Eating out at a restaurant has long been a way for consumers to try new foods and avoid cooking and the mundane task of washing up afterwards. However, in recent years the purpose of trying out a new restaurant or visiting a regular favourite has shifted and more consumers are opting to eat out for leisure purposes or as a way of socialising.
In the past, offering decent food at a reasonable price was enough to determine the popularity of an eatery, but as the number of restaurants and the different choices available have increased, the restaurant experience has become increasingly important for businesses to stand out from the crowd.
The Elite Fish and Chip Company, an award-winning fish and chip chain which has been operating in Lincolnshire for over 30 years, operates four restaurants and takeaways across the county. The business considers its restaurant experience as a unique selling point, which is evident from the fact that it has sustained years of success by offering exceptional customer service and making sure that each person who enters through its doors feels valued.
In February 2020 the company opened its fourth restaurant and takeaway in the historic Bailgate area of Lincoln. Elite on the Bail is a high-end seafood restaurant and fish and chip takeaway, offering a fine-dining experience which is new to the area and to its customers. Following the recent opening, the company’s co-director Adrian Tweedale shares his thoughts on what has been the best strategy for addressing the changing needs of the market when it comes to establishing a new restaurant or adapting an existing one.
What is a restaurant experience?
A great restaurant experience immerses a customer in the environment and if done well, adds to the enjoyment of the food and makes the time spent at the restaurant memorable. A good restaurant experience should positively reinforce the restaurant and its brand in the mind of the consumer.
A customer’s dining experience starts with their eyes and other senses before they even begin to enjoy the taste of the food being served. A restaurant doesn’t only sell food; it’s also responsible for selling the social aspect of eating out, maintaining the status attached to its reputation and offering consumers a chance to escape the monotony of everyday food.
Why is it so important?
A great restaurant experience is vital for increasing customer retention, so restaurants need to ensure that they create an experience which is enjoyable for customers from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave. A loyal customer base is more beneficial for restaurant stability and growth than consistently spending time and money bringing in new customers in other ways.
Customers who enjoy their experience in a restaurant and are left with a lasting impression of the company will be much more likely to tell their close friends and family about it. Word-of-mouth recommendations are often one of the most valuable ways to promote a restaurant as customers are likely to trust the opinions of those they know.
The overall aim of creating a great restaurant experience is ultimately to increase the number of customers coming through the doors, and there’s a common understanding that customers associate a crowded restaurant, or restaurants with queues out of the door, with high-quality food, having a good reputation and offering food at reasonable prices.
What are customers looking for?
Diners have become more selective and harder to please when it comes to spending money on eating out, so restaurants need to focus closely on their target customers and the image they want to portray. Finding out what the customer values is key to determining which aspects are required to ensure customers enjoy their restaurant experience.
The appearance of a restaurant is crucial and must reflect the company’s values, the needs of the target audience and the type of food that will be served. A family-orientated restaurant offering home comfort-style dishes will need to elevate the look of the food through its surrounding environment and high-end establishments will need to match their customers’ expensive taste.
It goes without saying that cleanliness is a top priority for customers when making a first judgement about a restaurant. The food hygiene ratings provided by the Food Standards Agency have become a necessity and are designed to guide customers on where to eat out. Very good or good ratings should be displayed in the restaurant – placing certificates at the front of house is always likely to attract customers.
Great customer service has been and will always be an influencing factor for customers when choosing whether to dine at a restaurant again. As the saying goes, first impressions matter and when customers first enter any restaurant, the hospitality along with the attentiveness of staff to customers when ordering, eating and paying will be under scrutiny.
The look of the restaurant is also a significant factor, and this includes everything from having comfortable seating in the waiting area to using the lighting to create the right atmosphere. ‘Instagrammability’ is a relatively new factor to consider in the restaurant world, but an increasingly important one. Having an interior with personality and originality will increase the chances of customers sharing the experience on social media and influencing other potential customers to visit.
A good restaurant should do more than fill empty stomachs, and owners should look at the bigger picture of what purpose it serves for the community and those visiting. Restaurants which focus on the quality of the food and exceed customers’ expectations with their experience are the ones that will make bigger waves in the industry.
By Rachel Tweedale, third-generation family member and co-director of the Elite Fish and Chip Company