub par. Diners seem to be tolerant of service that is below par. Only 19% would not forgive bad service if the food was terrific. Conversely, more than half (57%) felt that great service could not overcome disappointing food. When asked strictly about service, only (33%) said they would probably or definitely not go back if the service was below expectations, meaning other negatives would have to be factored in.
Note: Our Quality Assurance Audits tell the same story. In the Willingness to Return category, our Auditors are asked if they will return to a restaurant. When the food received high marks (Above Expectations or Excellent), reviewers said they would probably return 77% of the time despite problems with service (Sample size: 178 Quality assurance Audits).
3. What are the things that make a diner return or vow never to go back?
First the good news. Only 7% of the frequent diners we polled said that there are too many restaurants to be a loyal patron to one place. On the negative side, exactly half of those surveyed (29% said definitely) said that one bad experience was all it would take to never come back. We asked diners to choose from a list of 24 defects asking them to select only those that would leave a long lasting negative impression.
The top three are as follow:
Conclusions & Recommendations
Because food is so important, the commitment to producing quality food (chef, food cost, equipment, etc.) is absolutely critical. Operators cutting corners in this department are taking too big a gamble. If the study taught us anything, it is that the customer will form a firm and perhaps irrevocable judgement of the restaurant after those first bites. The next critical step is to ask guests how they enjoyed the food. Action should be taken when they are less than delighted. Therefore, the old standby inquiry, “How is everything?” is simply not enough.
Guests should be asked specifically how they liked each course (“Was that steak cooked how you like it?”). Any cues (unfinished portions) should be noted and followed up on aggressively. The damage may be done if the guest is initially disappointed with the food, but remedies should be investigated and executed. We then have to ask, “Why would a restaurant put specials on the menu that the staff have not personally tasted, and endorsed?” Servers should have active and meaningful impact on the menu since they are on the front lines of information gathering.
Service errors are less crucial. However rudeness at the door and the table will make a lasting negative impression. Perhaps diners take bad service personally, and hold it against the restaurant. Managerial presence at the podium seems to be a logical solution during busy times, both to ensure professionalism and to query guests specifically on their satisfaction. Most telling is the fact that 50% of the diners polled said that one bad experience was all it would take to never go back. It won’t take much to keep them away, so it is vital that guest satisfaction is accurately gauged while the restaurant can still intervene. If it’s a service problem, a free drink, or some token gesture is probably enough to right the wrong. Servers should be empowered to instantly provide remedies.
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Jim Coyle, 800/891-9292