If you're hoping the necessity to offer value meal deals has begun to abate, you're going to like the results of J. D. Power and Associates' 2010 U.S. Restaurant Satisfaction study. The marketing information giant found that, at least for casual and family full-service restaurants, service quality and the dining environment now outweigh price as the key drivers of overall customer satisfaction.
“In a fiercely competitive marketplace, restaurant companies have focused on a variety of strategies to attract customers — the most prominent being value-based, such as ‘dollar menu’ items,” says J.D. Power hospitality practice director Jim Howland. “While delivering value is still critical, elevating customer experiences by providing excellent service and an inviting environment are also key for restaurant chains that seek to differentiate themselves.”
Translation: It's OK to dial back the deals and wave goodbye to BOGOS. This is sweet music to the ears of operators who have had to offer low-margin specials while dining room traffic was weak.
It's a thorough study. J.D. Power quizzed 93,410 customers who dined at major restaurant chains in the 10 largest U.S. markets between May and July 2010. Overall, customer satisfaction was significantly higher at casual restaurants (742 on a 1,000-point scale) than at family restaurants (708) or fast food outlets (700).
The biggest winner among individual chains for family restaurants was Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. It was the most popular restaurant in five of the 10 markets surveyed. Among casual restaurants, Carrabba's Italian Grill, The Cheesecake Factory and Maggiano's Little Italy each ranked highest in two of the 10 markets.
The study unearthed one nugget of information that might come in handy the next time you rework your menu. While one-half of customers of quick-service restaurants say they order the same meal every time they visit a particular chain, those who dine in family and casual restaurants stick with their favorites, too. Thirty-two percent of customers at family restaurants and 30 percent of patrons at casual restaurants say they order the same thing on every visit. These are the repeat customers you dream about, so treat 'em right.