The restaurant industry has long believed that we are unlike other businesses and haven’t got much to learn from outside best practices. It’s time to erase that poor line of thinking.
I was reminded just how wrong that assumption was when I participated in a research study with the Bose Corporation. Big consumer brands like Bose take real care to understand how their product-users interact with their devices. My experience with part of their process reminded me there is much we can learn from their efforts.
Getting core customer feedback
There are insights from the study that we outline here for your edification. In the end, anyone that sells products to consumers is in the same business. While it’s hard to see an analogy between Bose selling sound systems and you selling chicken wings, the experience is totally relevant to our industry and demands your attention.
As a whole, we don’t take the time to get feedback from our guests on the new things we are implementing. There are so many ways that your guests interact with your restaurant, from reading your menu to eating a dish you prepare. The method Bose used in the study is not groundbreaking as much as it’s a thorough examination of how their core customers will interact with a product. For the restaurant industry, this would be your regulars and others who fit your customer personas.
New menu items are product development
The first element of the study had me interacting with a Bose product as if I were just a user at home. They observed my experience in opening the packaging, navigating the instructions, and using the product. Presumably, they wanted to learn if their assumptions about how I would respond to the experience were correct. Through this simple interaction they learned what I struggled with and what I found easy. Now they can account for that in the development of their product.
A great analogy for our industry would be determining if a new menu item will work. You invite a representative group of guests to visit your restaurant on a low volume night and create a menu with the descriptions of any new items you are considering adding to service. You don’t explain anything about the items, just deliver the menu and ask them to choose. Then you deliver the food and also observe their reactions to the presentation. Finally, you ask them specific questions about their impression of the item from the menu versus how they perceived it when delivered.
Using direct guest insights is a powerful way to ensure you aren’t surprised by the reaction to new items or products. Testing is the most direct way to make sure you are investing in changes that will grow your business and not fixing that which isn’t broken. This also makes your guests feel a connection to your business. I know when Bose invited me to participate in their research, I was thrilled to be there. Guests at your restaurant will feel exactly the same when you invite them to a new menu item tasting.
This isn’t a one-time affair
Frankly, it makes sense to do this regularly. Financially, isn’t it less expensive to comp the cost of 15 – 20 items for testing than add something to your permanent menu that flops? It becomes part product testing and part marketing, a win for both objectives. Certainly a company the size of Bose wouldn’t invest in consumer product testing unless it delivered value to their business. Don’t doubt that you will gain the same value.