This is a tough time for all types of retailers, but it’s an especially challenging time for the restaurant industry. Yes, Americans love to eat out. And yes, they now have more choices than ever before. But unlike other retail formats, even established players in the restaurant category must deal with the ongoing arrival of new competitors.
Restaurants that have weathered the recession are now seeing new brands and new locations pop up every day. This constant and relentless evolution of the number, types and location of competitors is a crushing challenge. With so many contenders vying for consumers’ dollars, it’s harder than ever for restaurants to stand out in the crowd or to cultivate a loyal clientele.
While many restaurants have spent energy upgrading and innovating menus, and some have revamped floor plans and interiors, far fewer have focused on innovating the overall experience. Experience innovation’s key attraction lies in its ability to pioneer paradigms and to uncover inventive ways to attract and satisfy customers. It’s also developmental in nature, which means that it points to the creation of new features, unique benefits, fresh processes and original formats. It’s a comprehensive approach that covers everything from the type of parking you offer to the way you serve salads.
An experience innovation initiative can reinvigorate or even reinvent your value proposition. Here are six reasons to launch an initiative for your organization. If some of these rationales match up with your business challenges, this might be a good time to dive into experience innovation.
1. You need innovations that you can own.
You need to develop proprietary advantages that work with your brand and with your business’s DNA. Your experience innovations need to fit with who your brand is and what your restaurant does so that these advantages are more specific to you, and harder for other restaurants to successfully replicate.
2. You need to be worth the drive.
Your business competes with eating options on every corner. Location alone isn’t enough. Your properties have to be worth the extra mile. You need to find and fully leverage reasons for consumers to drive past other dining options to get to your locations.
3. You need innovations that are easy to “operationalize.”
Your business offers its own set of operational challenges and opportunities, and you need to innovate in a way that works for all your locations. What works beautifully in one location might be a nightmare in another.
4. You’ve done what you can with customer satisfaction research.
You need to go beyond the informational and dig into the transformational. Customer satisfaction research is effective at reporting how current customers feel about existing elements, but it can’t tell you what non-customers think, or help you learn how to innovate the experience in completely new ways.
5. You want to enhance every aspect of the customer experience.
An excellent experience is multidimensional, and innovation needs to enhance the experience spectrum, not just select elements. The restaurant experience is not limited to the waitstaff. It’s also about parking options, payment systems, restrooms, menu sourcing, line waits and wi-fi.
6. You need to see your brand through the eyes of noncustomers.
Your business has to explore changes that expand appeal to new demographic and psychographic groups if it wants to grow and thrive. It’s crucial to know what works with your existing customers, but you also need to know how noncustomers view your business. You want to know why people are passing you by.
If some of these rationales match up with your current business challenges, this might be a good time to dive into experience innovation.
Elizabeth Kelly Richwine is the Chief Strategy Office and General Manager of Leap Research and Innovation. She helps small and large corporations learn new ways to look, learn and leverage information and insights. Contact her at [email protected].