Lately we’ve all been harking on about the importance of customer service in an era when restaurants all trade off a value for money positioning. This still holds true, especially when considering the influence it holds over consumers’ venue choice:

  • 67% of diners recommend restaurants to family/friends because of the good service they’ve received (see Mintel’s Fast Casual Restaurants – UK, August 2011)
  • this translates into a fairly significant hit rate when you consider the fact that Mintel’s Eating Out: The Decision Making Process – UK, December 2011 shows that a third of diners say their restaurant choice for an everyday meal is influenced by recommendations by family/friends.

Why then is my (newish) local Turkish cafe, with its warm, lovely service, not completely flooded with diners? Don’t get me wrong, it has a small but steady stream of customers which seems OK for a venue which appears to be open for 15hours a day, 7 days a week, but why are it’s competitors doing so much better?

Well the bustling cafes a short walk away have the benefits of being long established and located on a busy main road, compared to the Moon Sun Bar Restaurant’s quieter location (I know I know, the name’s terrible). Then again these venues are so busy now that my other half flatly refuses to go to them anymore as they no longer provide a cosy, comfortable experience for a Sunday brunch: “you get crammed into a corner and have to share a table so there’s no space to spread my paper out” he grumbles.

But I can’t ignore the fact that my beloved Turkish cafe has downsides of its own. Whilst the free ‘intro’ of speciality bread is a nice touch, there’s no getting away from the fact that its British dishes sometimes let it down. For instance, although it is a venue pitched at the lower end of the market, my heart still sinks when they bring out Full English breakfasts with cheap, what were, frozen chips and a side of cheap nothingy toast.

The cafe is also missing out on what are, to me, some glaringly obvious opportunities. For instance, I bore people with my love of their Turkish Menemen (that I’ve affectionately renamed ‘crazy eggs’) – there’s a number of different options tapping into customisation trends (I like mine with sucuk – spicy Turkish sausage – feta cheese and tomatoes). But they haven’t made the most of these – this section of the menu (‘Eggs in a Pan’) just blends into the background of the long all day dining menu. This is a mistake given the fact that Mintel’s Consumer Attitudes towards Fine Dining – UK, June 2011 shows that over a third of diners state that house specialities (eg what the restaurant is renowned for) are important to them when they’re choosing what to eat in a restaurant. Furthermore, those venues doing particularly well in the market at the moment are seen as specialists (think of Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Pho) as consumers seek out guaranteed good food/experiences. How many other small restaurants like the Moon Sun cafe already have the dishes in place to trade off this claim but fail to make the next step into marketing them?

So to sum up: lovely service simply isn’t enough on its own – the quality, taste and value for money of the food is diners’ bottom line concern and independents have to learn to market their strengths and manage their weaknesses more effectively. As an example, I may rave about the Moon Sun Bar Restaurant’s Menemen but you’ll never hear me recommend the venue too wholeheartedly just in case my friends/family order the Full English…

For more information please see Mintel’s Eating Out: The Decision Making Process – UK, December 2011.