May was a good month for restaurants. The industry rebounded from April to post positive same-store sales growth of 1.1 percent, according to TDn2K's Black Box Intelligence™. This indicates there is still positive sales momentum despite the stumble in two of the last three months. Once external factors such as bad weather and a shift in holidays were subtracted from the picture, the data shows the restaurant is still growing its same-store sales in a relatively healthy manner.
Guest sentiment data from White Box Social Intelligence™ continues to show a guest that is increasingly more positive about their restaurant experiences than they were a year ago. This provides encouraging signs for continued sales growth in the industry.
On average, during the last three months, restaurant guests have expressed higher positive sentiment related to their restaurant food and service experiences than during the same period a year ago. Although positive intent to return dipped slightly on average during the last three months, the overall values for this metric remain high and are not expected to represent a reversal in the guest's willingness to spend in upcoming months.
Research by TDn2K into guest sentiment and its link to performance has shown that guests expect great food from restaurants. Top performing brands, however, have not necessarily leveraged great food as an attribute to create differentiation from others in the marketplace. It is almost like food is "table stakes" in this environment and something all brands are constantly innovating or catching up to those advances.
So what drives positive sentiment when it comes to food? What food-related terms had the most positive sentiment during the second quarter of 2019?
Among the top 10 percent of food-related terms based on total number of mentions during the quarter, the following are those that generated the most positive sentiment with restaurant guests.
Seafood was an interesting discovery among the most positive mentions for limited service brands (quick service and fast casual). Although brands in these segments are not typically associated with seafood, those that offer it likely experienced extremely positive guest sentiment during the month. Also, food items associated with the keywords "homemade" or "fresh" were positive with these limited service brands.
For full service brands (casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining), food preparation rose to the top in terms of positive sentiment. Variations of the term "perfectly cooked" or "prepared" were something guests latched on to and praised online. Consistency in food preparation is key and can lead to strong guest sentiment. "Homemade" and "fresh" also were among the most positive food-related terms in full service.
Regardless of whether grabbing a quick meal to go from a limited service brand or sitting down for a meal at a full service restaurant, guests are craving food that looks and tastes homemade and rewarding brands with positive reviews online.
May was also a strong month for restaurants from a regional perspective. Eight of the eleven regions of the country were able to achieve positive same-store sales growth during the month. By contrast, only three regions were able to post positive year-over-year growth in April.
Restaurant guest sentiment also remained strong during May. All regions had over 50 percent of their total restaurant reviews and online mentions classified as positive during the month.
Florida, the Western region and Mountain Plains had the most positive restaurant guest sentiment during May. The latter two regions were also among the top three based on same-store sales growth during the month. In the case of Florida and the Western region, over 60 percent of all reviews or online mentions were classified as positive.
It is no surprise to find New England and New York-New Jersey in the list of least positive sentiment again in May. Guests in these regions have historically demonstrated a tendency to be less positive when reviewing their restaurant experiences online than guests in other regions of the country.
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.