Think of your restaurant as a 5 gallon bucket. Every day you fill that bucket with customers. Sometimes there’s a steady flow, sometimes it’s just a trickle, and sometimes it seems like a flood. No matter what kind of day it is, every customer flowing through your doors grades their experience and makes a decision on whether to come back or not.
The fewer holes you have in your bucket, the more customers you retain, and the more likely your bucket is to be full on a daily basis. After all, you don’t need much of a flow into your bucket if it’s already over half full. The Restaurant Marketing Group recently released their annual Leaky Bucket Report, which studies in-depth the most common holes in the major restaurant brands around the nation.
The trends in this year’s report probably won’t surprise you, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some lessons here to take to heart. According to the Leaky Bucket Report, 36% of respondents to the survey cited price and value as a reason for not returning to a restaurant. That’s an 11% increase in a single year.
Customers are looking for value. That means good food a great prices. Fine dining has been getting killed in the current economic climate. In fact, anybody who is viewed as too expensive is headed for disaster (think Starbucks). Undoubtedly you have seen national chains like Applebee’s roll out prix fixe dinner menus and other deals on traditionally pricy food (like steaks) at cut-rate prices.
Quality service rose 10% to 23% as a reason for restaurants to leak customers. The most interesting thing about the 2009 report is that location declined 7%, the first time a restaurant’s proximity was less important to customers in years. It appears that customers are saying “Give me a good price and great service and I will travel a few extra miles for it.”
The good news is price and service are two things a restaurant can control, as opposed to location, which most cannot. These are truly trying times for anyone in the restaurant industry, but it appears that those who chose to focus on the basics of good restaurant management, i.e. good service, good food, and good prices, are going to be the ones who survive the downturn.
In the end, the causes for leaks in your bucket are always the same; the only difference is that in times of growth, the stream of customers into the bucket masks the leaks. When that stream fades to a trickle, it’s what you’ve managed to save in the bucket that will get you through.