Restaurant sales continued to improve during June. Same-store sales growth was 1.1 percent, which became the fourth consecutive month with positive or flat sales growth year over year. Furthermore, the industry posted its third consecutive quarter of positive sales growth during the second quarter of 2018; the last time this occurred was in 2015. These figures indicate guests have been spending more time in restaurants now than they did a year ago, however, is this due to satisfaction with restaurant experiences in general or is this growth simply a reflection of greater consumer confidence and a stronger economy? According to White Box Social Intelligence data, guest sentiment based on restaurant service improved significantly year over year during June. This is great news for the industry, as this is the attribute that most differentiates the restaurant brands with the highest same-store sales growth rates. Much more than food, service seems to be a more significant indicator that defines a superior restaurant experience. The fact that service perception is improving across the industry encourages optimism for sustained improvement in sales through upcoming months. Additionally, intent to return to restaurant brands tracked by White Box Social Intelligence has been steadily increasing in recent months – another positive sign from the latest guest sentiment data.
Notwithstanding the fact that same-store sales growth has been improving for restaurants during 2018, analyzing the data at the brand level indicates that significant challenges remain for chain restaurants. Year-to-date, only half of the restaurant brands tracked by Black Box Intelligence have been able to achieve positive same-store sales growth. Additionally, the gap between top performers (those in the top quartile based on sales growth) and bottom performers (those in the bottom quartile) has been widening in recent quarters. What is the value of being a top performer and what are these top performing brands doing differently? During the first quarter of 2018, the gap between top and bottom performers among full service brands (to include those classified under casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining) was an impressive 10.3 percentage point difference in their average same-store sales growth. A key differentiator of top performers is frequently found to be superior service perception by their guests. During that same quarter, those full service brands that achieved the highest sales growth rates had a 9.0 percentage point difference in their service net sentiment when compared with the brands with the lowest sales growth averages. When people decide to invest their time and money to dine at a restaurant, they are typically seeking a great “experience,” and the data shows that it is usually service that most correlates with fulfilling that expectation.
The data for June continues to show that restaurant guests in the Mountain Plains region will likely rate their restaurant visits more positively than guests in any other region of the country. Along with the Southeast, these were the only two regions in which more than 30 percent of all online comments or ratings were positive. The trend also continues for guests in the northeast to be less positive than their peers in the rest of the country when discussing their restaurant experiences. The regions with the least positive sentiment during June were New York-New Jersey, the Midatlantic and New England. This data highlights the importance of having regional, state and even DMA benchmarks when evaluating guest sentiment, to take into account persistent regional patterns when measuring performance.
The Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot is produced by White Box Social Intelligence™, a TDn2K Product™. WBSI is tracking over 192 brands to benchmark customer satisfaction and is the only online tool that integrates with operational performance data to validate the impact on financial performance. The algorithm determining ranking brands is based on sentiment and determined by White Box Social Intelligence. Brands included in this monthly snapshot must have a total of at least 250 mentions for the month. Restaurants must have a minimum number of units to be eligible as well. DMA rankings consider only the largest 25 areas.