Can restaurants’ business practices benefit their guests while also benefitting themselves, or are they mutually exclusive?
Historical Guest Benefits
A benefit to a guest should be unique and competitive. A set of unique and competitive benefits creates a Unique Competitive Advantage. A Unique Value Proposition. Each point of service, each guest touch must deliver on a benefit. What have guests historically considered unique benefits? Those benefits have included:
- Menu composition
- Creative beverages
- Distinctive service
- A welcoming, comfortable ambiance
When these attributes are not distinctive enough to consistently attract guests, the restaurant risks becoming nothing more than a commodity. Commoditization is a consequence of a restaurant’s loss (or lack) of brand identity. Commodities compete on price, a trap that is all too familiar to restaurant management.
A New Set of Benefits
A friend and I recently dined at an established café that I had frequented numerous times before. We noticed a new set of unique and competitive benefits:
- Part of the welcome process included a question: “Will a one and one-half hour table time be sufficient tonight?” Diner benefit: ” Now I know I can support the success of my favorite restaurant by limiting our meal to one and one-half hours.” Restaurant benefit: “Guest awareness now conforms to restaurant standard.”
- The menu for the day included an advisory that, “Parties of four are scheduled for two hours” with a “thanks for your understanding.” Diner benefit: “The restaurant appreciates my willingness to work within reasonable time frames when I bring my family or guests.” Restaurant benefit: “Guests understand that larger parties have specific time allotments, as well.”
- The daily menu also requested that diners wear a mask if unvaccinated while the server was at the table. Our server maintained a suitable distance each time she returned to our table. Diner benefit: “The restaurant took extra steps to respect my need to feel safe in their space.” Restaurant benefit: “We equally prioritize the safety of our staff and our guests.”
- Alerts (and possible rescheduling) for late arrivals have become more common with reservation systems to help the restaurant preserve the evening’s Median Peak Hour metric, while treating guests informatively, fairly and equally. Preemptive notice helps diners understand the importance of restaurant scheduling. Diner benefit: “I now understand that 15 minutes past our reservation time infringes on other guests’ dining plans.” Restaurant benefit: “Guests understand that adherence to scheduled commitments is important to our business.”
- At the end of the meal, the evening manager engaged us in substantive conversation: “We’ve expanded seating from 35 to 200” (with an invitation to check the patio addition out). Diner benefit: “We love knowing what our favorite restaurant is doing to expand.” Restaurant benefit: “We enjoy communicating directly with our best guests so they know they can book larger parties with us!”
- The post-meal conversation also included, “We have a new chef.” The National Restaurant Association Q1-2021 State of the Industry Report says that many casual and fine-dining restaurants’ top-selling menu item is newly added. Diner benefit: “New chef; new menu.” Restaurant benefit: “Guests recognize that our innovation reflects current demand.”
How unique and competitive are your guest benefits? How unique, really? Are they original to your organization? Are they easily recognized and felt by your guests? Can they be replicated by competitors? Are they sustainable?
Do your guests advocate those benefits to others through repeat and referral business? How do you identify and measure that advocacy?
Effective service benefits that are unique and competitive result from ongoing, next-level training. Servers execute the restaurant’s mission – by telling the restaurant’s story – with sufficient autonomy to personalize each guest touch.
Remember that your Unique Competitive Advantage must be multi-faceted. It’s never limited to just one benefit. How high have you set the bar for your UCA? Are you raising that bar consistently?