When trying to decide where to eat, restaurant diners take a number of different factors into account. While not every person will consider the same qualities important, it is imperative that restaurant developers have a general sense of what the public looks for in a restaurant. Restaurateurs may think they have a wonderful concept, but they need to put themselves in the customer’s place and view the restaurant through their eyes. A restaurant concept that sounds great to someone with years of experience in the industry may not have the same appeal to people without that background. In addition, much of what customers look for depends on trends, so it’s also important that restaurant developers stay in touch with changing expectations.
Below are some of the qualities that diners value the most when judging a restaurant. Some are tied to current trends, while others are fairly timeless considerations.
1. Menu flexibility
The modern diner may have one or more dietary restrictions. Some of these restrictions may be the result of ephemeral fads or trendy diets—the paleo diet comes to mind—but others, such as vegetarianism, are not likely to fade anytime soon. Restaurants should be able to cater to people with food allergies and restrictions, and have a menu that allows a group consisting of a vegetarian, an omnivore, and a health-conscious diner to eat together happily. Restaurant developers might also want to highlight a few buzzwords in their menu. Right now, some of the most common buzzwords that diners look for include “local” and “organic.” These preferences may fade in years to come, or they may be indicative of subtle shifts in eating behaviors that will continue to grow stronger. Regardless, restaurateurs must continue to offer options and alternatives for diners with restricted diets, which means keeping up-to-date with food trends.
2. Knowledgeable staff
Diners frequently ask wait staff, “What is good here?” Answers along the lines of “everything” will not impress anyone. People want honest opinions about the food and they want to be guided into having the best possible experience. Wait staff must have an intimate familiarity with the menu and the restaurant’s policies. If a diner asks about ingredients in a particular dish, the waiter should have an immediate answer without having to check with kitchen staff. Similarly, if the diner makes a request to leave an ingredient off the plate, the waiter should know whether this is possible. If the waiter must continually check with other members of the staff for answers to common questions, the trust between the waiter and diner is undermined, and the experience becomes less pleasurable.
The use of technology in restaurants continues, and as time goes on, more diners will expect to see it integrated into the dining experience. Already, diners fully expect restaurants to have their own websites, and many also look for a social media presence. In the future, diners may want to see integration with apps like GrubHub and OpenTableto easily order takeout. Restaurants can continue to impress diners by staying ahead of the curve with technology and implementing it in ways that make sense for the restaurant’s brand. Virtually all restaurants can use technology to streamline processes, from allowing customers to use an app to order food in advance at fast casual eateries, to offering tablets for paying the bill at more upscale dining locations.
Hopefully, the importance of cleanliness to diners is obvious. However, restaurant owners need to understand that diners expect complete cleanliness, from floor to ceiling. Wrinkled table linens or water spots on glasses can quickly turn diners off and make them question the cleaning practices of the restaurant as a whole. All surfaces must be free of dust at all times, including light fixtures, which tend to be overlooked. As soon as a mess is made, it should be cleaned up. Even breadcrumbs on the floor from previous diners should be cleaned up before any new diners are seated in the same area. Restaurant developers can make certain choices when it comes to interior design and décor to make cleaning easier, however. For example, black tile and dark-colored surfaces show much more dirt than lighter colors do.
One of the things that diners most want out of a restaurant is sincerity. After a hard day of work, people will be turned off if they enter a restaurant and fail to receive a greeting, or if the greeter sounds insincere. Diners want to feel like they are important and not just a source of income for the restaurant. Several factors play into sincerity, from an empathetic and experienced wait staff to an enthusiastic greeter. Another important element is a visible manager. When the manager stops by the table to check in with diners and see how their meal is going, the restaurant demonstrates that it cares about the customer’s experience. Sincerity is a universal requirement, from small takeout joints to elegant, white-tablecloth restaurants. Most diners will easily pay slightly more for a meal that comes with a smile, whether it is from a cashier or a waiter.