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:

DECEMBER: Hotel Law: The Biggest Challenges

Mark S. Adams

The relationship between hotel owners and managers continues to evolve. Hotel management agreements historically were long-term. Fifty to sixty year terms were common. However, in the last few years, hotel owners have successfully negotiated shorter contract durations and other more favorable terms, even from the largest and most sought-after major brands. This trend is likely to continue and expand as brands realize that hotel owners have the power to terminate so-called no cut, long-term hotel management agreements, despite contrary provisions in the contract which courts now routinely ignore as a matter of public policy. READ MORE

John R. Hunt

The past year has witnessed a continued surge in the number of federal wage and hour cases filed against businesses throughout the United States, including those in the hospitality industry. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Labor has engaged in enforcement initiatives directed at hotels, restaurants and bars. All of this has occurred against a backdrop of proposed regulatory reform that could affect the way in which hotel and restaurant operators compensate their employees. This article reviews some of the more important developments in these areas. READ MORE

William A. Brewer III

Tension between hotel owners and hotel management companies comes as no surprise during tough economic times. But even in times of improved economic prosperity, some hotel owners are intolerant of management companies that fail to manage assets in the most effective and profitable manner possible. This results in certain owners seeking, or being compelled, to convert their asset to a different brand, or in some cases no brand at all. They do so to protect their long-term economic interests in markets that have proven to be cyclical. In this piece, we explore important considerations regarding the respective rights and responsibilities of owners and managers in such circumstances. READ MORE

Lonnie Giamela

Retaliation lawsuits are the most common claims brought against employers before governmental agencies and are increasing in frequency in the civil court system. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in 2013, a retaliation claim was made in 41.1% of all charges submitted to the EEOC. This is more than discrimination based on race and more than discrimination based on disability. Even more concerning is the consistent uptick in retaliation allegations. Retaliation claims have increased in number every year since 1997. So, what can employers do to protect themselves against this ever-growing liability? First, employers must understand what retaliation is. Next, employers must be able to issue spot when a particular set of facts poses a high risk for a retaliation claim. This article will attempt to do both. READ MORE

Coming Up In The January Online Hotel Business Review


Feature Focus
Mobile Technology: The Necessity for a Well-Defined Strategy
Mobile technology has altered the way the world does just about everything. With mobile devices in our hands (smart phones and tablets) and media and information up in The Cloud, the possibilities for immediate, worldwide, personal access are limitless. Smart mobile devices are dictating how we live our lives and as a result, these developments are game-changers for all businesses, but especially for service industries, including the hotel sector. These advancements are literally redefining how guests interact with a hotel in virtually every aspect of its operation, and savvy hoteliers who are implementing the latest mobile technologies and best practices in each critical channel will steal market share from their competitors, decrease dependency on their Online Travel Agents, and generate incremental revenues which will substantially increase their bottom line. A well-defined mobile strategy is no longer a "nice-to-have" but an essential weapon in an industry that is evolving at a blistering pace, and those operations that are slow to respond do so at their peril. The January Hotel Business Review will examine which mobile strategies some operators have adopted in order to meet these challenges, and will report on the solutions that are proving to be most advantageous for both companies and their guests.