Steritech offered some solutions to avoid getting caught on the wrong side of this issue:
- Regularly re-evaluate packaging (especially as you add new menu items)
- Consider a tamper-proof security seal
- Make sure customers have clear directions on how to report a problem
- Consider using a third-party assessment program to evaluate your delivery process and quality.
Few things rankle operators more than the so-called “Yelp effect.” But we can’t debate how vital online reviews are to businesses, especially at the local level.
Steritech found that nearly three quarters of respondents sometimes or often use restaurant review sites to help select where they will dine.
Social media impact:
- 58 percent said they would be very or somewhat likely to share a restaurant experience on social media.
- 65 percent of those said they are more likely to share a positive experience than a negative one.
Online review effect:
- 49 percent of respondents said they are very or somewhat likely to share a restaurant experience on a restaurant review site.
- 66 percent of those are more likely to post a positive review than a negative one.
It’s probably worth noting that if you ask someone outright if they’d post a negative or positive review they’ll probably say positive, even though there seems to be a negative critic in everyone these days.
These are the negative comments on review sites that keep customers away:
- 23 percent: Quality of food (taste/appearance)
- 21 percent: Restaurant cleanliness
- 18 percent: Service quality and hospitality
Steritech suggested fixing and avoiding the negativity, to understand what matters most to your customers—and focusing on those areas. “Ensure that you are monitoring and responding to both negative and positive reviews online; it might be impossible to respond to every post, but customers often consider a business’s responses to a negative review in their decisions to dine,” the company said.
This is great advice. Responding to a negative review shows a human element to the restaurant that could inspire guests to give it a second chance. And having that sort of “in” with the owner is often a path to repeat loyalty.
On the cleanliness topic
Yes, diners care about the health department score. Twenty-five percent said they always take note, while 38 percent said they sometimes take note. The survey showed that older diners were less likely to look, but were also more susceptible to food safety issues.
- 41 percent said a health department score would factor into their decision to dine at a restaurant
- 38 percent said their previous experience at a restaurant would influence their decision to dine there, even if the health department score was low.
Where do restaurants go wrong?
- 41 percent: Sticky or dirty tables
- 23 percent: Dirty restroom
- 12 percent: Poor employee hygiene or attire
Review sites, like Yelp, are starting to incorporate health department scores into their publicly available data. That’s a sure-fire way to lose a customer before you even have the chance to impress them.
“For chain restaurants, knowing how each of your locations is performing may help you flag issues to address,” Steritech said. “Correcting them could help boost sales. Find a partner that can help you periodically evaluate your restaurant operations as well as the non-food areas of your business that impact customer satisfaction, like restroom and exterior cleanliness.”
Don’t be hit with an outbreak
You only need to glance at Chipotle to understand the gravity a food illness outbreak can have on your brand. The 2015 E. coli crisis erased nearly half of the fast casual’s market cap. While Chipotle has rebounded in many ways, especially since former Taco Bell head Brian Niccol joined as CEO in March, the stigma remains a recurring issue. Every food safety issue reported turns into a major story on Wall Street. It’s why the company tapped Zenput to bring the process mobile, and decided to re-train its entire staff after a Powell, Ohio, location shut down in July.
Steritech’s findings from a single location foodborne illness impact:
- 30 percent said they would never eat at that location again
- 24 percent said they’d stay away for one to six months.
- 18 percent said they’d stay away for six months to a year.
This can affect an entire chain, too. When asked if they would avoid eating at other locations in the chain if a single location was involved in an outbreak:
- 31 percent said yes
- 50 percent said maybe
(So that’s 81 percent of people who suddenly don’t fully trust an entire chain of restaurants).
- How long would these customers stay away:
- 19 percent stop eating at the chain.
- 58 percent stay away one month to a year.
If it’s multiple locations of a chain (Chipotle had a 14-STATE problem), the percentage of respondents that would avoid eating at other locations in the chain more than doubles to over 68 percent.
- 31 percent said they’d never eat at the chain again
- 18 percent said they would avoid the chain for longer than a year
“Customers expect the food they purchase from restaurant to be safe; violate that trust, and you could lose their business forever,” Steritech said.
Steritech offered some solutions, emphasizing that it comes down to the restaurant’s culture. A robust food safety program should include:
- Supplier verifications
- Standard operating procedures
- Training that incorporate food safety
- Third-party food safety assessment program for all locations
In sum, it’s tough out there. With all of the choices at a customer’s literal fingertips, brands are finding little wiggle room when it comes to operational success. Slip up and it can be steep climb back. The best counter is ensuring that your brand concentrates on the staples—service, quality, and execution—and owning the things it does best. Every day.