Restaurant customer loyalty, also known as brand loyalty, can be difficult to quantify and correlate. That may be because loyalty is based on human emotion. What makes brands so irresistible and alternately, what exactly makes your customers tick?
If you consider what emotion entails, you realize that it’s connected to sensory experience, primarily what a customer tastes, smells and feels when they’re in your restaurant. The brands that are excelling in customer loyalty are those that provide consistent, positive experiences. For restaurants, customer loyalty comes down to the sensory experience of the food offerings supported by the positive vibes of good customer service at every location.
Streamlining menu items and making experiences consistent across an entire restaurant network is a tall order, but there are brands that are winning the game by highlighting their strengths and connecting with customers on a deeper level. That emotional connection is the X factor known as “True Loyalty,” and it’s the key takeaway of Nation’s Restaurant News’ annual Consumer Picks survey, which provides a comprehensive look at customer preferences and restaurant brand strengths across 126 chains. As NRN points out, the restaurants vary widely in menu, atmosphere and service style, but the strong ones create a deep connection with customers.
To measure a brand’s true loyalty score, NRN asked survey respondents if their last visit to each chain was driven by convenience or by a true desire to experience that brand. True Loyalty was therefore measured as the percentage of visits that were motivated by the brand and not by circumstance. In other words, just having a lot of convenient, accessible locations doesn’t help a brand in this ranking. (Learn more about the Consumer Picks methodology on NRN’s website.) Case in point is No. 1 In-N-Out Burger which has just a small fraction of the number of locations No. 126 McDonald’s has.
In-N-Out Burger in the No. 1 spot reminds me of a story about a Hollywood director who was nominated at the Oscars and disappointed when he didn’t win. To cheer up, he drove to In-N-Out Burger in his tux and ate a cheeseburger. This anecdote illustrates the cult-like following of In-N-Out Burger as well as the emotional connection customers have to it. Looking further down the list, in the absence of Hollywood fandom, it’s less apparent why certain brands ranked higher than others in loyalty.
Kelly Bailie Fechner of Dataessential, which helps to produce the annual Consumer Picks report, provides better understanding of why brands “hit the high mark” for True Brand Loyalty. She highlights fresh, flavorful food and successful limited-time offers (LTOs) in four of the top chains:
- No. 2, Papa Murphy’s Take N Bake Pizza – emphasizes its fresh product. Compared to other limited-service pizza competitors, it has a 20-point advantage for freshness and high-quality food in a unique offering that customers can bake fresh at home.
- No. 3, Red Lobster – has become a destination for special occasions, LTOs and seasonal campaigns, with 70% of customers visiting for them.
- No. 11, Pei Wei – has an 18-point advantage in the successful use of LTOs, with 27% of customers visit the restaurant just to try them.
- No. 12, Whataburger – has a 16-point advantage over other limited-service burger chains for taste, freshness and portion sizes. It also provides an excellent customer experience by bringing food out to customers’ tables.
Let’s face it: if your heart isn’t in the food and in making customers smile, you can’t win in customer loyalty.
The good news is that brand auditing can help raise the bar on your menu offerings, consistency and customer service. Obtaining this information at the store-level is more feasible than you might think. You just need to equip your restaurant managers with the right tools for auditing and communication. The easiest way to do that is through mobile technology with devices your employees are already comfortable using.
Learn more about Zenput’s mobile solution that helps simplify operations at restaurants. Also, check out this case study to see how No. 15 Papa John’s increased store performance by 15% in their first 3 months of using Zenput.