Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Restaurants’

When evaluating a restaurant, the quality of food is not like other factors considered — it has a special status. The same goes quite as much for other food establishments like coffee-houses. The customers or patrons may trade-off several factors which include the food, service, venue, price and location, yet food quality usually gets a much greater weight than the other attributes, suggesting that the decision process is practically not fully compensatory. The quality of the food, its taste and how much we enjoy it, is a “pre-condition” to dining at a restaurant. However, the balance with other attributes is important; in some cases, failure on those other attributes can be detrimental to the willingness of consumers to return to a restaurant or a coffee-house.

  • Some coffee-houses effectively function as ‘coffee-restaurant’ establishments by serving meals of a variety of food items suitable for every time of day (from eggs, salads and toasts to soups, pasta, hamburger or chicken-breast schnitzel with supplements).

Suppose that Dina and Mark, a fictional couple, are dining at a restaurant and find the dishes served to them being well-prepared and they enjoy very much the food’s taste. However, they are very unhappy with the sluggish service they get and inappropriate answers of the waiter, and feel the atmosphere in the restaurant is not pleasant (e.g., too dark or too noisy). The experience of Dina and Mark can be greatly hampered by factors other than food. How superior should the food be for our diners to be ready to tolerate bad service or a place they do not feel comfortable to be in for an hour or two?

On the other hand, Dina and Mark would likely expect the food (e.g., a dish like ‘risotto ai funghi’ [with mushrooms]) to uphold to a certain gratifying standard (i.e., that the ingredients are genuine, the texture is right, and the dish is overall tasty). If the food is not perceived good enough and diners do not enjoy it, this takes out the point of considering dining at the restaurant altogether. But if the food is good though not so special or great, yet the patrons Dina and Mark feel the staff truly welcome them, treat them warmly and cater to sensitivities they may have, they could still be happy to dine at such a restaurant again, and again. When the food is already satisfactory, additional facets of the experience such as great service and a pleasing ambience can increase substantially the desirability of a restaurant or coffee-house as a place consumers would  like to patronize. We may be looking at a decision process where at first food is a non-compensatory criterion, yet above a certain perceived threshold the balance customers-patrons strike between food and other attributes of their experience becomes more intricate and complex.

Browsing reviews of restaurants that are shared on TripAdvisor’s traveller website can provide helpful clues on how customers-patrons relate to food and additional factors in their appraisals of their experiences at restaurants. Reviews were sampled of Italian and Asian restaurants in Tel-Aviv and London (members-reviewers may be city locals, national and international travellers — examples are quoted anonymously so that reviewers and the specific restaurants they review are not identified by name).

Reviewers most often open by referring to the food they have had at the restaurant; next they may give their assessment of the service they have received, design and atmosphere, price or value, and location of the restaurant. Thus, a review may start by appraising the food as good / great / delicious, and then stating that the service was good / nice / efficient. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon for diners-reviewers to open with an assessment of the service they have received at the restaurant. There seems to be a greater propensity to open the review with service when it is superb, but also on the contrary when it is terrible. Occasionally a review will refer firstly to the atmosphere in the restaurant, which is formed by aspects such as interior design or décor, lighting, music and overall ambience. Atmosphere will appear first or at least early in the review particularly when it is superior or inferior.

Additionally, we can distinguish between reviews that are composed of a few short argument-like statements about the food, service and other attributes, and reviews that tell a story (i.e., a narrative-like review). There are diners-reviewers who go especially into detail of the dishes or items of food they, and possibly their companions, have ordered, and their opinion of the food. Yet reviewers may also describe how they were treated by the serving staff, particularly when they felt exceptionally welcome and cared for or annoyed and undesired. Reviews that have a narrative give a stronger impression of the course of dinner to the reader who can more easily visualize it.

It seems that when diners-reviewers say the food is ‘good‘, they do not throw it out of hand; they do mean that the food is truly good, fresh and tasty. This appraisal should be interpreted as a base threshold for being satisfied with the food. When the food is more than ‘good’, reviewers explicitly express it with adjectives like ‘great’, ‘delicious’, ‘fabulous’ or ‘amazing’. Conversely, descriptions of the food as ‘average’, ‘OK’, and moreover as ‘mediocre’, are certainly not compliments, more likely suggesting the food was barely satisfactory. Unless there was something else especially good about the experience in that restaurant like its service or venue, the reviewer would probably have little motivation to return.  Consider for example a reviewer who said about an Italian restaurant in Tel-Aviv: “The ONLY redeeming factor is, in my opinion, the ambience, which is really cozy and relaxed. Too bad they don’t serve food to match” (capitals in origin, rating: 2 ‘rings’ out of 5). Similarly, a reviewer of an Asian restaurant in London complimented it for its “friendly and attentive” waiting staff, but concluded: “So there were a lot of positives about this place, but I’m afraid the food just wasn’t good quality. It was very bland and boring” (rating: 2 ‘rings’). On the other hand, a review of an Asian restaurant in Tel-Aviv offers the opposite case wherein the reviewer states “AMAZING food, OUTRAGEOUS service” (title, capitals in origin), and ends with the conclusion “basically terrible service which was definitely the opposite of the wonderful tasty food we were served” — the rating for this restaurant experience: also 2 ‘rings’.

  • A prospective diner who looks for a restaurant to try for the first time may find the choice task confusing and daunting when reviews of the same restaurant are quite the opposite of each other in their content. Still, it usually does not take too long to realise the ratio of positive to negative reviews given to a restaurant, in addition to the chart of distribution of ratings it received.

Service appears as the second most important factor after food in a restaurant. Patrons want the waiting staff to be friendly and respectful (this of course is a two-way street), be attentive and not letting them feel forgotten, and to be flexible and kind enough to accommodate their personal sensitivities or preferences (e.g., less spicy, nuts-free, replace polenta with rice as supplement). Less pleasant or efficient service will not necessarily make diners-reviewers reject the restaurant if its food is excellent, but they could drop one grade off its rating (e.g., from 5 to 4). Inversely, when the diners-reviewers are happy with the quality and taste of food, then also meeting a warm and helpful waitress — or sitting in comfort in a beautifully designed venue — can make the whole experience so much better. Reviewers repeatedly emphasise when, on top of their pleasure of the food, they are impressed by a waiter or waitress who smiled to them, was friendly, attentive and helpful, and made them feel at home. A reviewer of an Italian restaurant in London explains why it is her favourite: “Quite simply, the food is absolutely gorgeous. Wonderful ingredients and very well cooked. But most of all the welcome that we received and service that we got from everyone is great” (rating: 5).

A particular aspect of service is the length of time a customer has to wait either to be seated at a table or while dining. Many restaurants take table reservations, but not all do. Not taking reservations is legitimate, but it is far less acceptable and even offensive when staff at a restaurant (including coffee-restaurants) run a waiting list at the doorstep and appear pleased with letting prospect customers gather and wait outside as if to show around how popular their establishment is; if you complain they may even hint at you how much they do not really need your patronage. Such past experience may have made a British reviewer visiting an Italian restaurant in Tel-Aviv be thankful when: “The staff were very pleasant and found us a seat on a very busy afternoon without behaving as if they were doing us an enormous favour”. In a different case, at an Asian restaurant in London, a reviewer commented: “Long wait to be seated, despite the place being half empty, as the servers were running around serving tables but not seating people”. Considerate restaurant proprietors may keep seats reserved for people waiting (e.g., next to the bar), and may even offer them a free drink if waiting is extended.

While at the table, diners dislike when waiters appear to forget them behind or somehow miss sight of them (e.g., waiting for menus, for taking order and bringing courses ordered, for the cheque). A reviewer in Tel-Aviv was critical pointedly of servers who “it seems lost interest”, and started chatting with their colleagues or playing on their phones. Waiting staff are expected to stand by, being ready to answer requests or voluntarily enquire if diners need anything. An American reviewer at another Italian restaurant in the city, coming “late one night”, appreciated that “my waitress made an effort to check on me regularly”. At an Italian restaurant in London, a reviewer noted that on arriving early for a meeting, “I was offered a newspaper to read while I waited which I thought a rather nice touch”; overall, he commended the service whereby “the staff proficiently and effortlessly ensured everyone felt special and were looked after”. Seemingly little touches matter!

In restaurants of fine cuisine it seems justified to wait patiently longer for an order (e.g., 20 minutes for a main course) as it could mean that the dish is freshly prepared with care for you in those very moments from start to finish [an advice received from my father]. In many ‘popular’ or casual restaurants, however, it would be much less the expectation, though it could depend on the type of food and how complicated it is perceived to prepare the dish. Furthermore, the sensitivity of customers-patrons to time spent could be subject to the occasion (e.g., meeting and dining leisurely in the evening vs. a pre-theatre dinner or a lunch break).

Reviews tend not to address directly the time until a dish ordered is served but more generally relate to the waiting time at any stage while being at the table. Some relevant references were traced in reviews of Asian restaurants in London: (a) A reviewer noted that “service can be slow” and “a bit hit and miss” (although the food and atmosphere were good); (b) Waiting for food was raised by a reviewer as an issue for concern: the waitresses seemed “understaffed” and having “stressed looking faces”, with the result that “We sat around with no food or drink for over 20 minutes before we could grab a waitresses’ attention” (the food was “fantastic” and the rating given could otherwise be 5 rather than 4 — the reviewer “would defiantly” return); (c) A reviewer who was overall happy with the friendly and efficient service and “freshly cooked and tasty delicious” food particularly remarked that the “food came quickly”.

The aesthetics of interior design of a restaurant or coffee-house can also have an impact on consumers’ attitude towards the place and on their behaviour. The style, materials, colours, surrounding decorations, furnishing, lighting etc. are instrumental in the way the design helps to create a certain atmosphere and mood (e.g., cold or warm; traditional or top-notch modern; quiet, ‘cool’ or energetic).

John Barnett and Anna Burles of ‘JB/AB Design’, a London-based agency specialising in design of coffee shops, offer six instructive guidelines on the ways design on different levels can contribute to brand experience. They start with creating a happening in the coffee shop (‘The shop is a stage’), followed by using appetizing imagery of food (‘customers eat with their eyes’); being authentic and relevant; persuasive visual merchandising; creative ambience; and giving customers good reasons to come and ‘gather around a table’ in  the coffee shop. Their recommendations sound mostly if not all adaptable to more types of food and drink establishments, including restaurants. In setting an authentic design, they advise to ‘say it like you mean it’ all round the shop : “The whole shop is a canvas for imagery and messaging that forms the basis of a conversation with your customers”.

Reviewers-diners talk less frequently of aspects of interior design and description of the space of the venue; broader references are made to atmosphere or ambience. In the case of an Italian restaurant in the Tel-Aviv area with an elegant modern design, three different reviewers noted it has “a very nice décor”, that it is “very spacious and modern”, and the “interior is beautiful, a lot of air”. A reviewer relating to an Italian restaurant in London wrote: “The décor seems a little dated, but there were some fun touches”. This reviewer also addressed music played in creating a pleasing atmosphere (“alternated nicely between Frank Sinatra and Luciano Pavarotti — perfect!”). A reviewer-diner mentioned earlier, who was impressed by the newspaper gesture, also said of that Italian restaurant: “The ambience was extremely relaxed and the décor is comfortable, plush and smart”. An Asian restaurant in Tel-Aviv was described by a reviewer as “pleasant, with very informal atmosphere, soft background music, and industrial/downtown décor”.

Some appraisals of design and atmosphere sound somewhat more reserved though still positive. For example, a reviewer said of a luxury Asian restaurant in London that it is “very dark inside, but somehow it is also very cooling place”. A reviewer in another luxury Asian restaurant was very impressed by a modern-futuristic design yet felt uncomfortable with it: “The place is playing with your perception, slightly disorienting with its colours and stairs and reflecting surfaces”. The reviewers quoted above were largely very happy with the food as well as the service. In just one case observed, a reviewer of an Asian restaurant in Tel-Aviv became very upset with the food and proclaimed “Sorry! But when we decide to go to the restaurant, we wish to have a good meal, NOT ONLY a trendy design” (capitals in origin, rating: 1). In this case the “rather nice designed place” could not compensate for a poor food experience. Customers-patrons welcome inspiring and modern designs, but the design must also feel pleasing to the eye and comfortable — be creative with designs but not be excessive.

A top priority for restaurants, and to a similar degree also for coffee-houses, remains taking the most care of the quality and taste of the food they serve. However, it is essential to also look after additional factors or facets that shape the customer’s experience such as service, design and atmosphere, price or value. The kind of service customers-patrons experience is especially a potential ‘game-changer’. Additionally, consumers may not be coming to a restaurant or coffee-house for its design but if it looks appealing the design and atmostphere can make the stay more comfortable and enoyable, and encourage patrons to stay longer, order more, and return. Food is a central pivot of customer appraisals, yet other facets of the experience can tilt it either way: spoil and even ruin the experience or instead support and enhance it.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Not many people would resist a nice meal of a 200g burger sandwich, whole and rich with supplements, ketchup on top, and a side dish of French fries or fried onion flakes. But the venue of dining also counts in shaping the diner’s experience — it is likely for a diner to expect a more tasty and enjoyable burger meal at a full-service grill restaurant compared with a fast food restaurant. A number of factors affect the attraction of a restaurant to diners in addition to food quality, like atmospherics of the venue, service and attitude towards customers. “Moses”, a small-medium chain (8 branches) of grill bar-diners in Israel, has created a brand theme aimed at making patrons-diners feel more welcome and wanted at their restaurants. At the core of the theme are anthropomorphization of Moses as a cat wearing a wide smile and his style of language that is meant to let customers feel more at ease, like they belong in the restaurant as personal guests of Moses.

  • See epilogue with update at the bottom (June 2018)

The language Moses uses to tell patrons-diners about special offers, activities and events is personal, direct and very informal, often a non “going around the bush” kind of talk. It appears on table covers, postcards, signage, its website and other materials. This style also characterises its advertising. It may sound a little blunt sometimes but careful not to be offensive. The approach Moses takes to bring up any matter is intended in a humourous way. It seems that Moses is just trying to be frank, clever yet witty.

There is not much company-official text in English to give as an example since Moses addresses substantially Hebrew-speaking Israelis as in a casual discourse. And indeed Moses’s rhetoric employs expressions in Hebrew that have significance to Israelis but whose semantics may be partially lost in translation to English or other languages. Still, the tone and intention of the rhetorical style of Moses is preserved and can be sensed in the following examples. Moses typically takes a rather plain information or message and twists its presentation by inserting: (a) some doubt or skepticism, (b) adventurism or suspense, (c) irony.

The limited content in English on the Israel-native website of Moses appears (reasonably) to be translated from content originally composed in Hebrew. Consider the following phrases, extracted from the English version of the About page (note: information here is not updated as in Hebrew), to get a feel of how Moses talks to clients. Thus, when telling readers of the chain’s background Moses says:

“Here’s something you’ll find on every website, and here too. Do you really care if Moses Tel Aviv was established on November 2003, and it is part of a group of restaurants…” (Note: the group referred to includes other restaurants of different types of cuisine and brand names; since then Moses expanded as a distinct chain within the group).

Cutting short on the chain’s evolution, Moses comments:

“What’s really important is that they are open now. If you wanted to learn some history you’d probably log into Wikipedia or somewhere like that.”

Some consumers may not like to be sent-off like that to find more information, but another, and the correct way to read this is “Moses doesn’t want to waste your time; just come and eat”. In an age when people are shorter in time and can easily search and find information on the Web, Moses shows as understanding. (Moses also seems to understand the tendency of Israelis to be not very patient.)

In another example, a print ad from a few years ago for a new burger of Moses, Artburger, posed in large-bulk letters (‘loudly’) at the center of the copy: “How Many Times Do I Have to Explain to You That This Is Not a Hamburger?!”  Artburger is made of a mix of lamb, beef and veal meat. Text in small font at the bottom of the ad explained:

“In a competition conducted by TimeOut magazine, which is like what you are holding now but another, readers chose the Artburger of Moses, which is exactly what you will be holding soon, as the best hamburger. So this is the time to admit failure. If after all we had done, we couldn’t make you understand that Artburger isn’t really a hamburger, then we probably deserve this.”  (Translated, RV)

This is a clear attempt by Moses, if a little sarcastic, at differentiating its 250g Artburger with a superior-quality meticulous blend of meat from standard beef hamburger. Importantly, this is not a gimmick of one-off ad but an integral part of the language Moses consistently uses in its communication to consumers, part of his character. (An image of the original ad in Hebrew can be found in the Gallery; also see photos from restaurants in the chain and the Artburger Olympic Contest).

As a final example, Moses made an intriguing invitation or call for customers to participate in a satisfaction survey distributed on postcards at his restaurants. This is how the invitation went:

“Psss… Psss… Act normally. Continue reading as if this is just any other text on a postcard. Don’t let the waiters feel that something suspicious is going on here. Smile like what is written here is something funny. Now, in your most nonchalant way, throw a look at the bottom left corner of the postcard…did you get the (QR) code? It can turn you from regular Moses customers to … “mystery customers”, Hush… Yes, exactly as you’ve heard. Scan the code now and not at home, answer our discreet satisfaction questionnaire, show when finished to the waiter and get a scratching card, and maybe you will win a bonus to spoil yourself. Nice work, Agent. See you on the next mission.” (Translated, RV)

It is an attention-grabbing and engaging way of asking customers to participate in such a survey. In a ‘gamified’ kind of invitation, the task is put into a story of a secret mission — properly applied and difficult to ignore. The invitation has additional important elements like encouragement to reply immediately and a reward, both aimed at increasing the response rate (a link is further provided in addition to the code), yet embedded in a whole story that signals suspense and thrill (and also humour). Then finally comes this footnote:

” (!) This postcard will destroy itself instantly when finished reading if you spill a little ketchup on it, a bit of mayonnaise, wrinkle it into a little ball, and then throw to the garbage can…” — A nice touch of irony in mockery of espionage work…

Moses the cat is a cartoon character — he is known to consumers only by face, with his wide smile, his tongue hanging out as a signal of his mischievous nature, round eyes, red nose, and sharpened ears on top. The icon that identifies Moses visually fits well with his verbal language, and together they help build the brand personality: Moses is sociable, extrovert or approaching to others, light, direct but sometimes more subtle and sophisticated, looking for adventures, and he likes to make jokes but with the sting of irony. Over time some versions of the looks of Moses have appeared (e.g., in different colour, ears pointed to the sides or raised upwards) but they all have the same distinctive elements that are indicative of his character. Other visual elements like the design of the website (e.g., colours and shapes of “windows”) or the menu (recently re-designed in a graphic style similar to infographs) are consistent with the less-orderly conduct of Moses .

  • The face icon of Moses is reminiscent of Felix the Cat, a hero comic and cartoon character from the 1920s-1940s. The personality characteristics (e.g., adventurous, playing tricks on others) also match quite well. The chain has reportedly acquired the creative rights to use the icon-logo of the cat Moses from an American company that owns rights since the 1960s for an original animated figure (1), although the article does not mention the name of the original figure.

However, language can more than tell of the brand personality of Moses; it also speaks of the culture of Moses chain of restaurants as an organisation. When the language used in written and electronic communications is considered together with oral communication, conduct and other actions of the chain’s staff members in the restaurants, they indicate a culture that approaches customers, wants to get close to them and cares for them. Staff members on-site do not really talk as described above but they are courteous and waiters would usually ask diners how they were doing before taking order and return to ask how is the meal after serving. They also tend to fix problems and give away bonuses as compensation to conciliate with customers and keep them happy. Members of the customer club are called Moses Friends; the language used by Moses the cat seems to be directed especially to them and to encourage new ones to join as his friends. Moses Friends regularly get a bonus starter or dessert and accumulate stars for price discount. They also get priority seating.

Yuval Sela, founding partner (with the Yarsin Group) and CEO, defines Moses as “a restaurant that talks to everyone, at noon to business people, in the evening to families, and at night to the young ones after entertainment” (2). In fact, Moses restaurants have turned out most popular among families on weekends. The chain that considers itself a place for “Modern American Kitchen” runs a well-controlled number of restaurants, self-managed without franchising. Sela sees children as the anchors that bring families to their restaurants and therefore most important to satisfy — they give them game and drawing booklets with coloured pencils, and at least one restaurant added in the past year a play room for little children (“Gymboree”). For the young ones who come late at night they offer a night burger meal for a special price treat (42 NIS=€8.75). Beyond that they offer as expected a business lunch deal of a salad, 200g burger, side dish and soft drink/juice at a very fair price (competitive even against McDonald’s meals — 58 NIS to 50 NIS) and other attractions like “international burgers” in culinary styles of different countries. All together, it is evident of a culture of a business that cares for its varied customers.

The language of Moses in the chain’s communications will not appeal to everyone. Some may consider it impolite and intruding (e.g., senior citizens). Others may find this genre of language simply strange to them. It is essential to study and confirm to what segments that kind of language is appealling or at least can feel comfortable with it. Notably, five of the restaurants are located in the Tel-Aviv area in or near business districts that host professionals and managers in banking and finance, Hi-Tech and other business services and socio-economically privileged neighbourhoods. The recently added branch in the vacation resort city of Eilat is rather the exception and probably targets primarily consumers as families.

More frequently, the restaurants are in vicinity to patrons-diners that are likely to appreciate and welcome the spiked humorous and sometimes more sophisticated approach of Moses’s language. It is furthermore likely that consumers from those same circles are those that come outside working hours with friends and family to dine at Moses. It can be hoped that diners who come along with “devotees”, even if they do not truly welcome that style of language, will at least find it amusing.

Epilogue (June 2018):  In early 2017 Moses restaurant chain was acquired by BBB Group which already owned at that time two hamburger restaurant chains. Following this acquisition, BBB Group operates three chains with different positions of quality and value proposition: Burgerim — basic, fast-food; BBB (Burgus Burger Bar) — medium, good value; and Moses as its premium brand. However, within a year BBB dropped or abolished much of the symbols and elements of the brand personality of Moses, including the culture and language attached to it. Five of its current 11 branches are already operated by franchisers. The previous founding owners lamented that differentiation of the brand has eroded and revenues did not justify keeping up the chain. Yet the personality and culture of Moses did make the restaurant chain stand out from its competitors, including BBB itself. Moses is not the same as before; even its menu and how burger sandwiches are served have changed. The BBB Group has not made so far an attempt to revitalise the brand theme of Moses or replace it with something new and different. Without it, the task could become more difficult to maintain differentiation of Moses from other chains at least similar in position of quality and value, and it is losing its brand distinction and uniqueness.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

Notes:

(1) “How Did We Turn Into an Overeat People: 20 Hamburgers a Day and a Line to Restaurant at 3AM”, TheMarker Online (Hebrew), 23 Sept. 2010 http://www.themarker.com/misc/1.581423

(2) Ibid. 1 (Citation translated from Hebrew, RV)

 

Read Full Post »