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The Latest Restaurant Customer Service Data & What It Means For You

picture of phone taking care of food to illustrate how to track customer service

The deciding factor to whether or not someone chooses to eat with you or the competition can often come down to the quality of your restaurant’s customer service. We’re in a consumer choice-driven world, where convenience, customization and attentive service are expected.

And when customers have a good experience, they spread the word. Forty-four percent of consumers say they told their friends about a great customer service experience in the last year. Here’s what you need to know about the latest restaurant customer service insights and what you can do to keep customers happy.

picture of phone taking care of food to illustrate how to track customer service

How we Collect and Measure Key Customer Service Metrics

Before we dive into the data, here’s some background on how Black Box Intelligence™ gathers comprehensive customer service metrics across the industry. For our client base, we collect guest sentiment data by aggregating reviews from online review sites. We also monitor brand mentions on social media. We use this data to formulate a net sentiment score across six categories: food, beverage, service, ambiance, value and intent on return.

In addition to providing this data at the individual brand level, we can also track broader trends in customer service performance metrics throughout the industry. To provide industry-wide insight on customer service trends, we anonymize this data and segment it according to various restaurant categories and segments.

Restaurant Customer Intelligence Trends We’re Watching

Pandemic-related issues continue to be the dominant factors driving restaurant customer satisfaction trends. Staffing issues, cleanliness and quality are frequently cited as areas of concern.

Cleanliness is a Common Restaurant Complaint

Cleanliness comes up regularly in guest reviews, which has a significant impact on ambiance scores. Elements like music, lighting and decor are still important factors in ambiance ratings, but cleanliness emerged as a safety issue. Guests are specifically raising concerns with the cleanliness of tables, restrooms and cutlery.

Which cleanliness issues are customers upset about? Here are some examples of customer complaints in restaurants:

“My feet stuck to the floor as I walked and there were old dried-up pieces of food laying under several of the tables.”

“My husband’s silverware looked dirty and my supposed clean napkin had food in it.”

“The restrooms were dirty and the hand soap was empty during COVID.”

Staffing Issues and Restaurant Customer Service

How customers rate restaurant quality continues to be impacted by staffing issues. It’s particularly challenging in full-service restaurants, where so much of the experience is dependent on the people providing it, not overall speed and convenience.

The number of online mentions of restaurants being short-staffed increased steadily since the beginning of the year and peaked in mid-July. The number of “understaffed” mentions remains at high levels near the end of Q3. They eased some in August when traffic softened, but spiked up to near the July peak during the week of Labor Day.  The spike during Labor Day was driven by full-service restaurants.

The largest increase in “short-staffed” mentions was in family dining versus the beginning of the year; mentions are running about 30% higher than the industry overall in Q3 to date. Casual dining is also trending about 10% higher than the industry. Relatedly, guests are also expressing frustrations with restaurant wait times. Those in limited-service also experienced increased mentions, but not nearly the same magnitude as full-service.

Off-premise Sales and Restaurant Customer Satisfaction

Despite the steadiness of off-premise sales, it’s tied to lower satisfaction. Customers may be turning to takeout and third-party delivery out of necessity, but it’s important not to take that for granted. Consider upgrading your packaging or streamlining your off-premise menu to improve their satisfaction and keep them coming back as in-person dining eventually returns.

Sign up for the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot to keep up with the latest restaurant customer service statistics.

What you can do to improve restaurant customer service

Many of the challenges facing restaurants today are outside of your control. However, even though focusing on the customer experience is more challenging right now, there are things you can do to improve guest satisfaction.

Improve the restaurant experience for customers and employees

Restaurant culture plays an important role in overcoming challenging times. It’s vital to create an environment that attracts and retains engaged employees who can then deliver high-quality service. It’s more important than ever to make sure employees feel supported. And right now, pandemic-related issues are top of mind for many workers. 65% want businesses to keep mask mandates for customers, and 83% plan to wear a mask while working to keep themselves safe regardless of business/state requirements.

Employees need to know that you understand the complexities of what it’s like to do their jobs right now. When they feel like leadership has their back, they’re more likely to be loyal and engaged.

For more insights on what restaurant employees need from their employers, download State of the Restaurant Workforce.

Manage guest expectations

Staffing issues (among other challenges like rising food prices) are creating less-than-ideal circumstances in most restaurants. Instead of trying to maintain the same output as you would in normal conditions, deal with the challenges head-on by managing guest expectations. For example, if you’re short-staffed, you can move tables that you’re unable to serve out of sight. That way, customers don’t see empty tables and assume that you have the capacity and just don’t want to serve them.

The connection between restaurant customer service and sales

Collecting customer service performance metrics and investing in better service translates to better sales. In Q2 2021, top performing (top quartile) full-service brands had same-store sales that were 16 percentage points better than the full-service median benchmark for that quarter. Those same top performing brands also had guest net sentiment that was 12 points higher than the benchmark for full-service overall.

And in the case of limited-service brands, top performers had over nine percentage points higher sales growth than the limited-service benchmark in Q2. Those same top performers had guest net sentiment eight points more positive than the median company in limited-service.

These brands are using data wisely to inform their restaurant customer relationship management practices. As a result, they’re able to anticipate customer needs and respond effectively. You can do the same for your restaurants. Learn more about how BBI’s Guest Intelligence Solution allows you to harness customer service insights to optimize service and generate more revenue.


Do you have the data you need to track guest satisfaction?

Speak with a product expert to learn how Black Box Guest Intelligence™ can help you impact your overall restaurant performance and build a workplace that fosters employee loyalty.

What do I get with my Black Box Guest Intelligence subscription?

  • Natural Language Processing sentiment analysis designed specifically for the restaurant industry
  • Integrated with main online social and review sites to give you the whole picture of what guests are saying in your restaurants
  • Measures guest satisfaction with unsolicited feedback of customer visits to your restaurants and your competitors
  • Benchmark against specific social data for top five competitors, segment and industry
  • Track performance of key business initiatives like menu rollouts and promotions
  • Create customizable alerts to track brand reputation issues so you can address them quickly

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