business growth

Why food quality trumps service in driving business growth

By Tyler Baks

Any restaurant owner knows there is a lot to think about when it comes to driving growth and staying relevant in today’s increasingly competitive foodservice landscape. In order to increase traffic and build loyalty, operators need to deliver on excellent service, value for money and great-tasting food, while ensuring the atmosphere is modern and trendy. It’s a lot to juggle and many operators are conflicted about where they should focus their efforts for a well-run operation.

We know that higher overall satisfaction is a strong predictor of whether or not a foodservice consumer will return or recommend a restaurant to a friend or family member. While this seems like an obvious statement, many restaurant owners and operators struggle with how to increase overall guest satisfaction. NPD’s latest Full-Service Dining Report examines this very question by looking at which restaurant attributes are the strongest predictors of overall satisfaction (and therefore revisit intent).

Keeping them coming back

While it can certainly be argued that a restaurant must deliver on service, value for money, food and atmosphere to be successful, it is crucial for operators to understand which is most important. The answer (drum roll) is food. Food is the backbone of every dining establishment, and diverse, innovative menu offerings have become the golden standard. Now more than ever, today’s foodservice consumer is focused on these high-quality offerings, and how one company is differentiating itself from another. Consumers are looking for new and exciting menu items that taste great and contain healthier ingredients. Moreover, they are demanding greater transparency around the sourcing of ingredients, both for ingredients that are locally sourced and raised without antibiotics.

Simply put, food is a stronger predictor of overall satisfaction than service, value or atmosphere. The best service in the world or the best deal is not going to make up for a subpar menu. Food is the glue that holds a restaurant together, and a successful dining experience must start with the trust between the restaurant and the guest cemented through the menu.

Perhaps the best examples of restaurants successfully leveraging food quality to drive growth in an otherwise challenged and steal-share foodservice market are the emerging Fast Casual and Premium Casual sub-segments within their respective Quick-Service Restaurant (QSR) and Full-Service Restaurants (FSR) segments . With Canadians continuing to cut back on out-of-home foodservice visits year over year, helped by the fact that inflation costs for food purchased from grocery stores and the Retail segment is at an all-time low, Fast Casual operators and Premium Casual operators continue to drive growth, outperforming their respective competitors.

Fast casual leads the way

Made up of operators such as Five Guys Burger & Fries, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Panera Bread, Fast Casual has set the stage in the QSR market. Similarly, Premium Casual – made up of western-based operators working their way east, such as Earl’s Kitchen and Bar, Joey’s Restaurant, and Cactus Club – is changing the game within the FSR market. Fast Casual and Premium Casual are moving consumers’ perceptions from convenience-based to quality-based. While doing this, both Fast Casual and Premium Casual are driving higher traffic, garnering better consumer satisfaction, and increasing customer spend within their restaurants. Simply put, they are getting customers through the door, they are keeping them happy, they are charging them more, and they are getting them to come back!

Taking a note out of this playbook, in the coming years, foodservice operators will see greater demands around “premiumization,” customization, and quality offerings, all derived from these niche sub-segments, and their winning strategies with retention of happy consumers.

Foodservice forecasting sees that menu items and product offerings will only continue to innovate, invigorate, and grow. Excellent service, great atmosphere, and good value for money are essential to well-oiled operations, but food remains the driver of happy customers.

About the author:

Tyler Baks is Account Manager, Foodservice Canada for the NPD Group. The NPD Group has more than 25 years of experience providing reliable and comprehensive consumer-based market information and insights to leaders in the foodservice industry. For more information, visit or contact Tyler at [email protected].

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