Over the last 16 months of the Covid- 19 pandemic, the industry that has arguably suffered the most is the restaurant industry. Most establishments were forced to shut down their operations intermittently or limit themselves to carry out or delivery services. As a result, consumers learned to become less dependent on outside sources for meals and became accustomed to cooking at home more often than ever before. As the restaurant industry gradually re-opens across the country, it would behoove restaurant executives to be aware of the way consumers have shifted their meal choices and routines.
In gathering more data on consumer behavior as it relates to this topic, restaurateurs and fast-food chains can develop a greater understanding of not only who the target consumer is and how their needs are changing, but also gain perspective on their individual experience with their establishment and identify areas of strength and opportunities. Here are a few ways restaurants can use consumer insights to improve their overall business and profitability:
Analyze Customer’s Day-to-Day Routines
Most restaurants already understand who their target consumer is. The key, however, is to develop a deeper understanding of what drives their target consumer to behave in a certain way and make certain decisions regarding meal choices, routines, and schedules. Utilizing authentic forms of research, such as a video diary for example, offers the kind of consumer insights that restaurant executives need to develop this understanding.
Diary studies, a type of mobile ethnography, can uncover behavioral data with respect to the way meals play a role in customers’ daily routines. From the comforts of their own home, consumers can offer details on their thought process for each mealtime throughout the day by documenting through video recordings on their smartphone. This data identifies how customers selected their food, existing frustrations or excitement around mealtime, and the frequency of habits like snacking on a weekly, daily, or hourly level. To ensure that restaurateurs are envisioning their target consumer accurately, they can recruit their own restaurant patrons to participate in their qualitative research by offering a generous incentive. Incentives such as free or discounted meals will motivate patrons to donate their time to an effort that ultimately benefits a restaurant’s ability to remain profitable.
Understand the Customer Journey Across New Ordering Platforms
The explosive growth of existing third-party food delivery services like GrubHub, Uber Eats and DoorDash and the proliferation of new food delivery services has allowed consumers to easily order from their favorite establishments. With the number of choices a consumer has to order meals, it’s important to recognize how this has impacted the customer journey. Asking restaurant executives and their marketing teams to order food on their own apps will only offer a superficial view of their consumers’ experiences. It’s more meaningful to understand the app experience through the eyes of their target consumer.
To get these meaningful insights, mobile screen capture videos with voice narration will provide authentic insights about the consumer’s experience with their delivery services. Screen capture tests differ from diary studies in that they allow restaurant executives to observe the digital experience of consumers in real-time, rather than focus on their daily routines. Having consumers do a voice-over narration while screen recording from the start of the ordering process enables teams to understand the consumer’s thought process throughout the digital experience, including how and why they landed on a certain delivery app. Restaurant executives will also be able to ascertain key details about the consumer experience such as how they review and select menu items and how they go through the checkout process. Equipped with this level of detailed insights, restaurants can then create a comprehensive and accurate consumer journey which, in turn, will allow them to identify and execute against the improvements that must be made to the user experience of their menu and offerings on various food delivery apps.
Restaurants also have renewed their focus on drive-thru and curbside pickup experiences. Though it was the pandemic’s limiting of restaurants’ indoor seating that caused an increase in the number of consumers who opted for drive thru, this will likely continue to be a popular option for convenient food pick-up for the foreseeable future. Leveraging mobile ethnography to follow a consumer’s dining experience can identify how they are navigating the drive-thru and in store pick-up process. Through this form of qualitative research, restaurants can gather insights like the consumer’s impressions of the restaurant upon entering the establishment, ease of understanding the menu, as well as signage and interaction with restaurant staff. Live mobile ethnographies allow executives to watch the process of all these ordering methods from any remote location, asking questions in real time, and efficiently reviewing results internally as a team.
Advance Messaging Testing Tactics for Effective Marketing Campaigns
Message testing has long been a tactic used by hospitality establishments for new menu items, advertising campaigns, and promotions. Yet, leaning on survey results alone can provide little to no context when reviewing the answers collected. For example, quantitative data collection excludes the ability to capture consumers’ visceral reactions when faced with a new menu item or advertising campaign, leaving restaurant teams in the dark on how messaging or menu items are truly perceived. On the other hand, video-based concept tests allow businesses to get meaningful consumer feedback on video. Consumers are asked to read messaging out loud during a recorded video activity and share their thoughts. Through the collection of these videos, restaurant teams can look for the gut reactions, context shared, facial expressions, tone and sentiment in the responses. Having access to this level of authentic insights allows teams to understand how their messaging will be perceived or confidently edit their copy prior to it becoming consumer-facing.
The ways in which restaurants can gather behavioral insights across the customer experience are evolving rapidly, but these methods will allow the industry to understand the shifts in consumer behavior as it relates to meal and restaurant choices and routines. This data collection can provide restaurants the opportunity to better understand and serve their customers despite the frequent shifts in consumer behavior during the pandemic.