Is it really down to "Convenience" versus "The Experience" for restaurants?

Hospitality has been hit with many challenges in the last several years, but the entire service sector is now having to adjust to a new and different landscape. Retail, banking, health & fitness, beauty & personal care, even healthcare are under an enormous amount of pressure as the market for talented entry-level workers and career-path interested staff shrink. Combine this with more financial and reporting requirements brought on by changing employee benefit and wellness programs and many operators across the spectrum fall prey to the idea that it is either fast casual or fine dining that will survive the current marketplace. This is a logical assumption in some regards as fast casual can generally operate with more efficiency in both staff and product - but at the expense of product quality and the overall guest experience. Likewise, fine dining requires a large number of well trained and experienced staff on both sides of the line and product that is both fresh and well sourced. All of that comes with a large price tag.

Make no mistake there are good reasons to believe that both "high end" and "fast casual" will have certain advantages built in. Higher guest check averages allow for easier price manipulation while fast casual might be able to shave overhead without destroying the brand. The key ingredient that is often lost in the discussion is the guest and most importantly their relationship with the brand. The questions operators should be asking right now are first, what do "MY" guests really want/need from my operation. The second question is whether the guest's want/need align with my brand promise. Alignment may be the most important factor in determining whether a certain business model will work or not. I will come back to this idea over and over again. 

Other pressures include digital, social, and mobile platforms, combined with artificial intelligence(AI) - think Google Assistant, Alexa, Cortana - are all disrupting the way guests or customers interact with the brands they choose. Amazon is pressing hard to be your one-stop shopping experience while retail giants like Walmart are signing on to partnerships with Google where you can walk in the door and notice you need eggs and tell your Google assistant to order eggs from Walmart. Combine these factors with the growing number of guests turning to grocers for their dining needs and you see the coming tumult. "Visits to grocery stores for in store dining or takeout are up 30% since 2008," according to Fern Glazer in Nation's Restaurant News.

This is where Alignment becomes crucial. Knowing what your brand stands for isn't enough. Everyone involved in your brand must also know and more importantly believe what the brand promise is. They must also be keenly aware of what their role in fulfilling the brand promise is. All decisions have to be put through that filter so that all your operational strategies and communication align in one direction. So, if your brand promise is about the experience the guest will have with you - being treated to a high degree of service detail, food ingenuity and comfort in their time with you - convenience or quick service is much less important. If your guests feel you create this experience and even surpass their expectations on some points - your brand will thrive. If your brand promise is we will give you the most locations to choose from and good food at reasonable prices - the number of forks on the table or the side the food is served from - aren't applicable - they don't align with the brand promise. 

In the coming days, months and even years, the landscape of the service sector will be dramatically changed. The keys to surviving the changing demands on your business are simple, but they aren't easy. The first is to be clear on what your brand promise is and what it involves. Don't have a brand promise? Don't worry it's never to late. Involve all your key team members in the process. Discern what it is you are driving with your business. Second make sure that your brand promise is truly in alignment with your guests/customers. Lastly, make sure that all of your staff can answer the question; "What is our brand promise?"

It isn't about Convenience Vs. The Experience, it is about both. If your brand promise is convenience and you truly master that and your guest's want/need is convenience - you will thrive. If on the other hand, your brand promise is a truly elevated dining or service experience - and you have a team ready to execute that - you will thrive. I would love to hear what some of the brand promises are out there. Feel free to comment, feedback is truly fuel for thought.