What happens when you're faced with making a decision but aren't sure which option to choose?
Many of us look to the people and opinions around us for influence. This applies to politics, religion, and simple, everyday decisions like choosing where to dine.
For restaurant owners, pinpointing what motivates a diner to choose one restaurant over another and finding ways to play to those factors can have a drastic impact on the success and overall health of your business.
In late 2018, the team at SevenRooms — a reservation, seating, and guest management platform for restaurants, hotels, and nightlife clients around the world — commissioned YouGov, a third-party research organization, to poll over 2,300 individuals who are 18+ years old in the U.S. to find out how they decide where to dine.
Here's what they found.
Which Factors Influence a Diner's Restaurant Choice Most?
1. Diners go to friends and family first for recommendations.
Word-of-mouth marketing is still alive and well. Every guest has a network, and you have no idea how far the average guest's social reach – both digitally and physically – may be.
So, how can you ensure your guests are spreading the good word about your restaurant to their friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances? Provide a consistently great dining experience for every guest – not just your VIPs. A 2015 study aimed at the root of customer loyalty found that after hosting 97,000 customer interviews, “customers became loyal if their expectations were consistently met with quality service in both the digital as well as the brick and mortar space.”
Loyal customers are far more likely to act as brand advocates for your restaurant and encourage their circles to come see what the fuss is all about.
2. One in three diners decides to eat at a restaurant because they saw it on social media.
This statistic, compounded by the fact that 1 in 5 diners plans to visit a restaurant on a future date because they encountered it on social media, means you now have all the proof you need to develop a social media marketing strategy and execution plan.
According to The Pew Research Center, Facebook is still the primary social media platform for the majority of Americans –68% of adult Americans are self-identified Facebook users; as of June 2018, Instagram now officially clocks in 1 billion active users a month.
The thing is, your restaurant's social media reputation isn't just based on the content you post from your restaurant's account. You need to keep an eye on the posts your restaurant is tagged or mentioned in to know the conversations being had about your brand.
Analyzing organic content – content you did not have to pay for – will provide you valuable insight into what your customers like about your brand and ways you can make your restaurant better suited for sharing.
3. Millennials are five times more likely to follow food-related accounts on social media with the aim of looking for new restaurants.
Was there ever a time in your life when you did something just because 'the cool kids' did? Well, in today's age of social media, 'the cool kids' are influencers and, as their title suggests, they wield their influence to persuade their followers to support various businesses.
Compared to Americans aged 55 and over, Millennials are openly influenced by social media. Not only are they more likely to find a restaurant using social media, they’re also 2x more likely to try a dish just because they saw an influencer order the same one.
It could be said that Millennials are swayed more by digital influencers, while older generations look to in-person conversations for referrals from their direct acquaintances.
Working with influencers can get expensive pretty quickly. If you'd like to test the waters before investing big bucks in some influencer content to boost your restaurant's social media reputation, check out the posts people have tagged you in to find out who is promoting your brand organically without being paid. If you notice one of these people has an especially high follower count, reach out and see if you can offer them a free meal or some swag to both thank them and incentivize them to continue to promote your brand to their networks.
4. Almost half of Americans become less interested in restaurants with hard-to-book tables.
SevenRooms and YouGov found it's a common misconception that a crazy busy restaurant is more alluring to guests. Many Americans prefer a relaxing atmosphere with an easy-to-book table over competing for a reservation and showing up to a meal that requires a wait.
Today's consumers have grown accustomed to on-demand living, and any customer experience that requires a wait – even a short wait – won't earn their repeat business. A full house shouldn't deter your guests from visiting in the future or finding an open spot on the list at one of your other locations (if applicable); activate a request feature so that guests who may not be able to find an open table in the short-term can send you their contact information and you can contact them with future availability.
Online reservation platforms have come a long way and now offer users a whole host of valuable features beyond just their core online reservation offering, like the ability to store customer information and analyze customer behavior. By investing in an online reservation solution, you're not only giving your guests what they want – the ability to quickly and easily make a reservation at your restaurant – and improving their overall guest experience, but your restaurant operations also stand to benefit from these additional features, insights, and opportunities for analysis.
As social media channels evolve and guest preferences change over time, it’s important to regularly poll generations of diners to keep a pulse on patterns.