Teri Howe

Part 2 of The Guest Lifecycle: When the Dining Experience Really Starts

In part one of this two-part series, we established that the guest’s dining experience begins well before he or she ever enters a restaurant. The actual dining is not in itself the beginning, it begins when they’re perusing their dining options. It’s an experience that’s deeply rooted in culture, and with the advent of technology, it’s become an opportunity for restaurants to offer a caliber of guest service that provides for a more complete, perhaps even unique, dining experience. An appreciation of the guest’s decision lifecycle enables restaurants to provide personalized service, enhances the overall experience, in turn affecting the guest’s future decisions.

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Part 2 of The Guest Lifecycle: When the Dining Experience Really Starts by Teri Howe

  • In the first part of this series, we established that the decision points of the guest decision lifecycle are:

One: Venue Selection

The dining experience originates before the guest or group even selects a venue. Studies show that the most effective methods for influencing guests to select a given venue are:

  • Social media (reputation management)
  • Interactive digital signage
  • Push notifications or location-based offers

Two: A Reservation is Made

This is a key part of the overall experience, and it’s important to leverage that initial contact in the guest lifecycle across every subsequent interaction. Customer management systems are used to capture guest and party data that:

  • Seamlessly integrates with POS system
  • Informs the F&B staff
  • Shifts the guest’s demands to less busy times

Next, we’ll look at the balance of the lifecycle, including what specifically prompts guests to share their experiences on social review sites, and why venues should care. We’ll discuss the degree to which this social sharing affects prospective guests by increasing brand visibility and driving even more patrons to your restaurant. And finally, the foundation of the lifecycle, the elements necessary to deliver a guest experience that fosters social sharing success. When personalized service is provided, guests decide to share their experience.

Three: Guests Share Their Experience

Delighted guests leave great reviews which in turn lead even more patrons to decide on your venue. For some who read a positive review, your restaurant is promoting a superior experience that can bring in priceless, word-of-mouth business. For others, it potentially converts a previously dissatisfied patron, encouraging them to come back. In either case, when happy guests decide to share their experience, it yields higher returns for your restaurant.

Please Rate Us

More than any marketing program, loyalty program or casino management system, guest satisfaction affects, and even drives, the overall business reputation as well as future traffic. Studies show that one positive review influences three new patrons. The math is easy: a positive experience had by one guest will ultimately lead to three future guests. It’s still important to use marketing programs, loyalty programs and casino management systems to create better experiences, but recognize the power of social media and reputation management to influence traffic as well as general word-of-mouth, leveraging the guest decision lifecycle. Popular ways social media is used by gaming and leisure patrons include:

  • Post pictures and videos
  • Promote special offers
  • Enable location-sharing and check-in
  • Chat with guests
  • Create and support events or contests

How to Flip a Negative Review

Studies show few things are more powerful than converting a bad experience. A poor experience shared via social review sites and word-of-mouth is shown to negatively influence as many as ten potential guests during the decision lifecycle.

Today, mobile-minded patrons are using their smart phones, or perhaps the restaurant’s own table-side tablets, to complete surveys before leaving. This data, when integrated into a dashboard, provides important clues to the F&B manager, who can immediately be alerted to less-than-favorable ratings and have the opportunity to shape or salvage the experience prior to the guest’s departure.

Case in point: One restaurant earned a spot among my top ranks when the F&B manager apologized genuinely and profusely after discovering that a server topped off everyone’s coffee at the end of the business meal with au jus. But today, it has become one of my favorites. Why? As if the open acknowledgement and apology wasn’t enough, the F&B manager called with a follow up later, offering a significant discount for a future visit. This affected my decision deeply. What could potentially become a negative review on social site was quickly turned around. I have returned many times, especially for important business, and had great experiences. What’s more, I will share the positive experience with friends, which affects other prospective patrons as they consider their decision.

Four: More Guests Decide on Your Restaurant

Getting more guests to decide on your restaurant is certainly the objective, but your ability to deliver guest satisfaction will affect the outcome and a guest’s future decisions. Remember, it’s not just about providing exceptional food and service, it’s about personalizing, even curating, the guest experience. There are next-generation technologies that make this process easier than you think. One of them is an automated table status update with table management and point-of-sale integration. This powerful combo helps drive faster table turns and better resource utilization. It also includes predictive analytics for guest service personalization.

Better Resource Utilization

Tables – or lounge chairs, slot machines, etc. – are perishable commodities. It’s not possible to have a future patron take advantage of an empty poker seat yesterday. After someone leaves, it’s in the best interest of the next guest, and of course the venue, to turn the table as quickly as possible. Leveraging technology to seat and serve guests efficiently will no doubt affect the guests’s decision lifecycle in the future. In large and busy establishments, technology – including integration between POS and table management systems – plays an important role. Systems can programmatically alert staff when the check has been paid, thus creating a queue to flip the table.

Predicting Trends

Cost-efficiency is impacted by at least a couple of basic things: minimizing waste and training best practices. Predictive analytics can provide data insights in real-time. Accessing this data allows us to understand preferences and trends. If we segment the data, it’s easy to identify service anomalies based on staff, shift, day-of-week or even season. A constant drive toward understanding the guest, including what decisions they will make, helps drive guest service efficiency and satisfaction. Guest satisfaction depends in large part upon having the right menu items at the right times. Knowing what patrons want based on what they have purchased historically, for example, supports personalized service while driving cost-efficiency.

Key Takeaways

  • More venues today are beginning to leverage knowledge of the guest decision lifecycle to attract and retain more business with curated guest experiences and high-caliber service.
  • New technologies will help properties – and guests – better optimize and manage the holistic decision lifecycle.
  • Comprehensive mobile technology enables gaming and resort properties’ brand-mobile applications (native or web) to allow guests to book a room, view their gaming-tier status, receive promotional offers, make dining reservations, order online and even check-out after end of a great visit.

Today, we uncovered the full guest experience and their decision lifecycle, including decisions made by guests before, during and after they have visited a restaurant. As a business, understanding and leveraging these F&B guest decision insights can have a transformative outcome that increases guest confidence and satisfaction. These lifecycle decision points support restaurant operators who seek to influence guest satisfaction well beyond venue selection and reservation. When leveraging the full lifecycle – that is, understanding how and when guests are making their decisions – venues can attract new business while strengthening loyalty.

As we look to the future, additional technologies will lead to more opportunities to impress and delight guests, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), omni-channel and Internet of Things (IoT). As a frequent traveler and hospitality enthusiast, I look forward to seeing how these technologies, including those still on the horizon, will “WOW” me.

Teri Howe is a principal product manager at Agilysys, a leading technology company providing innovative software solutions for point-of-sale (POS), property management, analytics, and mobile solutions and services to the hospitality industry. Ms. Howe is a global subject matter expert on POS mobility and responsible for the strategic development of the InfoGenesis product family.