Restaurant Marketing: What's New Is Old Again
By Glenn Withiam Executive Editor, Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, Cornell University | August 18, 2013
While there's no question that the internet is a force to be reckoned with, hospitality firms should not be swept away by the communications tsunami as they operate their businesses and determine their marketing strategies. Without doubt, hotel and restaurant operators must take into account their guests' use of social media, mobile applications, and other electronic methods of distribution and communication as part of the marketing process, just as they keep track of more traditional marketing channels. After all, the purpose of every one of those channels is to lead the customer to the purchase point. As we discuss in this article, the core marketing transaction remains the same: find out what the customers want and make sure they receive it.
In one way, the internet has made this process infinitely more simple, since many of your customers are now disposed to tell you (and the rest of the world) what they think of your services-and many hospitality firms expressly ask for guests' reactions to their room or meal. In another way, marketing has become infinitely more complicated, because you must sieve and sort through huge amounts of drivel before you find the hypothetical nuggets of useful consumer information.
To determine which information is of greatest value, let's focus on the key transaction in the hospitality industry-the guest purchases your service. This is actually an immense topic, but for the purposes of this essay, we will draw insights from restaurant studies published by Cornell University. To simplify the discussion, let's consider that you have two types of customers sitting in your restaurant, those who have come for the first time and those who are making a return visit. The latter are a critical information source, because something about their first visit to the restaurant has made them want to come again.
As a separate question, you may want to determine what has encouraged your first-time guests to try your establishment. This question may be most appropriate for a direct questionnaire or conversation, since only by happenstance will guests tell why they chose a restaurant as they post their reviews.
What we have learned about returning guests is that they generally focus on the core of the business, food and service. Exploding those two categories into their component parts, a study published several years ago by Cornell sought to find out which elements of food and service were most influential in encouraging repeat business (and therefore a restaurant's performance). For three different restaurants, the fact that the food was delicious was far and away the factor that brought guests back. Value was not too far behind as the number-two factor. Then, several others trailed these two, such as a cheerful greeting, attentive and prompt service, and the food presentation.
Knowing which specific factors are critical for encouraging guests to return, you can use social media or other electronic surveys to rate your restaurant. As a baseline, you can use such performance measures as guest counts, average check, or average number of entrees sold. Then ask your guests whether they found the food delicious, the service attentive and prompt (two different questions), and so forth. Short surveys are more likely to get responses than long ones. You could simply send a tweet saying, "Thanks for stopping by. How did you like our food?" Another tweet or Facebook note could address whether the service was attentive. Some guests will answer your question in only a few words, and others may offer additional comments. At the same time, you can monitor voluntary social media postings for other reactions to your restaurant. Surveys do not have to be particularly involved. Again, simpler is better, both for you and your guest.