Customer Experience: As Important as Your Food

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The customer experience may be more important to repeat business than any other factor. Learn how to provide the intangibles that draw customers back again and again.

Server bringing food to a table of customers at restaurant
©iStockphoto.com/Oktay Ortakcioglu

Every food service operation must offer the basics of food, service, and décor, no matter what the segment—that’s what restaurants, employee cafeterias, student snack bars, and healthcare dining service departments are in the business of providing to their customers. But now there’s an intangible that is also becoming vital, and that’s the experience. 

The term Experience Economy refers to a new way of thinking about how businesses need to connect with customers and secure their loyalty. According to this framework, today’s customers want more than just high-quality goods and services. They want value from positive, engaging, memorable experiences along with high-quality goods and services. 

Many customers value the overall quality of an experience even over the food; while great food is important, it’s not what drives loyalty and repeat business.

What does? Although it depends in large part on the type of operation, the target demographic, and the customer need state, consumers have come to expect the following when they eat away from home:

  • Menu variety

  • Customizable options

  • Fresh ingredients and preparation

  • Convenience (including hours of operation and mobile ordering)

  • Order accuracy

  • Willingness to address dietary issues and special orders (including health and wellness and food allergies/intolerances)

  • New features (such as menu specials and promotions)

  • Prompt, friendly service

  • Value for the money

  • Point of difference with competition

  • Dependability and consistency

  • Comfort (including seating, lighting, noise level, and safety) 

These are the new basic goods and services of away-from-home dining operations, part of the cost of being in business. In order to get repeat business, operators need to offer the extra element of experience. Here are a few easy ideas.

  1. Add authenticity by identifying suppliers, including local farmers and food artisans, on the menu or other point-of-sale.

  2. Get involved with the community in charitable ways, such as designating a night’s profits to a local homeless shelter, or giving employees time off to volunteer. 

  3. Conduct new item testing during business hours, and share samples with customers; not only will you get feedback, but you will give guests a sense of “ownership” of the menu.

  4. Integrate social media in a way that engages customers. 

  5. Be creative with loyalty and frequent diner programs.