As operators of restaurants and service-oriented businesses, we often focus on satisfying consumers’ tangible needs. You know, those traits they can see, smell and taste. After all, those are what we – and our customers –perceive as quality.
As outlined in LRS’ recent research paper, The Gravitational Pull of Fast Casual, the customer experience extends beyond what they see or taste. What customers feel, believe and value also shape their perception of “quality.” Research commissioned by LRS from leading research firm Technomic show that customer loyalty to restaurant brands is also rooted in their perception of a franchise’s social responsibility and community involvement. These things make customers feel better about their choices – and themselves.
Here’s a look at six of the more popular causes our customers value.
#1 Going all natural
Consumers are worried about eating artificial or “unnatural” foods and additives. One example is the perceived danger of genetically modified food products, both animal and vegetable, in our diets. Consumers want what they believe are natural ingredients. Chipotle proved that eliminating GMO ingredients altogether reaped them a healthy bump in sales.
Beside GMO foods, artificial sweeteners, corn syrups, refined sugar and heat, fillers and MSG are all red flags to conscious consumers. If we want to keep these diet-aware customers, menus need to be modified accordingly.
#2 Transparency – in everything
Consumers want transparency – they want to know what goes into their food. This often means labeling, such as the FDA regulations for groceries and menu items. But many diners want to know where the ingredients came from and even how they were grown.
Is the broccoli free from pesticides? Were the eggs from free-range chickens? If we can answer these questions, we’ll gain the trust of our customers and maybe their continued business.
#3 Going “local”
Diners and shoppers alike are going “local.” They want to support local, sustainable farming efforts. They want to know… was it mass-produced on a mega-farm, or organically by individual farmers in the next county?
Does it make a difference? Besides tasting better and helping local economies, consumers are aware of the environmental impact. Shipping foods over long distances has a greater carbon footprint than getting it “next door.”
#4 Fair wages, fair practices
It’s not just what’s in the food, or where it came from, but who produced it and how. Were the workers fairly compensated? Were the animals quartered and treated humanely?
In a world of great disparity in working conditions and income, many customers want to see everyone getting their fair share. After all, the farmers have families to feed, too.
#5 “Slow” food
For many consumers, the slow food movement is a delayed reaction to so much fast food. Full service diners – and home cooks – have time and money to enjoy food that has been slowly and meticulously prepared. But the speed and low price of quick service often wins out for the rest of us.
That’s why the fast casual segment has been so popular. Food doesn’t have to be mass-produced in advance to be inexpensive. And customers don’t want to be rushed to eat it, either.
#6 Contributing to the greater good
People just want to feel that they are part of something positive. Something that is bigger than themselves, that contributes to the greater good.
If you contribute a small percentage of your sales receipts to charity, they’ll feel it as though they reached into their own pocket. Helping kids buy textbooks, or feeding tsunami victims halfway around the globe, your efforts become their efforts.
Besides what’s on the menu, consumers want to feel you share their beliefs. That makes them feel “at home.” Is there any better customer experience than that?
Find Out More About the Explosion of Fast Casual and it’s Impact on the Other Segments
Complete the form below to download the LRS research paper The Gravitational Pull of Fast Casual. This free report examines the explosion of the Fast Casual segment, how diners’ changing preferences are impacting all three of the main categories (quick service, fast casual and full service) and the ways in which all three segments must evolve to compete.
John Weber is the chief technology officer at LRS and an expert in operational efficiency and creating a memorable guest experience.