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Changing Customer Expectations in a Post-Pandemic World

Consumers turn to restaurants for the food, convenience, and the experience—and they’re coming back in droves.

The last 3+ years have shaken up the restaurant industry, with many winners and losers coming out the other side. As we head toward 2024, and a higher degree of normalcy has returned, restaurants are facing a number of challenges, with staffing, tech, and customer service issues universally prevalent.

Stats to consider:

  • 52% of restaurants cite staffing as their number one challenge.

  • 50% of restaurants say their managers and employees are experiencing burnout.

  • 45% of restaurants point to compensation as their greatest challenge.

  • 42% of restaurant workers want to quit their job.

  • At the same time, 31% of consumers want to dine at restaurants more frequently than they did pre-2020, with value, convenience, and spending quality time with family and friends considered top motivators.

Top Customer Motivators

  • Spending time with friends and family: 52%

  • Value/Getting the most bang for their buck: 45%

  • Healthier Menu Choices: 20%

  • Experimenting with something new: 18%

  • Convenience/Getting a Meal Quickly and Easily: 14%

What Restaurants Need to Know As 2024 Approaches

  • The “Grace” Period is Over

The pandemic-era courtesy customers extended to businesses no longer exists, with most consumers expecting restaurants to have solved their supply chain and staffing challenges.

Similarly, customers assume that restau­rants have worked the bugs out of their delivery operations and expect seamless service.

With higher expectations for excellence and a lower threshold for patience, restaurants that deliver a customer experience with pre-2020 standards will surely suffer, as consumers are far less willing to remain loyal to brands that consistently disappoint and underperform. This includes getting the food to customers fast, delivering a seamless online ordering strategy, and offering an inclusive menu with options for a variety of diets and palettes.

  • Clear Curbside Pickup Confusion

Even after years of its presence in the food and retail industries, curbside pickup is still new to many customers, with some just beginning to trust or understand the process, This is particularly true for older customers, who may, in fact, need the service the most.

Because the details differ between restaurants and locations, customers need to be fully informed about how the whole thing actually works before taking a leap. Unfortunately, many restaurants still fail to clearly explain how to pick up an order curbside.

When a customer arrives and is made to wait, either because the restaurant doesn’t have their order ready, or because they are understaffed and unable to expeditiously get the order out to a consumer’s vehicle, problems arise. This can result in cancellations or the loss of a customer’s business forever. Implementing simple details in a restaurant’s website like providing estimated pick-up times to minimize waiting time, acknowledging customers when they arrive, and confirming when an order is ready could have a huge impact on improving the customer experience.

  • Make Delivery Work For You

Finally, many restaurants continue to rely on 3rd party delivery services as their primary ordering mechanism. Not only does this affect a restaurant's bottom line due to huge commissions, but it takes control away from the restaurant. When the 3rd party platform makes mistakes, shows up late, or delivers cold or messy food, it reflects poorly on the restaurant. In fact, a great many consumers blame the restaurant either entirely or in addition to the delivery service if there is a problem with their order.

Platforms like Sauce that allow customers to order directly from a restaurant’s website give control back to the businesses, minimizing or eliminating these issues. At the same time, a more personal customer-business relationship returns along with trust, confidence, and loyalty.

4 Key Issues to Ensure Customers Satisfaction in 2023-2024

1) Superior Service

Brands must focus on delivering an experience that exceeds what was acceptable pre-2020. Simple details like greeting customers when they enter, optimizing your website, being friendly and helpful, and maintaining adequate supply levels are critical. This involves adequate staffing, training, and clear communication about take-out, delivery, and curbside pickup.

2) Integrated technology

Much like customers want to be greeted when they walk into a restaurant, they also expect their orders to be confirmed, pickup and delivery times to be communicated, and orders to be correct.

3) Consis­tent and clear communication

Woven into the fabric of food industry life, pickup and delivery technologies are no longer the new kid in town and restaurants must keep up to survive.

When it comes to service excellence for delivery and take-out service, clear communication is a must. For this reason, it is actually not possible to over-communicate with customers about their orders, particularly when they are experiencing something for the first time. But many restaurants fall short in this area.

  • 70% do not notify customers when their orders are ready.

  • 24% of restaurants fail to confirm orders or give an estimated pickup time

  • 19% do not provide clear pickup instructions

4) Measure results

Regularly measuring the subjective customer experience through one-on-one communication and observation, as well as objective metrics like reviews, wait times, and order accuracy is critical to ensuring that your restaurant is delivering on your brand’s promises and keeping customers satisfied.

To stop paying huge commissions on deliveries and get delivery working for you, contact Sauce for a free demo, and be ready for rising customer expectations as 2024 approaches.

By Eileen Strauss


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