Six Lessons We’ve Learned About Digital Restaurant Experiences

Six Lessons We’ve Learned About Digital Restaurant Experiences

Digital commerce has seen exponential growth since March 2020 and it is here to stay. For restaurants, mobile apps and online ordering have become lifelines for consumers making mid-pandemic purchases. All signs indicate that they will continue to be critical components of the consumer experience. 

In an effort to help restaurants understand emerging consumer behaviors, Fishbowl examined consumer sentiment (based on social review data) and identified six key trends: 

  1. Service is the top driver of guest satisfaction in reviews. 
  2. Digital experiences are an extension of restaurant service.
  3. Guests expressed dissatisfaction with digital ordering as off-premise dining grew.
  4. Consumer expectations have changed since March.
  5. Bad digital experiences are like bad service staff – they make customers defect.
  6. Optimized digital marketing presents restaurants with opportunities for growth.

Analysis: Fishbowl examined 734 of the 1500+ brands in our social data inventory to assess consumer feedback related to digital ordering. We selected brands with a minimum of 5 reviews during the time period 1/1/2020-7/31/2020 that range in service style, including Casual, Midscale, Upscale/Fine, Fast Casual and Fast Food brands. Reviews containing mentions of mobile app and online orders were isolated for analysis.

1. Service is the top driver of guest satisfaction in reviews.

The five topic areas that most directly impact brand value are service, food, price, ambiance and beverage. Service is the most common mention in reviews during this time period, followed closely by food (see Figure 1). Even with the recent uptick in off-premise dining, service remains a critical factor consumers view their experience with digital ordering platforms as an extension of service

Service is the primary attribute of restaurant experiences mentioned in reviews (2020).
Figure 1. Service is the primary attribute of restaurant experiences mentioned in reviews (2020).

 

2. Digital experiences are an extension of restaurant service.

The concept of service is not confined to the in-store experience. Digital ordering platforms much more than a transaction engine – they are a direct extension of restaurant service. Mobile apps and websites provide an important opportunity for connection. The quality of this interaction directly impacts guest experience, even when it is virtual. 

When guests dine in, there are many opportunities for staff to make good impressions with friendly, attentive and memorable service. There are fewer opportunities when guests place an off-premise order. The two primary points of interaction are both aspects of service – placing orders and receiving them. If either of these interactions are flawed, the service is viewed as negative and brands miss a critical opportunity to build positive engagements with their guests.  

3. Guests expressed dissatisfaction with digital ordering as off-premise dining grew.

Fewer guests dined out in March and April, so the overall number of social restaurant reviews dropped. However, the increased use of off-premise dining options led to an associate increase in mentions of mobile apps and online ordering. 

In the spring and early summer of 2020, consumers began mentioning online and off-premise ordering more regularly in their reviews. 

Reviews in late March and early April focus on convenience and accessibility of off-premise options. Complaints were not significantly higher than earlier in the year.

4. Consumer expectations have changed since March.

However, by late April we see negative sentiment around digital orders beginning to rise (see Figure 2). As dependence on digital ordering increased, consumers began to focus on the problems they were encountering.

One key area of concern appears to be the gap between a functioning app and order fulfilment. Apps and in store POS systems are not integrated, staff is not familiar with app functions and order fulfilment is cumbersome. 

Negative mentions related to digital ordering rose sharply in late April, May and July 2020.
Figure 2. Negative mentions related to digital ordering rose sharply in late April, May and July 2020.

 

5. Bad digital experiences are like bad service staff – they make customers defect.

Negative experiences with mobile and online apps frustrate customers. Some reach a tipping point and report that they will not use the digital platform to order in future. Guests who are too dissatisfied to order online opt out – and revenue slips. 

These experiences don’t just impact off-premise orders – they put overall brand loyalty at risk. Dissatisfied reviewers sometimes say that they will discontinue use of the app and often cite specific competitors who will gain their business. 

Loyalty has already been disrupted by Covid as many patrons left old standbys behind in favor of brands who provided digital apps and off premise solutions. Brands should pay attention to this issue to protect against further erosion of their customer base. 

6. There are opportunities for growth with optimized digital ordering.

Consumer behavior changed quickly and, in many ways, permanently. Reliance on digital commerce spans many industries, and is especially critical to restaurant sustainability. Although these changes have presented restaurant operators with many challenges that had to be addressed in record time, this shift also brings tremendous opportunity.

Digital ordering not only provides a bridge for safe and convenient transactions, it also deepens the connection between brands and their guests. This paves the way for restaurants to transform the way they use purchase data to individualize their communication, enhance the guest experience and convert occasional guests into loyalists. Opportunities for personalized messaging and enhancements to the order process can quickly turn digital ordering into a highly valuable venue for guest connectivity – and profitability.  It all starts with a strong digital experience – clear, simple, functioning mobile apps and websites that lead to seamless communication and execution by restaurant staff.

Not sure if your digital platforms are optimized?  Fishbowl can help evaluate your current program and ensure that your brand is positioned for success. We can also perform an analysis like the one above, going into more depth for your own brand and competitor set to examine your guests perceptions and preferences.  Contact us today via the form below, or email, to arrange a consultation.