Data Intelligence

How to Increase a Guest’s Intent to Return

Which segment in the restaurant industry saw the highest “intent to return” online mentions in May? According to TDn2K’s monthly Restaurant Guest’s Satisfaction Snapshot, fine dining received over 75 percent positive intent to return mentions.

Why is this number important to restaurant operators? A guest’s intent to return is one of the most predictive numbers regarding restaurant sales and traffic performance.

The good news for restaurants? Overall, intent to return scores increased by almost 14 percent from a year ago.

How Does a Restaurant Increase a Guest’s Intent to Return?

A study reported in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly used mathematical models to determine how the level of customer satisfaction in specific areas predicted the likelihood that the guest would return. The study found that five variables held the greatest predictability in repeat customers:

  1. First and Last Impressions. Surprisingly, a restaurant’s curb appeal is not one of the most important first impressions. We all know those tiny “hole-in-the-wall” venues that surprise the heck out of us with great service and tremendous food and are sure to find us returning. The first impression that many guests do remember and one that can shift the tide in their determination to return is a cheerful (or not so much) greeting.
  2. Food Quality for full-service restaurants. Today’s customer leans toward fresh, healthy, locally sourced ingredients that are combined to create unique, flavorful dishes. They also like variety. Historically, restaurants could get away with changing their menu once or twice a year. Presently, new offerings are finding their way onto menus every week.
  3. Waiting time in quick-service restaurants. The average wait time for restaurants in the QSR segment is 12 minutes.
  4. Appropriate Cost. Mistakes are often made in this area of the business. A good POS system can help tremendously when standardizing recipes and producing cost sheets. Also include loss of raw material when cooking and make “portion control” a BOH mantra.
  5. Excellence in Service. Diners are looking for authenticity when it comes to service. Gone are the scripted greetings at the door and the table (at least they should be). Today’s guests want to be served by knowledgeable servers who know their product and can make recommendations based on their specific needs. Great service also entails understanding the difference between customers that want to chat with their servers and those that want minimal interaction that still includes attentive service.

Not surprisingly, they found that increasing a guest’s intent to return was a “chief driver of increased sales.”

A few other past online statistics that illustrate important considerations in the restaurant industry:

  • Ambiance. Brands with 60 percent more positive ambiance mentions saw 1.4 percent higher sales growth than brands with 30 percent or less positive mentions. According to White Box Social Intelligent Insights, ambiance is a key contributor and differentiator between top and bottom performers. You don’t need high-end expensive lighting and furniture to set the stage. Nicely arranged tables with comfortable chairs and some eye-catching decor in a clean restaurant can be enough.
  • Management Turnover Rate. Top performing brands based on comp sales had over 29 percent more positive intent to return scores and a 15 percent lower management turnover rate. Employee turnover has a direct impact on sales performance. Top reasons for management turnover include better offers at other establishments and an imbalance between work and other areas of their lives.
  • Net Sentiment Score. The net sentiment score refers to the percent of positive mentions minus the percent of negative mentions. Top performing counter service brands received 14.4 points higher net sentiment scores for intent to return than bottom performers. In addition, top performers saw an almost 12 percent higher net sentiment score for ambiance compared to bottom performers.

Of course, anyone in the restaurant industry will tell you that not all online guest reviews are fair—even the area you reside in makes a difference. Your chances of receiving a positive online comment increases for those establishments in the Mountain Plains where 37.5 percent of the reviews were positive. On the other hand, the areas with the lowest positive online comments were New York and New Jersey, both of which came in at just under 29 percent.


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