Is Your Timing Off? How Service Flow Affects Diners

Coyle Hospitality recently collected data from 2,469 diners worldwide, exploring the impact of attributes such as food, staff attitude and timing of service on their likelihood to recommend a restaurant to others. In today’s segment, we examine the impact that service timing has on restaurant recommendations. For our survey, restaurant segments were determined by respondents self-reporting the approximate cost of meal: casual $15-$30; luxury $31-$50; upscale $51-80. Coyle’s questions were short and to the point. We asked: What was the last full-service restaurant you ate at?  On a scale of 1-10, how likely would you be to recommend that restaurant? Why? 

By asking our respondents “why” they would recommend a restaurant, Coyle was able to not only develop a list of the most important attributes for various segments, but to see what specifically within those segments was most influential.  In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed how food, staff attitude and restaurant atmosphere impact referrals. While timing only came up in 11% of positive responses for diners at both upscale and luxury restaurants, it’s mentioned more as a positive driver in the casual dining segment (30%) (see chart). This is consistent with what our mystery shopping services often uncover based on restaurant secret shopper reports.

In this way, timing seems to behave a lot like cleanliness; diners do not reward restaurants with good timing, but timing problems carries a high penalty across segments. Guests perceive wait times very negatively – from waiting for a table, to waiting to order, for drinks, for food, for the check, etc.  Restaurants can expect, when timing is a negative issue, that they’ll lose referrals and recommendations. And, according to our survey results, when service is slow, guests do not differentiate which specific aspect is slow; instead, they become dissatisfied overall.  In all restaurant segments, the top complaint among respondents was that courses were delivered too slowly and there were long waits during service. Slow timing is mentioned as an issue most frequently(22%) at casual dining restaurants. 

Fortunately, timing is an area that operators can easily improve upon by setting timed service standards. These standards should be developed, trained and tested to ensure they are being met. Coyle’s restaurant consulting services include mystery shopping programs in which evaluators specifically rate the timing of all table services. A restaurant secret shopper notes time lapses between requests and delivery, and between courses throughout the meal.

While timing that’s right on the mark may not have as much of an impact on referrals as attributes like food, one interesting exception is in the luxury category, where positive timing is mentioned 25% of the time – and it’s slower timing that’s important. For luxury restaurants, it appears that getting timing right can definitely add to the probability that diners will recommend the restaurant to others. It’s just a relaxed pace that diners want. See the following comments:

“We never felt rushed, and it seemed like each employee took their time to make us feel welcome”. . . “The server took his time introducing how each wine complemented the different courses”. . . “We were able to relax and take in the view in between leisurely courses.”

As Coyle’s hospitality consultants have often found, while timing may not be “everything”, it may be the icing on the cake of guest loyalty.

Click to other posts related to this survey:

Atmosphere Makes An Impact
Good or Bad: Attitude Matters to Diners
How’s The Food
Are Your Guests Raving About Your Restaurant?
The Words Matter in “Word of Mouth”

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