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.


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
General Search:

NOVEMBER: Hotel Architecture and Design: Unique, Timeless and Memorable Design

Samuel J. Cicero Sr.

No matter how glamorous, there comes a time when every hotel requires renovation. Years of wear and tear, new fashion trends, and shifts in technology can prematurely age a property, leading to customer complaints and the need to lower room rates to remain competitive. Also, in this age of social media and online reviews, an aging property means lost revenue as travelers increasingly turn to the Internet for advice and not the hotel’s website. READ MORE

Patricia  Lopez

Guestrooms are getting smaller. With trendy micro and capsule hotels on the rise, brands everywhere are working with designers to shave off square footage and conceptualize new and improved layouts that use space more efficiently. But designing a versatile room is only functional to a point. If you want to create a space that responds to your guests’ needs without compromising the elements that turn a simple hotel stay into a luxury, then you have to strike a balance between tradition and innovation. And it all comes back to the art of crafting an experience. READ MORE

Pat McBride

The designs of the most renowned hotels and resorts give careful consideration to every aspect of a guest’s experience. This is no small task – the design team leads the way to ensuring a property has everything it needs to offer a memorable, comfortable and relaxing stay for customers, which ultimately determines the success of a property. Complicating matters is the fact that designers very rarely need to consider just one type of customer – there are honeymooners, young families, empty nesters, groups of friends and wedding parties to consider in the design process. The task of designing for still another subset of customers – business travelers – presents an interesting but surmountable design challenge. This is a group growing more and more accustomed to mixing business with leisure. Designing a property that appeals to business travelers, a critical source of revenue for many properties today, requires its own set of considerations that must be weaved seamlessly throughout the design of the property, from meeting and conference spaces to restaurants and guestrooms and beyond. READ MORE

Patrick Burke

Encompassing over 3.5 million square feet with a price tag of $4.4 billion, Resorts World Sentosa is one of the world's largest multi-recreational luxury parks. A city-within-a-city, the resort features six hotels, offering a total of 1,840 rooms; a large casino; a convention center, including a 7,000-square-meter ballroom, conference and meeting facilities; a multitude of theaters and entertainment facilities; a maritime museum, a large marine animal park and water park; a world-class spa and extensive retail stores and restaurants. Anchored by Universal Studios Singapore, the project required a design approach that would celebrate the unique site in a very special way. READ MORE

Coming Up In The December Online Hotel Business Review

Feature Focus
Hotel Law: Legal Issues Looming Large in 2015
In an industry where people are on-property 24/7/365, the possibilities are endless for legal issues to arise stemming from hotel guest concerns. And given the sheer enormity of the international hotel industry, issues pertaining to business, franchise, investment and real estate law are equally immense. Finally, given the huge numbers of diverse people who are employed in the hospitality industry, whether in hotel operations or food and beverage, legal issues pertaining to labor, union, immigration and employment law are also significant and substantial. The expertise of all kinds of specialists and practitioners is required to administer the legal issues within the hotel industry, and though the subject areas are vast and varied, there are numerous issues which will be in the forefront in 2015 and beyond. One issue that is gaining traction is how hotels are dealing with the use of marijuana by employees, given its ever-changing legal status. The use of marijuana is now legal in 21 states and the District of Columbia for certain medical conditions. Two other states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational marijuana use for individuals who are 21 years old or older, and Alaska and Oregon currently have similar legislation pending. Most state laws legalizing marijuana do not address the employment issues implicated by these statutes. Therefore, it is incumbent on all hotel operators to be aware of the laws in their states and to adjust their employment policies accordingly regarding marijuana use by their employees. Other issues that are currently looming large pertain to guest identity theft by hotel employees and the legal liabilities which ensue; issues of property surveillance versus a guest’s right to privacy; and immigration reform could also be a major compliance issue. The December issue of Hotel Business Review will examine some of the more critical issues involving hotel law and how some managers are addressing them in their operations.