REPORT: What Guests Want in a Dining Experience – and What Restaurants Are Getting Wrong

A restaurateur juggles a million different priorities, from marketing and menu building to delivering the best possible hospitality to guests. With all of the noise, one question that’s increasingly difficult to answer is this: Are you focusing on the right things? 

Today, our partners at Toast released their industry report on Restaurant Success in 2019, which analyzes survey responses from restaurant workers and restaurant guests across the nation. They asked all about what makes a great restaurant, where they stand on tech trends and innovations, and what the future of the industry holds. The results illuminate insights across the board, but we were particularly interested to see where restaurant professionals and guests were divided in their opinions. Here are five things we learned: 

How Guests Find Your Restaurant: Recommendations Reign

The Toast team asked diners and restaurant professionals a similar question: for the former, it was how they choose a restaurant, and for the latter, how they think guests find out about them. Both groups understand the importance of a personal recommendation, with 72% of restaurateurs guessing guests listen to advice from friends and family and 88% of diners confirming it. 

The groups diverged in some key ways, too. Restaurateurs overestimated the impact of social media, including Facebook and Instagram (is it time to reconsider your spend on social media promotion?). Industry professionals may be surprised to see that television matters: only 3% of restaurateurs thought TV coverage was influential, while 22% of diners said it was.

What Matters Most: Quality Over Value

In addition to how guests find a restaurant, Toast asked why they choose the ones they do, considering all of the different factors at play – type of cuisine, price, atmosphere…the list goes on. 

Both restaurant professionals and diners ranked quality of food first (65% and 72%, respectively). While 64% of restaurateurs thought value would rank high on guests’ priority list, less than half (48%) of diners placed it in their top three reasons for choosing a restaurant. Guests’ individual tastes and preferences also mattered more than restaurateurs expected, with 63% of diners counting them as an important factor and only 52% of restaurants agreeing. The findings suggest that how well you describe your restaurant – and set guests’ personal expectations – can make or break an experience. 

Delivery on the Rise: The Need for Speed

Not all dining happens within the four walls of a restaurant, of course – online ordering and delivery services are more popular than ever. Restaurants place more weight on online ordering than guests do, with 38% of restaurant professionals and only 16% of diners ranking it “very important.”

Interestingly, when it comes to delivery, diners care more about the speed than the quality. While 57% of restaurant professionals guessed speed would be a priority, 77% of diners ranked it as most important for them. 

Where Tech Comes In: Reservations Count

Many restaurateurs operate multiple systems at once, from POS and inventory management to accounting and front-of-house management software. It’s critical that all of these platforms can connect and talk to each other, so your team has access to the most up-to-date and relevant information.

The most important restaurant technology feature for guests is online reservations, with 51% marking online bookings as “extremely important.” That’s compared to the 41% of restaurants that ranked them as “extremely important,” suggesting that restaurateurs slightly underestimated the importance of online reservations.

As Joseph Essas, OpenTable’s Chief Technology Officer, told Toast: “We’re seeing restaurants use data from many different sources to personalize every part of service, from the host stand to the kitchen. Connecting the dots between information across restaurant technologies – including reservations, guest profiles, POS, CRM, email, and more – helps restaurants run smoothly and allows them to bring the magic of hospitality to every dining experience.

It’s no secret that we live in a mobile-first society, and restaurateurs and guests both ranked wifi availability as a key technology that restaurants can provide. 36% of diners called it extremely important, and restaurants agreed, with almost 70% offering wifi for customers. Each business has to weigh the costs (i.e., intimacy, atmosphere) and benefits (think social media activity!) of in-restaurant wifi for themselves. 

When & What to Email: Broadcast Your Specials

Guests were split on how often they want to receive emails from restaurants. 31% said they’d be happy with once a week, 29% with once a month, and 21% not at all. Interestingly, 35% of restaurant professionals responded that they don’t send emails at all – a miss, considering the potential interest reflected here.

What kind of emails actually work? Guests most want to hear about specials and discounts (87%), new menu items (72%), and upcoming events (59%). Restaurateurs ranked all of those categories less important than diners did, which suggests that they’re underestimating the power of email communication with guests. (Consider this case study from the Garces Group, who earned $261,000 from a “We Miss You” campaign.)

More Eye-Opening Discoveries

Above is just a taste of the findings in Toast’s Restaurant Success in 2019 survey. The 50-page report covers a wide range of topics, from technology and delivery to… Here are a few more tidbits we learned:

  • Restaurant professionals ranked their top 3 challenges in running a successful restaurant today as 1) high operating and food costs, 2) hiring staff, and 3) training staff. 
  • Staff turnover is a big problem in restaurants. Why do people leave? Restaurateurs counted higher-paying job offers as the #1 reason
  • Still, the future looks bright. 91% of restaurateurs expect to increase profits in 2019 as compared to 2018. 

Click here to download Toast’s full Restaurant Success in 2019 report. 

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