Qualitative Research: The Guest's Perception of Your Hotel Restaurant

By Johnna Freud Qualitative Research Moderator, Saul Cohen & Associates | October 28, 2008

How do consumers think about your hotel's restaurant? Why do people eat there? Is it only a convenience for overnight hotel guests, or is it a destination for non-guests as well? In consumers' minds, what does it compete with, and how does it compare to the competition? Why do some people return after their initial trial, but others do not? Is it the food, ambiance, staff or a completely different reason? What does the restaurant do well? What needs improvement? Qualitative research has been used to answer such questions and gain an in-depth understanding of consumers' attitudes toward restaurants -- elegant, casual, take-out/fast food, independent restaurants and/or chains.

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Consider the large hotel corporations that have capitalized on the familiarity produced by chain restaurants by creating their own brand of casual restaurant/sports bar chain and incorporating them in their properties. These hotel-branded food spots use the same name and offer similar menus.

This can work to a hotel's advantage if a customer's initial dining experience is satisfactory, or conversely, it can work against them if an initial experience is not. As such, knowing how consumers, especially frequent travelers who are loyal to a particular hotel chain, feel about a hotel's branded casual restaurant/sports bar chain is important, not only for an individual property, but for the entire chain. It is highly likely that patrons' experiences may impact their decisions about whether to recommend these restaurants to friends or colleagues and to eat at these places during future visits to the same or different properties.

So, what kinds of food do consumers want at casual restaurants? Through our research, we have found that casual restaurant customers tend to want quality food at reasonable prices. While they don't expect gourmet food at these types of establishments, they expect a wide selection of food that looks and tastes fresh. The also want healthy food alternatives. But what do consumers consider to be "quality food," "reasonable prices," and "healthy food alternatives?" Qualitative research can uncover answers to these questions.

What do consumers mean when they say they want to "eat in a place with a good atmosphere?" We have found that consumers think and speak about restaurant atmosphere in terms of the d'ecor and interior lighting as well as the friendliness and attentiveness of the staff. All of these factors seem to contribute to the overall "comfortable" feeling that most customers seek. However, qualitative research can provide an understanding into whether "comfortable" means interiors that are bright and afford more privacy by spreading out the tables or dark and "clubby."

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.