As the Information Age evolves, the internet becomes not only an encyclopedic source of knowledge but also a tool that transforms trends in consumption. It is evident that the World Wide Web has revolutionized consumer culture, but has it impacted how we dine? Presumably yes, but a recent survey conducted by Coyle Hospitality Group has presented surprising answers.
The recent survey was presented to 2,437 diners, of which 92% dine out at ‘new’ restaurants (those they have not dined at previously), at least once a month. Additionally, 16% of those surveyed, dine at such ‘new’ restaurants once a week or more. Their candid responses to questions about the internet’s role in their decision to dine at specific restaurants offer varying conclusions.
When those surveyed were asked what influenced them most to dine at a particular restaurant, word of mouth still reigned supreme. It was followed by user reviews, then professional reviews, and finally newspapers. This tells us that diners begin researching based on other diners’ experiences. Whether they are friends, acquaintances or simply others who have dined at the restaurant in question, people are looking for real-life experience to base their dining decisions on – either in person or on the web.
Informational sites, though substantive, do not appear to play a significant role in the dining decision-making process.
Coyle Hospitality Group Survey finds that the major review/restaurant directory sites were ‘never’ used by a distinct majority of those surveyed. More than 3/4 of the respondents (78%) responded that they have never booked a dining reservation online. Those who did generally cited positive experiences booking reservations online. Citysearch, was the information site utilized most frequently (59% of those surveyed). Citysearch offers an editorial review and also presents user reviews and recommendations prominently, suggesting that cyber ‘word of mouth’ has some value in this context.
Though they are not used as frequently as one would suspect, 68% of respondents did indicate that the existence of informational websites was ‘helpful’ or ‘very helpful’, reminiscent of hotel fitness centers; desired by the masses, used by the few.
Sixty-seven per cent of those polled indicated that the quality of a restaurant’s personal website is indeed an indicator of the level of service they can expect to receive when dining there. When asked to rate the importance of website content such as online menus, prices, recent reviews, chef information and photos of the dining area, responses varied.
The clear winner was availability of menus leading all other categories in both the ‘Must Have’ and ‘Very Important’ categories. Two-thirds of those surveyed felt that menus played a very important role. A restaurant having its own web site was also deemed crucial with 86% putting it at or above ‘Very Important’. Photos of the dining room were also cited by the majority as at least ‘Very Important’. Recent Reviews are important, but only 10% listed them as a ‘Must Have’. Sorry chefs, prospective diners placed little emphasis on staff bios.
The data suggests potential diners are seeking to do what actual diners do: They begin by reviewing the menu and looking around the dining room.
Coyle Hospitality Group survey results clearly beg the question “Is marketing on the web necessary?”
The mega dining sites online currently offer a wealth of information, but the actual traction that they provide restaurateurs in gaining prospective diners is questionable at best. In other words, they don’t appear to turn lookers into bookers with anywhere near the same leverage as those diners already sitting in your restaurant. Not to say that these online media are unimportant or should be ignored. This type of information is still fairly new and evolving, but is still searching for its place at the table in helping diners actually choosenew dining spots. Satisfying each and every guest that comes through your doors is still your surest bet to securing new diners.
Moreover, it appears that if a restaurant’s onlyweb presence is on directories or dining sites, the impact of the information that they provide is even more muted. Diners are seeking hard facts about your menus and pricing and it would stand to reason that menu information on a directory may not be perceived as up-to-date. It appears that presenting even a basic website with menus and some photos is a big help. Notwithstanding that many diners find this the easiest way to get directions, check hours, and yes, even dial your phone number.
Jim Coyle, president of Coyle Hospitality Group suggests that seeking out guest feedback while they are in the restaurant is key. “We have seen that poor service, especially, is taken personally. The most ardent raves come from people who were disappointed somehow and the restaurant came through for them. In the same vein, people will not stop talking when they feel their disappointment was ignored or simply not noted by the establishment. Management has to ‘touch tables’ and do it meaningfully.”
The first step is being aware of which websites have your restaurant listed and carefully monitoring responses. This can be crucial in managing the way potential diners view your establishment. “Finally,” Coyle continues, “restaurants that use their website to provide relevant information succinctly will have an advantage over those making product pitches.”
About Coyle Hospitality Group
Coyle Hospitality Group is a market leader providing mystery shopping and brand quality assurance services exclusively to hotels, restaurants and spas worldwide. Since 1996, Coyle has completed over 30,000 quality evaluations exclusively for hospitality clients. For more information please visit www.coylehospitality.com or call (212) 629-2083.