Restaurant Survey: Are you serving a meal or an experience?

Restaurant Survey: Are you serving a meal or an experience?
Elise Musumano

By Elise Musumano

Technology has changed the way the world works–and the world of food and dining is no exception. Today's guests use the web to find their next big dining experience, they use apps to make reservations, and social networks to share experiences with friends and followers.

For restaurant owners and operators, this 'new normal' opens up an opportunity to create and deliver personalized experiences that stand out. With advances in technology come greater expectations from the consumer, wider and deeper competition, and increasingly unstable loyalty.

So what keeps guests coming back?

According to a SevenRooms restaurant survey of 1,108 diners across the United States, it’s the overall experience, not the taste of the food, that dictates their lasting impression of the meal.

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Guests crave tailored experiences — ones that meet their expectations, know their name and understand their preferences, and go beyond just delivering a delicious meal to the table.

Here’s what other restaurant industry trends we learned:

How To Make First-Time Customers Lifetime Customers

In order to win over a party of guests the first time they dine with you, you need to give them an unforgettable experience. One that grabs their attention and leaves them with the desire for more. If the server isn’t going above and beyond, or the dish wasn’t prepared correctly, what impetus does your guest have to return to your venue? Here are some factors to consider:

The Wait

Or rather, the lack of it. Any time you make a customer wait at the host stand, it makes them more cognizant of the other restaurants they could have chosen — whether it be on your block, a similar ambiance, or the same type of food.

High supply in the restaurant industry means doing everything right to not lose your guest.

1 in 4 Americans wouldn’t return to a restaurant if they had to wait 10 minutes past their reservation time before being seated.

Think about how quickly ten minutes can go by as an operator in a restaurant. But now, consider what that means to a guest relationship. And keep in mind that it costs 25x more to acquire a customer to retain a new one, and that increasing your guest retention by 5% can increase your profits by 95%.

The Attention

If you aren’t recognizing food allergies or delivering guests with dishes prepared as requested, then you’re losing a positive review and the shot at a repeat guest.

Here’s why:

In particular, our restaurant survey showed:

Even the best server can’t know the full profile of each guest in-service, which is why technology is key here.

The best reservation and seating management platforms do two things. They pull in guest information from reservation-checkout on your website, and they allow you to add notes about preferences to a guest profile.

Both of these aspects of information have colorful tags and notes that are easy-to-scan and in a place where the information can be read quickly.

The Memory

Memory is a funny thing.

The perception of it means volumes to the guest. And the ability to conceive it with technology can deliver that same perception to guests.

The biggest piece of memory that matters to a guest is a waiter remembering them. Recognizing their face, and remember what they ordered and what they like.

29% of Americans think that a waiter or waitress remembering them would make their experience memorable

Remembering a guest’s name is one of the most simple but effective things a waiter can do.

The great part is, you don’t need to play games in your head to remember guests names. You can use technology as your aid.

Pro Tip: Add a picture for each guest that dines with you into your guest management system. That way, when they return, the person at the host stand sees their picture in their reservation overview and can say “Welcome back, [first name].”

Sweating The Small Stuff

Small perks that you can offer guests have minimal costs to you in terms of inventory, but can go a long way with your guest.

Consider how much a glass of wine costs you, or one dessert item off of your menu.

Now thing about how much revenue you pull in from the average lifetime of a loyal guest.

Here are some stats to help drive the impact on the guest home:

It can not be overstated: guests want to feel special. In the heat of service, it is easy to overlook small details that enhance the overall experience, squandering a great opportunity to impress your customers. With attention to detail, you can use this opening to make a lasting impact. In fact, a waiter remembering a guest’s name is enormously effective: 51% of Americans say that a waiter or waitress simply remembering them from a previous visit would make their dining out experience stand out. Here are some of the key restaurant industry trends that make a dining experience more memorable:


Keep in mind that it is the overall experience that turns a first-time guest into a repeat one.

Pro Tip: Ask your restaurant’s guest management system about the ability to add guest birthday as a field to the reservation checkout process on your website widget. That way, you capture the information automatically and it adds itself to the guest profile.

You can also use a POS integration to log a guest’s complete order history across all visits to their client profile, so you know which wine or other beverage they prefer, and can give them a complimentary glass of that.

Taking Care of Business: Your Social Media Channels

You may think updating your social media is a time-consuming task that doesn’t affect your bottom line.

But it does.

Social media is a cycle, too. It may be the reason you go to a restaurant, but then your experience at the restaurant dictates if and what you share to your network after the meal.

This is an aspect of virality to this both with positive experiences and negative ones.

Pro Tip: To avoid negative word of mouth, work with your reservation management vendor to send feedback emails to your guests after they dine, so you can proactively capture and address complaints before they go live as reviews on public sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

To learn more about how you can make more memorable experiences for your guests, download SevenRooms’ Turning a Meal into an Experience restaurant survey.

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Elise Musumano
Elise Musumano

Elise is the Senior Manager, Product Marketing at SevenRooms, the leading reservation, seating, and guest management solution and an avid fitness enthusiast and marathon runner.