What drives restaurant customers crazy, what do they crave more of and what do they expect from your eatery? A recent national survey by restaurant rating company Zagat has some insights. The Zagat Dining Trends survey polled customers in 21 major markets across the U.S. about their habits, expectations and annoyances when dining out. Here’s some of what they found:
How are customers making reservations? Most now go online (52 percent); just 41 percent make an old-school phone call. And although mobile marketing gets a lot of buzz, most diners who make reservations online still use desktop or laptop computers to do so, rather than cell phones or tablets.
At restaurants that don’t take reservations (a growing trend, Zagat says), how long is the average diner willing to wait for a table? Half an hour seems to be the magic number after which your customers will walk away. Nearly half (48 percent) of respondents say 30 minutes is the longest they would wait to be seated, while 29 percent are even more impatient: They’ll only wait 15 minutes or less.
Once they’re seated in your restaurant, what are diners’ pet peeves? Excessive noise is the number-one complaint (27 percent), followed by bad service (24 percent), high prices (15 percent) and crowds (11 percent). Specifically in regard to service, the biggest service pet peeve is inattentive staff, cited by 23 percent of respondents.
What else drives customers crazy? Phone etiquette seems to hit a sore spot, with more than half (57 percent) of respondents saying they think it’s inappropriate to text, talk or tweet at the table while dining. However, diners are more lenient when it comes to keeping kids quiet with mobile devices. Some 46 percent say it’s OK to give children a tablet to play with during a meal as long as this is used “in moderation.”
Enough about what restaurant customers dislike—what do they love (to eat, that is)? It may not be trendy, but Italian food earned the top spot in every market as the most popular cuisine. Overall, 25 percent of respondents nationwide say it’s their favorite kind of food. After Italian, national favorites were American, French and Seafood. Less beloved are some currently trendy cuisines: Spanish, Korean, Vegetarian, Greek and Vietnamese were popular with less than 1 percent of respondents.
If you’re thinking of starting a new restaurant or expanding your menu offerings, think seafood. That’s the number-one type of eatery respondents say they’d like to see more of, with close to 20 percent of customers nationwide saying there aren’t enough seafood restaurants out there.
Dig into more region-specific results at the Zagat website.