Consumer Values impact on Restaurant Marketing
I receive many online inquiries from restaurants that are experiencing a difficulty in generating business. They mostly all have something in common, and it’s not just that their poor restaurant marketing strategy, it’s something much deeper than that.
They have all failed to grasp the impact of Consumer Values on restaurant marketing. Restaurant marketing is an all-encompassing, amplified reflection of everything that happens inside and outside of a restaurant. Get the basics right and restaurant marketing becomes easy.
When given the right prompts, customers’ will happily oblige to the restaurant marketing on your behalf. So how do you get it right? There is no better place to start than to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and see learn how they perceive your restaurant.
So what do consumers value most about their experiences in a restaurant? Valuable research has been conducted into evaluating consumers’ perceived values in restaurant experiences, identifying a framework of 13 specific values and 5 higher level value categories.
The top level value categories are excellence, harmony, emotional stimulation, acknowledgement, and circumstantial value. Of these five values, harmony seems to carry the most weight for customers in a restaurant context.
This following information is critical to those in the restaurant business, because it can serve as a basis for identifying ways to provide an experience beyond your customers’ perceived value. The more value they perceive in their experiences at a restaurant, the happier they will be with the experience.
Understanding the basics
Enjoying a meal is one of the basic pleasures and necessities of human life. Whether eaten at home or in a restaurant, alone or with others, savoring a meal is an important experience in people’s lives.
What goes into enjoying a meal? Even when a group of people are eating together at a restaurant, each person will have his or her own experience. Their experiences will be different from each other, based on everything from what they order, to how stressful their work day was.
Their mindset and expectations also make a difference. When someone eats at a fast food place, their expectations and mindset are very different to that when they eat at a gourmet restaurant, or a trendy bistro with live entertainment.
Another factor is the value they each place on different components of the experience. For one person, the quality of the food might be the most important consideration, while for another; the restaurant atmosphere is of higher importance.
As a restaurant owner, it is important to understand the components that go into customers’ value judgments, in order to maximize the perceived value that you provide, thus increasing customer satisfaction.
What are consumer values?
While a scientific definition is “an interactive relativistic preference experience”, a simpler, more practical definition is simply that a consumer value is something that customers and potential customers value more than it’s opposite. For instance, they value comfort over discomfort and friendly service over unfriendly service.
Consumer values are always based on how the customer perceives things. For example, the value placed on the friendliness of service received is based purely on their own perception of the service, regardless of how anyone else might have perceived that service.
Here are some examples of consumer values from broad consumer studies, and how they could be applied to a restaurant experience.
- Consumers value excellence, and in a restaurant setting, this could be a consideration in multiple ways. Excellence of food, wait staff service or the valet parking. These all play into the consumer’s overall perception of excellence.
- This could be a consideration when people decide to visit a certain famous restaurant, or the hottest new place in town. Customers’ want to tell their friends that they visited this restaurant, and they view this as enhancing their status.
- This means having fun for its own sake, and doing things for the sheer enjoyment of doing them. Some restaurants promote having fun. This could be targeted at adults (for instance live entertainment), or for children (play areas or kids’ activities).
- People appreciate beautiful scenes and objects. In a restaurant, this aesthetic value could be influenced by the interior and exterior design. The nighttime view of city lights outside the window, the artwork on the walls, or the presentation of the food.
- People want to patronize a restaurant where the perceived ethics are in alignment with their own. For instance, if a restaurant promotes their use of local providers or organic produce, this could be a perceived value for customers who share those concerns.
- Customers may perceive time as a cost, especially as it applies to speed of service in a restaurant. This can make a difference in their choice of restaurant (selecting one known for quick service), or in their perception of value at a given restaurant. If they feel that slow service is wasting their time, particularly at lunch, they are placing importance on the value of time.
Consumer values and service expectations
Consumers’ perceived values with any service experience are based largely on their expectations. People will perceive the quality and value of the service they receive, based on how well it fulfills their expectations.
A customer’s perceived value is thus based on their predispositions and expectations of a service provider. In a fast food or take-out location, they may place the most value on quick and accurate service. For an elegant restaurant, their expectations are very different. The same service that they would consider good at a fast food place would be considered poor at a premium restaurant.
From a restaurant owner’s standpoint, it is important to ensure that the expectations you set for people through advertising and marketing efforts are in alignment with the service you provide. The more closely these are aligned, the more value consumers will find in your service. Customers want their expectations to be met or exceeded.
Another consideration is that consumer values may vary based on cultural norms. Bear in mind that one rule doesn’t work for all. The expectations and values of people from different geographic areas and cultural backgrounds can contradict when it comes to restaurants.
Examples of consumer value frameworks
Researchers have developed different frameworks that attempt to identify and explain consumer values and how they impact consumer behavior. Here are a few of the previous value frameworks that have been devised.
- One model uses a set of five dimensions to evaluate consumer values: reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy, and tangibles.In this framework, responsiveness refers to how willing staff are to help, and how prompt their service is. It reflects how well the restaurant can deal with customers in a way that makes them feel that their needs, requests, and problems have all been handled in a prompt and satisfactory manner.This system defines empathy as providing individual attention for each customer, making them feel that they and their needs are important, that the company understands and cares about them.
- A different framework lays out four elements of the product, which can then be linked to customer satisfaction: the structure element, back stage elements, the interaction element, and the “prosumer” element.The “prosumer” element here refers to the fact that customers are not just passive consumers, but in some cases may participate in the process themselves. For instance, in a fast food restaurant, customers may fill their own drinks from a machine.As compared to the prosumer element in this model, which is very dynamic, the structure element is static. It cannot be changed by either staff or customers during the course of a meal. An example of this would be the interior decor of the restaurant.
- Yet another framework is based on the approach of the Michelin Guide in evaluating restaurants. Here they use five different elements to describe the customer’s experience: product, meeting, atmosphere, room, and management control.
A new consumer value framework
Recent studies have determined a new way of categorizing consumer values, particularly as they are applicable to restaurant experiences. Determined through extensive customer interviews, and refined through data analysis techniques, this method of evaluating customer values shows great promise for use in the restaurant business.
This new framework identifies 13 single consumer values that affect their perception of a restaurant experience. These single values overlap a bit, but are primarily intended to be distinct, individual characteristics of the experience.
- Aesthetic balance
- Personal space
- Ego support
- Initiation value
The single values above are then combined and categorized into 5 higher level value categories. These are integrated values, based on the interaction of different single values. Here is the list of integrated value categories.
- Emotional stimulation
All of these consumer values are discussed further in the next sections.
Single consumer values
There is some slight overlap or interaction between these single values, but each of them is distinct enough to be described and evaluated on its own. Here are the meaningful single values, and how they apply for a restaurant business.
This relates to the sensation that the combination of elements in the restaurant experience blend well and fit together appropriately. For instance, do the food and wine selections work well together? Is the color scheme consistent and appealing?
Do the menu, the interior decor, and the ambient music blend well together? The combination of all elements, tangible and intangible, at your restaurant should work together to produce a desired atmosphere and impression. Any discordant elements can distract and disturb the customer.
In the customer’s perception, is the restaurant setting and atmosphere suitable for their purpose? This can relate to the setting, the service provided by the staff, and even the effects of other customers. For instance, a couple arrived for a romantic dinner, they might be unhappy that the music was too loud, or service rushed.
They might also be disturbed and upset by a rowdy group at the next table. Any of these could intrude on their intended romantic purpose, and cause them to view the restaurant as unsuitable for a date.
While suitability relates to whether a restaurant is suitable for a customer’s purposes, appropriateness means whether the restaurant fits within the customer’s view of appropriate, acceptable behavior. This relates more to societal norms than to the customer’s intentions at that moment.
For instance, appropriateness would include honesty and integrity, treating both customers and staff in a fair respectful manner. Customers’ who are ignored by wait staff, feel they were disrespected, or were dissatisfied with the meal and the restaurant’s response to their complaint, are all examples of people who would rate the restaurant low on the value of appropriateness.
This particular value can be influenced by cultural norms. It relates to the need for personal space, with some distance between a diner and the people at the next table. People who have a strong need for personal space do not want to be bumping elbows with the people next to them. The space between the wait staff and the customers is also included in this consumer value.
This term was coined to mean the experience of receiving something outstanding, something that exceeds expectations, and rises above the ordinary. For instance, luxury items are based on a perception of outstandingness. In the restaurant business, there are many elements that can contribute to this consumer value.
Customers want to visit a restaurant where the entire experience is outstanding – the food, the wine, the service provided, and the atmosphere. Even details like how clean and attractive the washrooms are will make a difference to customers’ impressions of how outstanding (or not) the experience was.
This value refers to how quickly and effectively customers are seated and served. People do not like to wait and feel like they are wasting their time. If a customer is standing and waiting to be seated while the responsible staff member is talking on the phone, they may start to feel frustrated.
If they are waiting for someone to take their order, while their waiter is chatting in the corner, they may feel that their time is being wasted. In these cases, the customers would rate the restaurant low on the value of efficiency.
This is where creativity and uniqueness can come into play. Discovery is the customer’s feeling that they have discovered something new. People who like to explore and try new things place a high value on discovery. If you can deliver something unique that they cannot find anywhere else, that provides discovery.
A restaurant’s creativity in developing new menu options and taste combinations can give them a high perceived value for discovery. Customers that discover something new will happily tell others about their discovery, another great form of restaurant marketing.
Amazement is about providing people with an exciting meal experience, especially as it relates to being surprised. If people receive surprisingly good flavor combinations and exceptional presentation, then they might be amazed.
Customers can also get amazement from a waiter who goes above and beyond their expectations, a personal visit from the chef, or a special recognition on their birthday.
These are all examples where the customer would perceive a high value of amazement. Surprise your customers and they will tell everyone else about the surprise, another great element to add for your restaurant marketing strategy.
Coziness is a mood that is created for a customer by the atmosphere and character of the restaurant. A cozy setting would be warm, intimate, and peaceful. Soft music, candlelight, a wood burning fireplace, and appropriate decor would all contribute to a sense of coziness. Loud music, noises from the kitchen, harsh lighting, or a hectic feeling would all detract from the value of coziness.
This value relates to the interaction between customers and staff, rather than to the decor or atmosphere of the restaurant. If wait staff are too haughty, too formal, or too pushy, then consumers can be put off, and will rate it low on the value of casualness. When all staff interactions are friendly, easy, and pleasant, then customers will perceive that the restaurant is high on the value of casualness.
This is the value which corresponds to people’s need for status and self-esteem. This can be something fairly static, such as visiting a famous restaurant for dinner because it is a prestigious, high-status place to go.
It goes without saying that we have all come across customers who rate this value highly, they are perfect for restaurant marketing, informing their social networks with status updates and photos on Instagram. It can also be something dynamic, such as being recognized and greeted by name when they enter a restaurant.
This is especially effective when there are other people present to see this special treatment. Both of these static and dynamic approaches can make a customer feel important, thus fulfilling the consumer value of ego support.
The dynamic approach can also have a profound effect on restaurant marketing, customers will want to invite guests to a place where they are recognized and made to feel important.
This consumer value pertains to the customer’s desire for confirmation that they made the right choice by visiting a particular restaurant. What do other people think about this place? Social proof is a big determinant of legitimacy.
If people hear that a place has a good reputation, via word of mouth from their friends, the number of fans on Facebook, or reviews on one of the online sites, then this provides confirmation for their decision. This gives their choice a higher value for legitimacy. Customers can also pass along this value to others.
If they have a good restaurant experience, they may tell their friends or post a review, which will then increase the legitimacy for the next person. Be aware that negative experiences can be passed to others, thus detracting from the consumer value of legitimacy.
A customer’s experience at a restaurant is impacted by their state of mind on arrival. If they are celebrating a special occasion, their state of mind could be very different than if they just finished a long, hard day at the office.
This initiation value is intended to address the outside circumstances that can affect a person’s dining experience. The emotions they bring into the property become part of the meal experience, and ultimately affect their perception of everything else.
Integrated value categories
By comparing and analyzing characteristics of the single consumer values, a higher level set of 5 different integrated value categories was identified. Here are the correlated values, along with a description of how they apply in a restaurant setting.
Comprised of single values:
- Aesthetic balance
- Personal space
The integrated value category of harmony blends the physical aspects of a business such as the interior design, artworks, and personal space, with the concepts of whether this experience fits well with accepted societal norms, and with the customer’s purpose of visit.
Harmony is especially important in a restaurant environment, while it is not as important in other settings. For a restaurant to be viewed highly on Harmony, the entire experience, from the setting to the meal itself, must fit the customer’s views of appropriateness, suitability, aesthetic balance, and personal space.
Combined into the value category Harmony, this represents the desire of customers and potential customers to have a well-rounded dining experience, where the meal and its context fit their desires, intentions, and expectations. Without this harmony, something about the experience will seem out of order for the customer, and their experience will be less than it could be.
Comprised of single values:
The integrated value category of excellence relates to whether the restaurant facilities and staff combine to deliver a dining experience that exceeds the customer’s expectations, and is outstanding in the customer’s mind.
The value category of Excellence incorporates the single values of efficiency, discovery, and outstandingness. Discovery is based largely on the creative, unique offerings that the restaurant provides, but it also incorporates the customer’s search for the new and unique. Outstandingness is where a focus on top quality and exceeding expectations lies.
The restaurant that does well on outstandingness, sets and meets exceptionally high standards, providing top quality food, service, interior decor, and atmosphere. In addition to providing top quality, consumers also want to receive things in a timely way, which is where efficiency comes in. Consumers are unhappy if they feel their time is being wasted.
Comprised of single values:
Emotional stimulation is a value category that relates to the emotional mood established in the customer. This includes the setting and atmosphere (coziness), and the interactions between customers and restaurant staff (casualness).
This category incorporates coziness, casualness, and amazement. A feeling of coziness reflects an atmosphere where the customer feels comfortable, warm, and welcome. The interior design of the restaurant plays a big role here, as does lighting and music or other sounds.
Casualness introduces the interactions with staff, and means good communication where the customer feels respected and understood. These two combine to give customers a feeling of comfort and well-being, and an environment where they can relax and enjoy the experience.
Amazement is a more active value than the others, and relates to having one’s expectations exceeded, often in a surprising way. For a restaurant, this could include surprising culinary creations, or artistic presentation. Amazement is the sense of positive excitement that accompanies such surprises.
Comprised of single values:
- Ego support
This consumer value category relates to recognition and acknowledgement of a customer’s status, and the confidence and confirmation they get that their decision was a good one.
This value category encompasses ego support and legitimacy. Customers want to have their restaurant decisions validated in some way, and confirmed by others. This legitimacy can be built up from friends’ recommendations, online reviews, or social proof, areas which are covered by restaurant marketing.
It can also be built within the customer’s mind as the entire meal experience progresses, with a successful experience convincing them that they made the right choice. Ego support is an important value when customers choose to visit restaurants that they perceive as prestigious or increasing their status.
When ego support is used correctly it provides the perfect platform for effective restaurant marketing, customers will be desperate tell others about their visit through social media and word of mouth.
Comprised of single value:
- Initiation value
Just like the corresponding single value, this value category relates to the circumstances surrounding the meal, and the emotional mindset the customer had, both when they entered the restaurant, and during the course of their visit.
This is another of the value categories, which brings into the equation the point of view or mindset of the customer, which undoubtedly has an influence on their restaurant experience. Circumstances that affected their mood and mindset before they ever stepped foot in the restaurant will be in play here, as will additional circumstances which develop over the course of the meal.
For example, if a customer received a big bonus that day, it will affect their mind set before they even reach the restaurant. Likewise, if they get into an argument with their dining partner, it will color their perception of the dining experience.
Impact of Consumer Values in Restaurant Marketing
Consumer Values in a restaurant setting are somewhat different from consumer values in a more generic sense. A restaurant meal provides an important context, with its own customer expectations and associated consumer values. These values are important for restaurant owners and management, because they provide an avenue for identifying and targeting ways to improve the restaurant experience and boost customer satisfaction.
This framework for consumer values and value categories within a restaurant context are extremely valuable for restaurant marketing. Owners and management can use this to examine aspects of their offerings which can be highlighted in their restaurant marketing campaigns.
Customers promoting restaurant offerings will do wonders for restaurant marketing. Restaurant owners and management should use consumer values to identify areas where customer satisfaction could be improved. If consumers find that their restaurant experience provides more perceived value in terms of these single values and value categories, then they will view their experience more positively.
If customers have had enjoyed a positive experience, they can be prompted to to tell others about the experience, hence doing the restaurant marketing on your behalf. Increased customer satisfaction can lead to greater customer loyalty, and will help to retain your best customers over time.
A loyal customer will become a brand advocate; they will do the restaurant marketing on your behalf via word of mouth or social endorsements. Customer advocacy is restaurant marketing in its purest form.