Ms. Freud

Sales & Marketing

Qualitative Research: The Guest's Perception of Your Hotel Restaurant

By Johnna Freud, Qualitative Research Moderator, Saul Cohen & Associates

How do consumers think about your hotel's restaurant? Why do people eat there? Is it only a convenience for overnight hotel guests, or is it a destination for non-guests as well? In consumers' minds, what does it compete with, and how does it compare to the competition? Why do some people return after their initial trial, but others do not? Is it the food, ambiance, staff or a completely different reason? What does the restaurant do well? What needs improvement? Qualitative research has been used to answer such questions and gain an in-depth understanding of consumers' attitudes toward restaurants -- elegant, casual, take-out/fast food, independent restaurants and/or chains.

Topics to Explore

Consider the large hotel corporations that have capitalized on the familiarity produced by chain restaurants by creating their own brand of casual restaurant/sports bar chain and incorporating them in their properties. These hotel-branded food spots use the same name and offer similar menus.

This can work to a hotel's advantage if a customer's initial dining experience is satisfactory, or conversely, it can work against them if an initial experience is not. As such, knowing how consumers, especially frequent travelers who are loyal to a particular hotel chain, feel about a hotel's branded casual restaurant/sports bar chain is important, not only for an individual property, but for the entire chain. It is highly likely that patrons' experiences may impact their decisions about whether to recommend these restaurants to friends or colleagues and to eat at these places during future visits to the same or different properties.

So, what kinds of food do consumers want at casual restaurants? Through our research, we have found that casual restaurant customers tend to want quality food at reasonable prices. While they don't expect gourmet food at these types of establishments, they expect a wide selection of food that looks and tastes fresh. The also want healthy food alternatives. But what do consumers consider to be "quality food," "reasonable prices," and "healthy food alternatives?" Qualitative research can uncover answers to these questions.

What do consumers mean when they say they want to "eat in a place with a good atmosphere?" We have found that consumers think and speak about restaurant atmosphere in terms of the d'ecor and interior lighting as well as the friendliness and attentiveness of the staff. All of these factors seem to contribute to the overall "comfortable" feeling that most customers seek. However, qualitative research can provide an understanding into whether "comfortable" means interiors that are bright and afford more privacy by spreading out the tables or dark and "clubby."

Furthermore, although customers seem to take cleanliness for granted and often do not focus on it as a reason for going or returning to a restaurant, it is often cited as a reason for not going back. Others stop going to restaurants or chains because they experience a general deterioration in terms of the quality and variety of food or because they are bored with the food and selection. But, unless restaurants ask former patrons what motivated them to change their behavior, they will not know what needs to be improved.

For resorts and properties that cater to leisure travelers, many of whom may be accompanied by children, how easy is it to get into a restaurant on the property? Are reservations required, and if so, how far in advance? Is the front desk staff helping to drive traffic to a resort's restaurants by informing guests upon their arrival about the restaurants on the property, including any need for reservations and the easiest way to make them? How "child friendly" are the restaurants? How important is the notion of "kids eat free?"

Once again, it is vitally important to understand whether consumers choose to eat at the restaurants on the resort property and why. Favorable experiences are likely to translate into recommendations to family, friends and acquaintances. However, unsatisfactory experiences may escalate from recommendations to avoid a particular restaurant to suggestions to avoid a particular resort.

Structuring the Research

Focus groups are often used to assess how food offerings, prices, atmosphere and cleanliness as well as other aspects of a dining experience affect consumers' restaurant choices. In deciding upon whom to invite to participate in such groups, consider groups with loyal customers, lapsed customers (those who have eaten in your hotel's restaurant in the past, but not recently) and non-customers who have not eaten in your hotel's restaurant but have eaten at similar style restaurants in other brand's of hotels or resorts. Additionally, consider inviting guests to participate in a focus group during their stay at your hotel or resort.

The discussion content should include questions about how frequently members of the group eat in hotel restaurants, motivations for doing so, best and worst things about these experiences, how they determine whether a restaurant is providing them with quality and value and what they mean by these terms, and any factors that encourage/discourage them from eating at a particular hotel's or resort's restaurant, either at one property or across multiple properties. It should also include an in-depth discussion about the restaurant that is the subject of the study, including what this restaurant does well and areas that could be improved.

Conclusion

So, the next time you ask why some consumers eat at your hotel's restaurant and others do not or what can be done to increase traffic into your resort's on-site restaurants, consider using qualitative research to unlock the answers.

Johnna Freud is a Qualitative Research Moderator with Saul Cohen & Associates, Ltd. She has experience in focus group moderating, interviewing, group facilitation and project management. She has worked with service companies, publishers, consumer package goods firms, retail chains, manufacturers, educational institutions, consulting firms, and advertising agencies. Research objectives have included concept evaluation and refinement, communications and advertising assessment, product repositioning, employee/student recruitment and performance evaluation, packaging and displays. Ms. Freud can be contacted at 203-322-0083 or scohenqual@aol.com Extended Bio...

HotelExecutive.com retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.com.

Receive our daily newsletter with the latest breaking news and hotel management best practices.
Hotel Business Review on Facebook
RESOURCE CENTER - SEARCH ARCHIVES
General Search:

MAY: Hotel Sustainable Development: Responsible Decision-Making for the Near and Long-term

Joshua  Zinder, AIA

Sustainable design and practice are no longer optional, as economic and cultural trends suggest their increasing importance. The developer and designer represent a powerful team for communicating the myriad benefits of green building and environmentally responsible practice to both operators and guests. They can demonstrate to operators the reduced costs associated with energy and maintenance as well as the potential for tax incentives, influencing the choice to become a franchisee. They can also demonstrate to guests a corporate commitment to sustainability, engendering brand loyalty and repeat stays. READ MORE

Rob  Howell

When developing new systems, purchasing new equipment, and devising new programs, how can we ensure that we keep an eye to sustainability? Sustainability is here to stay. It is no longer a fad or trend; it has become an integral part of the hospitality industry and an expectation of guests around the world. As operators of hospitality businesses it is important that we acknowledge this new standard. Therefore, integrating sustainable practices into our operation across all departments is vital. READ MORE

Andrea Pinabell

As the Vice President of Sustainability at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, I find myself searching for strategic and innovative ways to solve a myriad of challenges across our global portfolio. One challenge owners and managers face is prioritizing and financing capital investments needed to increase the efficiency of operating the asset, meet the company’s aggressive reduction goals, all while improving the guest experience and saving money. One way myself and my Global Sustainability team solve this challenge is through innovative partnerships. READ MORE

Nancy Loman Scanlon, Ph.D.

Driving sustainability practices in lodging companies is the two-fold need to reduce operating costs and the impact of resource use on the communities in which hotels and resorts operate. From Los Angeles to Miami, hotels need to reduce water and energy use. In New York, Chicago and San Francisco city wide efforts to reduce carbon emissions is causing hotels to search for methods to measure and report. The corporate responsibility reports of major lodging companies publish company-wide carbon emissions goals and reductions as well as the results of waste, water and energy conservation. For many hotels and lodging companies measuring carbon emissions can be a new challenge. READ MORE

Coming Up In The June Online Hotel Business Review




Feature Focus
Hotel Sales & Marketing: The Shift to Digital is Leading the Way
Hotel Sales & Marketing departments have been dramatically transformed in recent years. Advances in technology have prompted changes in consumer buying habits, and these professionals have had to adapt to keep up. Like so many other facets in the industry, the shift to digital is leading the way. An established online presence provides marketing professionals with more direct interaction with their guests; the capacity to collect more detailed information about them; and an increased ability to share their brand stories. These endeavors can be accomplished through website usage but increasingly, social media is assuming a larger role in the digital mix. Social media has moved marketing into a new era. Hotels that offer a good product, at a good value, and consistently deliver that product and price, will benefit from thousands of people who view positive comments on travel review sites. Online reviews continue to be a popular way for users to determine which companies they can trust. And though online marketing may have changed how professionals connect with and convert customers, they still need to focus on traditional marketing channels as well - ones that are cost-effective; protect price integrity; and which generate the most bookings. Some of the larger chains are employing efforts that feature both a top down (global) and bottom up (local) approach to ensure that new business is generated from the greatest number of sources. These include the use of loyalty programs, monthly e-mail newsletters, brand identity tools, advertising campaigns tailored to specific regions, regional marketing co-op programs, and business-to-business marketing campaigns. The November Hotel Business Review will examine some of these critical issues and explore what some sales and marketing professionals are doing to address them.