What customers are looking for from restaurants

By Megan Prevost

If customers from 2019 time-traveled to today and stopped in at their favourite restaurants, they would immediately recognize some key differences. Over the past few years, the restaurant industry has morphed, at first changing out of necessity and quickly becoming more of a matter of preference.

Because of this ongoing evolution, it can be hard to know exactly what restaurant-goers are looking for from their food experiences. It might sound simple, but the best way to learn what your customers are looking for is to ask for their feedback specifically.

Aside from that, there are some common industry trends and developments that have been enjoyed by customers throughout 2022 and will carry on through 2023.

Contactless and paper menu options

Before the pandemic, QR codes weren’t quite as popular as they are today. While they originally came with some pushback, most diners enjoy the option to go contactless. To please all types of customers in the post-pandemic world, your restaurant should offer both contactless and paper menus to guests. QR codes and online menus aren’t going anywhere, but there will always be people who prefer a printed edition as well.

One style may seem to fit better for your restaurant, such as paper menus for fine dining and QR codes for fast casual. No matter which approach you choose, you should always have a backup on hand. Leave a table tent with a QR code on it around for guests who prefer to use their phones and have some printed copies for die-hard hands-on customers. That way, you can please everyone.

Fully contactless fast food

Diners these days are looking for one of two experiences: quick and easy on-the-go fast food or decadent fine dining.

When it comes to fast food, everyone is in a rush to get through the line. With the addition of online ordering, mobile apps, and self-service kiosks, the experience has gone from fast to ultra-fast. Though there will always be a place for human service, these quick-service customers don’t necessarily want to go back to the old days of having to actually talk to someone when ordering their food. Slow traditional table service is becoming a thing of the past. Thankfully, self-service options also help the employees and owners. With self-service options, less staff is necessary, and the current employees can relax a bit, knowing a good chunk of the process has been completed prior to even speaking with a customer.

The fine dining experience

On the flip side, more people are returning (or turning for the first time) to fine dining establishments after a few years of ordering from DoorDash, UberEats, or SkipTheDishes. However, customers don’t just want any run-of-the-mill fine dining experience, they want to have the best experience possible. They want experienced wait staff who can recommend dishes, wine pairings, and improve their meal as a whole.

This likely stems from the desire to be waited on after spending so long inside our own homes taking care of ourselves. It feels nice to be wined and dined, and customers want to be reminded of that fancy experience.

A solid loyalty program

Because customers have such specific desires, it’s much more likely that today’s consumers will find a handful of restaurants they love and remain loyal to them. However, most people want to have the deal sweetened with a reward for their loyalty, so offering a solid reward program is a great way to help encourage customers to stick around.

There are many different types of loyalty programs, but point-bank and punch-card systems are the most popular. Point-bank systems generally allow customers to use their points to buy whatever they want off a certain limited menu, while punch cards usually reward customers with a free item after making a set amount of purchase.

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These are both great options, but it’s up to you to decide which is best for your restaurant and your customers. Do you have customers that mostly prefer QR codes? They may also prefer a point-bank system, as they’re often phone-based. Do your customers tend to prefer paper menus? They may well prefer a paper punch card, too! As always, being flexible is important.

Connection with community

Now that you know what customers are looking for when it comes to restaurant type, loyalty, and experience, it’s time to think about how you can go above and beyond.

Local restaurants that do more with the community tend to be big hits. For example, restaurants that host craft shows or invite pop-ups for event nights draw bigger crowds. You’ll likely even attract new customers this way, and your restaurant will develop a sense of community. Not only does this mean your restaurant will be a great place to eat, but it will become a fun place to hang out, and a staple in the community for supporting other small businesses.

It’s not 2019 anymore

Restaurants have a duty to evolve with their customers. If your restaurant isn’t providing what customers are looking for in a post-pandemic world, they might leave you behind for one that better fits their needs.

Again, the best way to figure out what your customers are looking for is to ask them. Employ the use of comment cards and search through reviews on different platforms to see what your customers have to say. Take their feedback and improve. Your restaurant will be better for it, and your customers will be glad you care about what they’re looking for.

Megan Prevost is a marketing content writer. Her work has appeared in App Institute, Bar Business, Modern Restaurant Management, Small Business Currents, PMQ, FSR, The Daily Fandom, and FanSided.