Different Customers, Different Needs: Understanding Your End User
From fine dining to QSR, restaurant businesses are realizing that the foodservice landscape has become more complicated. Darden Restaurants has been working to stay true to what it has always delivered while evolving to satisfy the needs of customer segments. The evolution has been a challenge in terms of staying up with customer demand while also delivering on business expectations.
Drew Madsen, president and COO of Darden Restaurants explains there is a basic dichotomy of consumer: the economically-constrained and the premium product/service. For the former, “The primary issue is affordability. These consumers want to use casual dining more often than they do today, but often do not feel that they can afford to do so.”
For the latter who want more regardless of price, Madsen points out that, “Over the past several years, we’ve also seen a growing desire among more economically-secure guests for distinctive, higher-quality dishes that also have higher prices. And in addition, many guests, millennials in particular, want more convenience in their total restaurant experience, and menus that offer more freshness and greater flexibility to dine the way they want.”
Darden Restaurants is seeing its audience evolve, and the business finds itself at a crossroads that involves understanding its customer’s new needs and how to fulfill them.
Foodservice and Choices
Every successful foodservice business continues to make well-informed choices day after day.
Restaurants from small, local establishments to large chains like Olive Garden are making choices on which customer segment to emphasize: users looking for economical options that fit their lifestyle by offering a casual dining experience and even discounts or guests wanting more unique experiences independent of cost. These guests want higher quality dishes, exotic flavors and customized service.
Schools make choices daily to balance the conflict between government regulations and students’ preferences. For example, the USDA’s whole grain requirements in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Schools are also under pressure to reduce sodium content and eliminate certain ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and MSG. Budgets remain a large concern while also needing to please the palates of the students who want tasty food.
Hospitals must meet patients’ dietary needs while also upgrading their menus for visiting family and friends in order to compete with other upscale or convenient options.
Making the Right Choices
People are forcing businesses to make choices. There isn’t a right answer, but business leaders should answer:
- Who do we feed? You may be serving multiple segments, but it’s important to understand who your customer is at the end of the day. Does cost trump quality? Do you have regulations that must be followed? Understand who determines success for you at the end of the day.
- What product do we provide? Product is what will keep people coming back and choosing your business. Don’t make sacrifices. The right foodservice partners will help you choose the right product solutions tailored to your needs and the needs of your guests.
- How do we communicate our value? You can have the right audience and the right product, but that does little if people don’t know about it. Use your audience’s media choices and behaviors to communicate your value proposition to them.
Choices can seem risky, but with behaviors changing and the foodservice landscape in flux, not making a choice is the riskiest choice a business can make.