“Ambiance” distinguishes the best performances in a context of sales and traffic of restaurants in difficulty

September brought mixed results for restaurants. For one thing, the 6.1% sales growth for the month was a 0.4% improvement from August. On the other hand, the industry was unable to return to the strong sales growth posted in June and July. Additionally, there is still no sign of traffic resuming to pre-COVID levels. Traffic growth was -6.3% in September, the worst month since March.

In addition to low sales and traffic, the industry continues to face widespread labor shortages, supply chain difficulties, and complaints from online customers, noting the deterioration of the market. restaurant experience.

In September, the “food” restaurant received 1.3% fewer positive mentions in online reviews compared to a year ago. Although the decline in sentiment has been gradual, September saw the lowest percentage of positive reviews focusing on restaurant “food” since February. The story is similar for the sentiment of “service”, which received 2.3% fewer positive mentions in September compared to a year ago. This is the lowest percentage of positive mentions based on the restaurant’s “service” since June.

Unsurprisingly, customers are less positive about their intention to return to restaurants they have reviewed or reviewed online. The percentage of positive “return intent” mentions has declined by almost 3% year over year.

Key ambience differentiator for top performers

The sales growth results for the top performing limited-service restaurants * were 9% higher than those for limited-service restaurants in the third quarter, while the sales growth results for the top-performing full-service restaurants increased by 13% compared to the median growth in this sector of the industry.

But how did these top performing artists stand out the most in the eyes of their guests? In what areas of the restaurant experience do they excel the most compared to their competition?

In limited-service restaurants, “ambiance” was the attribute of the restaurant experience that had the greatest difference in the net feeling of top performers. The top performing brands in limited service had a clear sense of mood that was 11 points more positive than the others. The second attribute by which top performers most differentiated themselves was “service”, their net feeling being 5 points more positive than the feeling of “service” for limited service as a whole.

The importance of “the vibe” is the one thing the top performing full-service brands had in common with their limited-service counterparts. “The net Ambiance sentiment for the top performing brands was a remarkably positive 21 points compared to the rest of the full service. “Drink” was the second attribute that top performers excelled the most. Customers rated drinks at top performing full-service restaurants 17 points higher than the rest of the competition in that space.

* Top performers: brands in the top 25% for sales growth

** Net Sentiment: A value representing the percentage of positive mentions minus the percentage of negative mentions for a specific attribute of the restaurant experience.

Regional and market performance

Among the top 25 markets in the country, Orlando leads in terms of net positive sentiment based on “food”, “drink”, “service” and “intent to return.” It was also a good month for Philadelphia, which topped the list for highest net sentiment based on ‘vibe’, and was also in the top 3 markets based on ‘food’ and ‘service. “.

New York offered stark contrasts during the month. While this was the primary market with the most positive “value” sentiment and ranked 3rd for “service”, it was also the DMA with the lowest “ambiance” sentiment in September.

As we have seen in recent months, San Francisco continues to have issues with customer sentiment. It placed at the bottom of the rankings for “food” and “service” sentiment in September.

Look ahead

The overall picture will remain the same for the restaurant industry for the rest of the year. Sales will remain better than they were in 2019, but the number of guests will still be declining as guest checks continue to grow at an unusually high rate.

Three tightening conditions for restaurants point to a further slowdown in sales and traffic in the coming months.

  • Food prices in restaurants have increased at a much faster rate than prices for food prepared at home, suggesting that restaurants are less and less competitive with grocery stores. Given this disparity, there is little room for improved traffic.
  • The expected slowdown in overall economic growth and rising inflation will dampen future growth in restaurant sales.
  • Restaurant performance was stronger in the fourth quarter of 2019 than in previous quarters, meaning more difficult comparisons when analyzing sales and traffic growth in the coming quarter.

However, there are also reasons to be optimistic about what could be a good holiday season for restaurants. There is always pent-up demand and people are hungry to go out and celebrate again with their friends and family, especially after having to skip a lot of it last year.

The Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot ™ (RGSS) is produced using data from Black Box Guest Intelligence ™. Guest Intelligence tracks over 190 brands to gauge customer satisfaction and is the only online tool that integrates with operational performance data to validate impact on financial performance. The dataset focuses on six key attributes of the restaurant industry experience: food, service, ambiance, beverage, value, and intention to return.

Black Box Intelligence ™ is the leading provider of performance benchmarking for the restaurant industry. Their unprecedented data set reveals insight into financial, workforce, customer and consumer trends for more than 300 brands and 87,000 foodservice units. Black Box Intelligence is also the producer of the Best Practice Conference held annually in Dallas, Texas.

The RGSS algorithm determines the top-ranked brands based on sentiment. Brands included in this monthly snapshot must have a total of at least 250 mentions for the month. Restaurants must also have a minimum number of units to be eligible. DMA rankings only take into account the 25 largest areas.

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