Restaurant Industry Insights

How Do Consumers Choose a Restaurant?

I was struck by a customer’s response when asked why they dined at a specific restaurant. They answered, “Because they always greet me by name, and the food is always good.” 

Really? Is that all there is to it?

At the core, the psychology behind this simple answer is that they make this person feel special. Even good food translates to a sense of caring, consistency, and attention to detail. 

Are these the keys to getting picked by customers from the myriad of options they have? Or are there more factors to consider, why people select one restaurant over another? 

Let’s take a deep dive into the psychology behind choices as it relates to the restaurant industry. 

From the Scientists’ Perspectives

Here’s an interesting research paper title:  “Constructing a Consumption Model of Fine Dining from the Perspective of Behavioral Economics.” While I’m not quite sure what that means, the research was meaningful. 

Using linear and logistic regressions and axiomatic design, these researchers contrasted a consumer economic behavior model. They found that the reason customers select certain fine dining restaurants coincided with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. While the quality and safety of the food, service, and price point all played a part, on another level, consumers selected restaurants based on the need for love, followed by esteem, and, lastly, self-actualization. 

Apart from the cuisine, they desire respect and the finest service. The study concluded: “Fine dining restaurants no longer merely provide the functions of a restaurant, namely physiological sustenance, food safety assurance, social purpose, and prestige, but they also provide psychological well-being, which is a type of self-actualization.” 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

If you took a psychology course, you’ve undoubtedly encountered Abraham Maslow. A founder of humanistic psychology made famous by his hierarchy of needs, he found that five needs motivate people to move forward in their lives. These needs include physiological, safety, belonging and love, esteem, and self-actualization. Once the physiological, safety, and belonging needs are met, they can focus on esteem and self-actualization.

While it’s clear what part restaurants play in supplying guests with food and meeting their physiological needs, the aspect that ensures loyalty is creating a space for belonging. This is a restaurant that forms emotional connections with its guests, greeting them by name, knowing their favorite items, and making recommendations based on this awareness. It’s a genuine, heartfelt connection and concern, a deep appreciation not only for their support but also for their well-being.

In addition to getting to know your guests, surprising them with a complimentary beverage, appetizer, or dessert, or creating special events for your loyal patrons, go a long way in creating a deep connection.

Self-Actualization and the Restaurant Guest

Self-actualization refers to a human’s desire to reach their fullest potential. While helping guests become the best versions of themselves seems like a lofty goal for a restaurant, every experience they encounter brings them closer or further away from self-understanding. 

For many, one conversation can have a profound effect. Do you remember a conversation that stayed with you long after it ended? Making your guests feel special, taking the time to connect, and providing a personalized guest experience can alter their perception of themselves, giving them a glimpse into the possibilities. 

Superb shared a quote that sums up the importance of the guest experience. “For us, the experience is all about the guest. Our symbolic open kitchen testifies to this message. When you enter our restaurant, a small lock enables our guests to peek into our kitchen and see what is going on. At Contraste, the evening is not ours, it’s our guests.” –Matias Perdomo of Contraste in Milan, Italy.

About Service & Selection

As we know, service plays a role in a consumer’s restaurant selection. Interestingly, one study found that good service was important but did not increase the selection. However, poor service significantly reduced the chances of a consumer choosing a restaurant.

Yet another scientific publication found that restaurant selection varied according to the occasion. 

  • Menu Price: This was the primary consideration for those choosing a quick meal. 
  • Brand Reputation: Those meeting for business purposes primarily considered the restaurant’s reputation. 
  • Word-of-Mouth: Guests who are celebrating look to others to direct them to their best options.

Today’s technology has made it possible to transcend the guest experience. In seconds, notes regarding guests can be digitally stored and recalled when they return. These notes may include favorite dishes, names, celebrations, and important happenings in their lives. 

Several years ago, Resy compared restaurants in New York that took notes on guests and those who didn’t. They found that 40% of those with excellent ratings created customer profiles with notes, while those with very good ratings fell down to 21%. Restaurants with good ratings only took notes 15% of the time. In essence, excellent restaurants that know their guests keep them coming in through the doors.


How do people choose which restaurant they patronize?

While food quality and service are still key, the overall experience plays a critical role in turning one-time guests into brand-loyal fans.

What are the factors influencing customers’ restaurant choices?

People are influenced by word-of-mouth recommendations, online reviews, a brand’s reputation, menu options, and pricing. Once you get them in the door, an emotional connection and the experience keeps them coming back. 

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