F&B Insights: Our Industry Needs Social Benchmark Standards

By Ned Barker President, Grill Ventures Consulting, Inc. | August 10, 2014

An upscale hotel spent a considerable sum of money to renovate its F&B last year. The renovations include a new lounge with a jazz program, a beer focus, and a new sushi bar. The renovation might not have happened at all without the benefit of analysis of social (media) reviews, also referred to as Social Intelligence. If the renovation had happened without the analysis, there would be no jazz bar, fewer beers on tap and perhaps no sushi.
For the first time ever we now have a Food & Beverage Benchmark Report thanks to STR Global, the AH&LA F&B Council and others. Standardized consistent data will always lead us to a better understanding of our F&B performance and the allocation of our public spaces. This data is based solely upon typical F&B performance metrics – Covers (now "Customers"), revenue and unit size. So, financial performance metrics and benchmarks will soon be standard across the industry – check.

But what about the "Guest Experience"? Is a great Guest Experience as important as financial performance? Can we have one without the other? Many hotel companies rely on guest rating surveys to rate their guests' satisfaction levels. These surveys are helpful and important, but are rating systems able to shed a bright enough light on the Guest Experience? In the example above, the guest surveys told management that the bar should be improved. But they didn't tell management how to improve it. Surveys like this are important, but tell just one part of the story.

The guest surveys also told management that service at one of the outlets was average or better. The guest survey service questions, limited to numerical ratings of attributes such as "overall experience" and whether the food or beverage was delivered on time produced a numerical rating slightly better than average for the hotel's brand. Social Intelligence told a different story. When service sentiment was quantified the outlet scored far below the scores of the hotel's competitors, and also far below its own guest survey mark. Drilling down, we discovered guests discussing rude service personnel, and referencing unpleasant facial expressions and tones of voice. Even if the hotel's guest surveys had indicated the same relative scores, we wouldn't have been led to "facial expressions and tone of voice".

Restaurant industry veteran Lane Cardwell has explained the difference in guest feedback systems this way: "Traditional surveys tell you what is important to the company, while social feedback tells you what is important to the guest." It seems to me that both are valuable; essential even.

If an F&B Department is profitable; it is said to be to be "in the black". If the Department has lost money, it is "in the red". These differences seem pretty clear. There are accounting standards and practices for the financial part of the business, as evidenced in the Uniform System of Accounts for the Lodging Industry while there are no standards for the quantification of Social Intelligence.

I'm not an expert on Social Intelligence. I'm a food and beverage specialist who has learned that there is a new source for meaningful data, and I want it.

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