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22 February 2018 3 min read

2018: Why waiting for the bill will be a thing of the past

Patrick Winters

Patrick Winters
Partner, expert in FMCG

I eat out… a lot.

At the last count nearly 20% of my disposable income went into the pockets of restaurants (both chain and independent). I have two pet hates:

  • Waiting for the bill
  • Being asked if everything is ok before I’ve taken my first mouthful of food.

Both are indicators of a restaurant that doesn’t understand me, the customer, and what I want. Both are, unfortunately, not uncommon.

2017 saw some significant challenges for the casual dining sector which mirrored those in the retail environment. The rising cost of ingredients and increases in property and labour costs proved too much for some chains. Compulsory Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs) and store closure plans followed.

It’s been clear for a while there is overcapacity on the high street. A quick Google search indicated ten Italian restaurants within five minutes’ walk of my house and my junk mail has been inundated with money-off vouchers. Although the latter is during the usual post-Christmas slump they seem to have reached epidemic proportions this January and risk undermining my longer term value perception of those brands (akin to the petrol promotions run by supermarkets which drive short term footfall and train us to think price first).

But is there more to this picture than rising costs and too much choice? Is the wait for the bill symptomatic of a wider problem?

The central tenet of Lean thinking is to remove activity completely which adds no value to the customer and reduce significantly those activities which, whilst necessary, do not add value. The bill wait is one such example, the mistimed question another. Both may seem minor to the restauranteur but both show a lack of customer centric thinking. For the chains, these customer touch points are opportunities to upsell and push higher margin products (Another bottle of wine sir? Would you like coffee madam?). For the customer, they are annoying and unnecessary if done badly, showing a lack of respect or understanding of what makes a great experience.

So how to respond? First, identify and remove all of the activities which don’t add value to the customer. Not only will this reduce costs by helping you to understand true demand and forecast staffing levels more accurately, it will also improve the customer experience.

Second, focus forensically on your best customers and what they want. Trying to serve everyone’s needs serves no one’s needs well.

Third, continue to invest (in technology, staff and training). Payment apps like Qikr!, MyCheck and Zapper are already widely adopted and this blending of quick service technology with the casual dining experience will continue at pace.  Although it may be easier to cut costs when margins are tight, over the longer term an investment in areas that enhance your proposition and brand will pay dividends.

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