The quick service restaurant (QSR) segment has exploded in recent years, generating an estimated $273 billion in revenue in the U.S. for 2019. That number represents an increase of nearly $90 billion since 2009.
While restaurateurs build new units faster than you can say “we’re open!”, there are key areas of the business that field repeated calls for help. Nearly 50% of responding patrons in a Global Index survey said the No. 1 thing they’d like to see more of in quick service restaurants is better customer service.
Let’s face it: restaurants can offer great-tasting food that people want, but without a positive experience, they won’t come back. And those loyal customers who return over and over are the key to driving profitability and longevity for restaurants.
So what can QSRs do to differentiate themselves? By whipping up tasty, consistent dishes that patrons clamor for - that’s a given - and creating a positive, memorable customer experience that goes the extra mile. Here are a handful of ways to do it.
Make sure prospective guests can find everything they need quickly - before their visit.
Today’s consumers are quite digitally savvy, and they’re looking all over the web before making a visit to a restaurant. A quick Google search will tell them the restaurant’s location, hours, type of cuisine, online ordering platforms and maybe some recent reviews. They can also visit the restaurant’s website, Facebook or Instagram page, Yelp listing, or just go straight to Grubhub or Doordash.
In order to lower barriers to entry, QSR restaurants need to make sure prospective guests can get to all the information they need. That means not only knowing all the platforms guests are using, but making sure they are regularly updated and consistent across the board.
The location, hours and menu items must be the same across platforms. The menu (including any specials) should be well-organized and easy to read. Online ordering should be accessible from any platform. Take a look at Phonatic, an Austin-based Vietnamese restaurant.
Phonatic’s consistent details are easy to find, with the restaurant’s Google listing, website, Facebook page, and Yelp pages all coming up as top search results.
When guests arrive, make their experience easy and memorable before their food is ready.
When new patrons walk through the door, quick service restaurants have the opportunity to surprise and delight them - without waiting for them to taste their food. They can start by making the ordering process as straightforward as possible.
Many QSRs will have a giant menu board near where guests order, so everyone can see the menu. If you’ve got a crush of people who just walked in, it may not be ideal for them all to stand in the same spot and try to view the menu.
- Consider including laminated, hand-held menus that can be easily picked up for viewing - while guests wait, or just away from the crowd.
- Sometimes with that crush of people comes a long line to order. Take the pressure off your staff by offering guests a way to order with a staff member or on a tablet.
- When guests arrive for carryout orders, they are sometimes confused about where to go. If you have a dedicated carryout/delivery line or area, make sure to indicate exactly where it is.
Give guests something to do while they wait.
Once guests have completed their orders, there are even more opportunities to wow them with a great experience. Offer them as much self-service as you can handle. Start with the usual suspects - a beeper for their order pickup, utensils, napkins and any drinks in the soda fountain, for example. Then dig a little deeper.
Fast-casual chain The Kebab Shop provides not only the standard self-service items but also a wide variety of sauces to try with varying heat levels. Taco shops will have self-serve salsas; previously-mentioned Phonatic has all the accoutrements needed to dress your giant bowl of pho.
Blast & Brew, a California-based fast casual chain, has taken something that’s normally reserved for employee use only and given it to customers: the beer tap. Guests can access a wall of 40 craft-beer taps to easily try out new offerings.
Beyond picking up everything they need to enjoy a meal, consider how your QSR might entertain while guests wait. Open kitchens are sweeping the country, and they provide not only the transparency consumers are seeking today but a fun way to pass time. Games for kids and adults alike can provide a fun ritual to a regular visit.
Guests might enjoy listening to live music while they wait or choosing what they like from your selection of music. Remember those mini-jukeboxes that used to be on the tables at so many American diners? The modernized version is this: customers at Johnny Rockets can now go online and select upcoming music for the dining room.
Continue the positive experience while they eat.
Just because your staff has either served at the counter or dropped off at the table doesn’t mean the conversation is over. Service during the meal counts too, even for QSRs.
Look no further than Luby’s, one of the most established cafeteria chains in the country. Whether you like their food or not, you’ll always remember interacting with Luby’s staff. After paying for your order and choosing a seat, a Luby’s employee will stop by and introduce him or herself and offer to bring anything you need. You’ll be checked on throughout the meal, giving you the feel of more full-service dining in a quick-service establishment.
And what if a guest would like to order more food, but doesn’t want to jump back in line? Fast casuals like HopDoddy Burger Bar offer the option to add on to the order right at the table.
When it’s time, have an exit strategy for your guests.
Now that your guests are finishing up, they might have some leftovers they’d like to take home. Or they’re not sure whether to bus their own table or leave dishes where they are. And maybe they loved the food so much that they want to learn more.
Equip your guests when they’re ready to leave and give them a reason to come back. Takeout containers with self-serve items save time, so guests don’t have to wait in line or flag someone down. If you’d like guests to bus their own table, make it obvious with tubs or clearly-defined areas to place dishes and baskets.
And consider what you might do to bring them back. Maybe there’s a rewards program they can enroll in, a coupon for a free dessert, or a trivia night coming up that they’d love to join. Another option is to give them something else to do while they’re still inside your doors.
Austin-based Quality Seafood is both a fast-casual seafood restaurant and a fish market - and offers cooking classes. Guests can come in to eat before class or grab something from the fish counter after a meal.
Central Market is a Texas-based grocery chain with a quick service restaurant, giant patio, and playground. Guests can come in for a meal and let their kids burn off some energy before grocery shopping or grab an easy outdoor meal and listen to live music in the evenings while the kids play.
QSRs have a wealth of opportunities to improve guest experience.
For QSRs, all touchpoints with guests are places to improve upon the existing customer experience. Whether it’s pre-meal research, walking in the door, taking a seat, enjoying the meal, or planning to leave, there are countless times to interaction. Stand out from the crowd by carefully planning them all.
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