“How satisfied are you with your overall dining experience?”
It’s a simple question, but it’s at the crux of one of the most important measures of customer happiness. And over the last two years, data shows that customer satisfaction, as a whole, is trending downward.
Plenty of restaurants have spent years, if not decades, perfecting the in-restaurant experience for their guests. The warmth of a face-to-face interaction tells staff a lot about how happy customers are and, by extension, how their business is doing. However, as restaurant transactions have increasingly moved online, opportunities for feedback have evolved, too. Managing online ratings, reviews, and reputations has become an important part of running a modern restaurant business.
Unfortunately, small mistakes at any restaurant can add up to big changes in feedback and satisfaction scores. Data from Thanx, a loyalty and guest engagement platform, and our partner Tattle, a feedback management platform built for restaurants, shows that overall customer satisfaction across the restaurant industry has been declining over the last two years. After some investigation, we found out that negative customer feedback has little to do with technology — not the app, not the ordering or payment process. Instead, it’s operational issues around takeout and delivery that are causing sentiments to sour, such as incorrect deliveries, missing items, or improperly prepared foods.
Among the various operational categories, accuracy has been a leading factor contributing to a negative takeout or delivery experience. Data from Tattle shows that while dine-in accuracy has remained consistent since before the pandemic, average delivery order accuracy across brands has fallen from 89% to 74% and takeout order accuracy has dropped from 86% to 84%. This could be a huge problem for brands as delivery and takeout channels continue to grow. Without intervention, brands could see their online reputations hurt as a result.
With close to 10,000 locations on the platform and over 1.3 billion feedback data points collected, Tattle was able to zoom in onto the broad trends and identify specific changes in guest satisfaction within different channels and operational categories. Across all ordering channels including dine-in, takeout, curbside, delivery, and more, delivery experiences have been consistently rated the lowest with the biggest decline in guest satisfaction. Specifically, on a scale of 0% to 100% in terms of satisfaction, the average rating for delivery dropped by 6 percentage points since March 2020 (See graph below. Source: Tattle). In addition, delivery experiences have the lowest score of 80%, compared to dine-in at 93% and takeout at 87%.
Specifically within delivery experiences, accuracy is often quoted as the top factor contributing to a negative delivery experience. In fact, of all the common operational categories across all brands using Tattle, accuracy receives the lowest average score of 74%, and has experienced the biggest decline of 10 percentage points since March 2020. In comparison, hospitality tends to be the best performing operational category with a 95% average score (See graph below. Source: Tattle).
“Given the many external factors outside of restaurant operators’ control when it comes to delivery orders, it’s more important than ever for hospitality leaders and managers to pinpoint opportunities within their control,” said Alex Beltrani, CEO and co-founder of Tattle. “That’s what we’ve been striving to do, by helping brands develop a feedback-centric operational strategy and improve on their top opportunities, so they can evolve alongside the ever-changing customer expectations.”
One fast-growing pizza chain, for example, saw its feedback scores fall from a respectable and satisfied 70 to, recently, a negative 32. Customers complained about errors with their orders and also said the restaurant has been plagued by staffing troubles: locations closing earlier than scheduled, phones that go unanswered, and severely understaffed physical locations. Overall satisfaction was trending slowly downward for some time, but took a turn for the worse about two years ago.
This coincided, of course, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and worsened over time. Restaurants shifted to operating robust delivery businesses to safely serve guests from a distance, and many have made this a part of their long-term strategy. Additionally, restaurants have found themselves contending with a staffing crisis that made it incredibly hard to both hire and retain workers.
What’s a restaurant to do amid some of the most challenging operating conditions in history? To start, they’re sitting on an incredible amount of data created through online ordering — data that identifies exactly what’s going wrong — and some of these problems are fixable, even amid staffing troubles.
Understanding guest satisfaction at the menu item level lets marketers use technology to direct all guests to items that have a high rate of order accuracy. It can also help recapture diners that may have been alienated by past interactions. Data must be tied to real transactions so restaurants can see who is leaving what feedback and their history with the brand such as their recency, spend, and frequency. Thanx recommends campaigns or promotions to recover those guests, and with its Tattle integration, restaurants can deliver rewards and other win-back tactics in direct response to negative (or positive) feedback. And since restaurant brands are facing staffing challenges at the corporate level as well, it’s imperative that executing on tactics to recover guests is effortless for any sized marketing team. Campaign automations with the ability to issue rewards based on feedback or satisfaction scores are some of the capabilities we offer at Thanx to deliver on easy, data-driven marketing for bandwidth constrained marketing teams.
This only works by capturing detailed data about transactions, which can seriously move the needle on sentiment when applied thoughtfully. Technology may not be the catalyst for this downward trend in restaurant feedback but it can be the solution.
Zach Goldstein is the CEO and Founder of Thanx. Founded in 2011, Thanx is a guest engagement and retention platform helping become more digitally agile to maximize customer lifetime value. Prior to earning his MBA from Stanford, Goldstein honed his experience in the customer loyalty space at Bain & Company, helping companies perfect their retention and reward strategies as early as 2005.