They’re funny things, these economic times. Restaurateurs – along with all businesses – suffer from the belt-tightening too, but it seems that they have markedly different ways of dealing with the problems – and your interests are not necessarily their priority.
In recent surveys, larger chains and smaller private businesses were interviewed on their views on rising food costs, measures they would take to ensure continued business, what their main challenges are and how they expect to surmount them. The results are interesting. Obviously rising food costs are a concern for all: in fact over half said it was their main concern. But, when asked about how they would react to lowered consumer confidence and other issues they might have to confront, there was an immediate apparent divide between big boys and small fry.
The big boys felt one of their main concerns of late was attracting high-quality staff. They also mostly refused to discount their menus as they felt it detracted from the customers’ sense of value for money, favouring tactics such as fixed-price menus instead. At the heart of their strategy, it seems, is continued customer satisfaction. Hoorah, we say.
Now let’s look at the smaller businesses: apparently in the last six months or so, over a half have slashed their prices and/or introduced discounts. Many – almost a quarter – have reduced their temporary staff and many would consider reducing overtime and pay, cutting staff and discounting more where possible to reduce overheads. One gets the distinct impression that the last thing on their minds is customer satisfaction.
A general perception is often that the big boys, the large chains and so on, are without feeling; that is to say, the customer is not the priority, but rather the cash. Eating out there can often feel quite soulless and one might also expect to have the opposite experience in a small independent local restaurant. But looking at these survey results, perhaps that’s not the case. Perhaps the chains have it right and the customer is king… One only has to look at the supermarkets’ more flexible attitude to opening hours vs. independent shops’ and the effect it has had to realise this argument holds water.
If the larger businesses prize service and value for money more than the independents, they are going to win the customer war very quickly. It doesn’t matter how quirky and sweet that local Italian is; when you suddenly find yourself wondering whether the pasta will arrive before world peace, you have to question whether you could be spending your money better elsewhere.
Are you getting better experiences in chains than in independent restaurants? Do you prefer the atmosphere of one or the other? Do you prefer the reliability of bigger business or the familial intimacy of a local favourite?