Restaurants that will survive know that guest perception is key

When we published our Curbside Research Report on April 15th, I was struck by one thing. It was Tax Day for us as Americans. This is something that typically dominates the news cycles, but in today’s COVID-19 world was hardly mentioned.

What was not surprising in our findings was that in times of crisis, consumer sentiment is not only a moving target, but it can be so scattered and ethereal, trends often don’t emerge or identify themselves.

So why do a study? Because our clients asked for it.

Restaurateurs around the world have been doing pick-up for years, and for many full-service restaurants, pick-up has been their only source of secular growth. So pick-up and delivery is here to stay.

Also unsurprising was that restaurant operators very nimbly and capably moved the transaction from inside the restaurant to the curb.

Full-service restaurants are in the human-touch business and curbside pick-up is decidedly a non-touch, impersonal transaction. Despite this major shift, our restaurant clients expressed a desire to do curbside right and still connect with their guests on some level.

Independents and small restaurant groups did better in some measure than the big chains. They tend to start with ‘how do guests feel, and how do I satisfy those needs?’ Smaller, independent restaurateurs did not wait for the CDC to tell them to use gloves, masks and head coverings. They did not need a branding expert to tell them that their guests want transparency about their sanitation and hygiene practices.

I will close this piece with an anecdote. Back to taxes. When I was dropping off my tax info to my CPA (still an essential service!), my daughter ordered curbside pick-up from a well-known national chain. When I entered the restaurant, I walked to the designated area for pick-up orders.  A staff member (not wearing a mask) was sitting at a table nearby scrolling through her cellphone. She asked my name, then stood up, walked to the pick-up orders and touched the receipt stapled to the bag with her cell-phone-scrolling, bare hand. With a well-meaning smile, she said, “I just made that one myself.” Great.

Restaurants that will survive and prosper with curbside in the sales mix already know that guest perception is very nuanced and will be dynamic during troubled times. The best also know that little things matter, and that they are worth paying attention to. Let’s hope the chains get it.



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