The value of fast food dining has never really been about personalized service. Rather, the emphasis was on speed and convenience (price played in there, as well). We customers were thrilled to have our order turn out correctly and at the proper temperature. We may have appreciated the smile, when received, and the good wishes as we accelerated on with our lives.
What we have read and witnessed across the fast-casual food sector recently hardly leads one to anticipate greater human contact during the exchange and transaction at our favorite emporium. Matter of fact, the trend is more and more to automation rather than face-to-face. Almost all fast-casual food restaurants are experimenting with kiosks and table-top gadgets to engage their guests, yet spur them on their way. You can place you order, pay for it, do your e-mail and play games – literally, have little contact with the staff of your dining oasis. Remember what robotics has done to manufacturing!
Noodles & Company has taken the service concept in another direction, away from automation. They have added a server to the mix, whose assignment is to “up-sell” the customer with additional dining add-ons, such as dessert and beverages. The thought is that with extra attention (and personal touch) the customer will spend more. As noted in a July 1, 2014 article in Business Week, Noodles CEO Kevin Reddy expects the new staff role will result in a 3 percent boost in same-store sales. “It’s material,” he says in that interview. “And it’s an easy thing for us to do.”
Mr. Reddy may be on to something here. Fast food chains may have figured out the food equation of customer satisfaction. As he pointed out, it’s time for fast-casual to compete on service and not just on speed. “It’s a blend of service methodologies.” Reddy hopes that a lower-cost menu incorporated with some level of personalized service will allow Noodles to steal dinner customers from casual restaurants, a segment that has already lost many customers to the fast-casual chains. Additionally, he plans to create some showcase display counters to highlight some of those extras (like the desserts) which add to the check.
This effort is a new look and feel. And, if the results target that 3% return, the investment and personal engagement will be quite the success. Reddy concludes, “I think it’s going to create a new niche at the high-end of fast casual that allows us to get some of the most important consumer needs from casual dining, a little elevated service, into a fast-casual concept.” Best of luck!
John Hendrie is the author of the LRA blog, focusing on anything and everything about customer experience. LRA Worldwide is the leading global provider of Customer Experience Measurement services for multinational companies with complex customer interactions. For over 30 years, LRA’s innovative brand standards audits, quality assurance inspections, mystery shopping programs, research, and consulting services have helped ensure our clients deliver consistent, memorable, and differentiated experiences to their customers. Many of the world's preeminent global hospitality brands, as well as companies in the gaming, dining, healthcare, sports and entertainment, real estate, retail and travel industries choose LRA to help them measure and improve the customer experience. For more information, visit www.LRAWorldwide.com.
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