Case study: researching experiences in a restaurant
How is the customer experience in a newly opened restaurant? This article shows how our guest author Anna slipped into the guests' shoes and helped the restaurant managers to improve the service.
In the 5th semester of my bachelor’s degree program in Tourism and Leisure Management at the IMC University of applied Sciences Krems, I was looking for a research topic for my bachelor thesis. It was important that my thesis had a strong practical focus and included an innovative way of doing research. Also, I wanted to keep it interesting for the readers and to provide me with something new to learn and enjoy.
During that time, I was working next to my school in a bistro style restaurant as a waitress. Before the restaurant even opened its doors for the first time, I was involved in the tasks and planning for the opening.
The restaurant had recently opened when I was deciding on a topic for my thesis. I personally, as well as the owner and manager of the restaurant, were eager to understand what the overall customer experience looks like and what the favorable and negative attributes of the restaurant are, in order to implement changes. Hence, I decided to design a research project that gives some real feedback about how guests perceive the offered services and feel during their visit at the restaurant.
My main research question was:
- How is the overall customer experience in the restaurant?
Plus two sub questions:
- What do customers rate as positive and negative influences during their visit?
- How do customers evaluate the restaurant on the four main components of restaurant experiences?
After doing research on how I could address this issue to get valuable feedback based on real customer experiences, my attention was drawn to mobile ethnography because it’s able to capture those moments while they are occurring. I decided to choose this as my research method and implemented the mobile ethnography app ExperienceFellow.
To invite participants to the study, I designed a flyer – which also provided some guidance and explanation for the participants – and put it on every table of the restaurant. I included a raffle to make it more attractive for the restaurant guests to participate. Additionally, I personally approached the guests in the restaurant and asked them if they wanted to participate. I showed them the flyer and gave some extra explanation, if necessary. I also provided an iPad, where the application was preinstalled, as some guests did not want to download the app to their own devices.
The first thing participants needed to do was complete a little survey to create their profile – only gender, age group and their email address – to keep it short and simple for the attendees.
Afterwards, they could start reporting their experiences whenever a specific moment stuck out for them. These touchpoint reports included satisfaction scores, descriptions, photos and videos.
Data analysis and insights
In total 50 guests joined the project and I collected 196 touchpoints.
I created different perspectives on the ExperienceFellow web application to analyze the different aspects of my project and answer my research question. I applied filters and created tags to sort and group the touchpoints. Comments and attached pictures by the participants helped me to get a better understanding exactly what they were referring to.
In order to answer my research question, I did an analysis of the emotional values of all the touchpoints I had collected. I took a closer look at every emotional stage ranging from very negative to very positive.
The result of my study showed that customers have a positive experience in the restaurant: Over 80% of the total touchpoints were related to positive aspects. The categories food, ambience and service stuck out with the most positive touchpoints.
On the other hand, 6% showed a negative reaction, and I took a closer look at the bad experiences in order to make valuable changes. Those touchpoints were related to, for example, the categories beverage, music and waiting time.
My bachelor paper included a section of recommendations to the restaurant management. For example, having an eye on details like little cracks on glasses to avoid safety issues, or a consistent portion size to deliver the same standards to the guests.
For my project, mobile ethnography was a useful method to explore authentic customer experiences, because it allowed me to capture the moments the participants experience at the time they occured, where other research methods do the evaluation afterwards. Another advantage of this method is that it supports researchers to see the world through the eyes of the participants, as they are empowered to speak for themselves.
It’s important to note that, as this is a new way of doing research, many people are not familiar with it and so it is necessary to provide an explanation before participants can work with it independently.
In general, I can recommend working with mobile ethnography when exploring immediate experiences, not only limited to the tourism sector.