Untapped Sources of Consumer Research for Your Restaurant

Marketing a new or existing restaurant used to mean that a few well-placed ads and promoting relationships with local patrons and businesses would bring plenty of new prospects through the door. Today, modern marketing requires restaurant owners to know what their customers want and adhere to their style preferences, budgets and even hours in order to attract audiences from local residential and/or business areas.

Researching Public Records

If your restaurant has been open but you aren’t hitting your goals just yet, it’s time to research why. When the issue isn’t immediately clear, you may need to conduct some of your own consumer research to see how you aren’t meeting local diners’ wants. Public records are a vital instrument to help determine whether your hours, menu size, type of offerings and even prices are conducive to the lifestyles led by the customers in your area.

If you’re located near a college campus, kid-friendly lunches probably aren’t going to be the best idea. In a more rural area, happy-hour promotions may be a lost cause. And if the average home value is $85,000 and income is $25,000, then $35 dinners aren’t going to make sense to your clientele because it’s not what they want.

If you haven’t opened yet, researching local demographics will help determine the type of menu you should offer, price ranges and even hours of operation. Local income levels, average home value and whether customers are likely to be owners or renters are all viable and valuable information. Many restaurant owners fail to access these records which are available to anyone who asks for them, and have no clear idea of what their customer base really wants or needs.

Surveying Current Customers

If you’ve been in business for a while but aren’t hitting your goals, asking current customers to answer a few questions in exchange for a free appetizer or dollar off coupon to your restaurant is a great way to gauge your plan. Are there menu items not available they would like to see? Are there enough menu items in several different price ranges to give plenty of options? Are your hours conducive to when your typical clientele wants to be a patron? These are all vital questions that need to be answered, as well as satisfaction with service and quality. Simply asking them to fill out a survey will give them the sense that you care about what they want and how you can improve your service, enhancing chances of them visiting again soon.

Web Analytics

Utilizing analytics from online advertising efforts can give a good idea of how your current advertising is working online or how customers are finding you. Using the information that’s available can tell you what type of search you’re showing up on, demographics of potential customers visiting, and which pages they were on when they left the site. Tracking how many customers are finding you on a mobile device can also be helpful. If something isn’t working, something needs to be changed with such advertising. The good news is that an ad campaign can be relatively inexpensive and results will show up rather quickly.

Market Segmentation

Dividing your customer base into different groups, or market segmentation, can help to ensure you’re catering to each potential type of customer. One such example of this is offering gluten or allergy-free menu items. Another would be offering lunch specials, family nights or happy hour specials. Make sure you’re offering items at the correct times to all segments of your market so you can tap into the potential profits waiting there for you.

Field Trials and Focus Groups

Field trials and focus groups are another form of consumer research not utilized often enough in the restaurant industry. It’s another way to stay ahead of the competition and easily carried out. Field trials may consist of a limited-time offering on the menu to gauge interest and how well the customers react to new tastes and even prices.

If you have more than one location, trying new items or services at only one can give you valuable insight into its success before going to the effort and cost of offering it at all of them. However, you must follow up with quantitative data results to determine efficacies of advertising efforts and how they correlate to the specific market that location is in.

Focus groups gather small groups of customers to get opinions on menus, specials and even drinks or types of service. If you normally only serve dinner and want to try a lunch menu, offering items specific to the new menu and testing first with a focus group can give pointed criticism on pricing, variety and taste. This is always a good idea before unveiling anything totally new to the entirety of your customer base so you know you’re on the right track and have some idea of what type of response to expect.