Market Research For Restaurants 101

April 6, 2017 Jackie Prange


Fast casual. Delivery. Ghost restaurants. Take out apps. Heck, food apps in general! If one were to measure the rate at which the restaurant industry is being shaken up on the richter scale, it would be off the charts. We’re living in a time where services like GrubHub stormed the hospitality scene and are now delivering more than 270,000 orders daily in over 1,000 US cities. What even is a cash register? – No one under the age of 18 seems to know – Meanwhile, funding for restaurant tech start ups topped $550M in 2016. It's become clear that these changes are inevitable, on both a consumer and operational level.


In a competitive landscape that’s home to over 600,000 restaurants in the US alone, how is any new restaurant to stand out? Enter market research.



Why Market Research is Important & Why It’s Overlooked

How easy it is for burgeoning restaurateurs to get lost in the logistics of the everyday, focused on issues that are boiling over, like customer service, staffing, and menu construction. Heck, this is difficult even for long standing successful restaurants. These day-to-day obligations tend to take precedence because they’re red light issues that require immediate attention and cannot go unsolved. While market research has innumerable benefits — like allowing you to gain a competitive advantage, an awareness of changing customer preferences and emerging technologies — often, it's sacrificed for more time sensitive, action-oriented activities.


In reality, prioritizing market research can help you succeed by allowing you to identify market opportunities, gather competitive intelligence and expand your offerings to meet the challenge that both of these present.


For example:

  • Are you thinking of opening a Mexican restaurant when your location is really in need of an Irish pub?

  • Is that trendy bar down the road stealing your hump day night clientele with their half-priced wing Wednesdays?

  • Is your brand identity falling flat with the demographic you’re serving?

  • Are your customers over quinoa and onto cauliflower?



Types of Research

First things first, there are two types of market research: primary research and secondary research. Primary research is brand new research that is done for the purposes of asking a specific research question. An example would be asking a customer to fill out a survey card or have them sit down for a short interview to determine specifics about their wants, needs and experience. Secondary research is information that’s already been gathered by an external public source. For example: an industry report or a consumer survey.


Now, within these two types of research, there are two further sub divisions: qualitative and quantitative research.  


Qualitative research seeks to understand the why and hows of research questions. It favors textual information and goes more in-depth with subjects in smaller sample sizes (i.e. using a smaller amount of people to gather information on). Interviews, focus groups and archival research fall under this category.


Quantitative research, as its name suggests, has to do with numbers. It involves larger sample sizes (more people) and statistical and numerical data. Examples of quantitative research would be polls and surveys that ask questions like, on a scale of one to ten, how happy were you with your experience today? If you could have any ice cream topping, what would you choose? : 1. Chocolate 2. Strawberries or 3. Guacamole. (Yep, guacamole ice cream is a thing!)


Now, the question becomes, how do you use this research? Well, you can use it to...



Find Out Where to Start

From understanding neighborhood demographics, to the residents’ lifestyles, even from the conception of your restaurant, you have to go above and beyond the question “what do consumers want?” You’ve got to look at the specifics: “what do consumers in this region, in this age bracket, with these interests, in this area, want?” Sounds complicated, but that’s where a mix of qualitative and quantitative secondary research comes in.



Understand Your Customer’s Experience with Your Brand & Offerings

Sending out a survey to recent guests is an example of primary, quantitative research. With this type of survey, , you can inquire about your performance, as well as how they felt about the experience at your restaurant as a whole. These results will help you tackle any blind spots in your business and give context to any processes or offerings that may need improvement, from your customers’ perspective.



Monitor Competitors

By subscribing to your competitor’s email newsletters, monitoring their social media feeds and regularly checking in on their website, you can perform primary, qualitative research for the sake of competitive intelligence. When you understand what your competitors are up to, you can manage your strategy to match and supersede theirs by adding a promotion to entice clientele to return to your venue.



Understand Consumer Preferences

Keeping up to date on the latest consumer survey results, like those issued by The National Restaurant Association, gives you a direct line to a national survey sample for a macro level view of consumer trends. By monitoring surveys and consumer data produced by third party sources, you’re performing secondary, quantitative research. This type of research provides  you with an understanding of how consumer preferences are changing. So whether their penchant for delivery is waning or they’re craving all things turmeric, you’re aware early and can take the necessary steps to get on trend before you’re left behind.



Keep a Pulse On Technology Trends

So there’s a new technology revolutionizing restaurant operations. The mobile POS? Old news. You should probably have one by now. We’re talking dynamic digital menus and a drone that delivers food from the kitchen to the table. Heard of any of these? Industry publications, review sites and trend watchers are great sources of secondary, qualitative research, which keep your finger pressed to the pulse of your industry so you’re up to date with tech that can make your life easier.



It’s no secret – these tasks take time. So how can you optimize market research in order to get the most out of the information available in the least amount of time?


Here are some tools to get you started:



A tool that provides researchers with lifestyle and demographic behaviour of a specific area, MyBestSegments shows competitor and consumer trends as they shift.

Formerly known as a social media scheduling tool, Hootsuite’s dashboard allows you to monitor specific hashtags so you can see what’s being said about relevant industry topics.

Social Mention

Similarly to Hootsuite, Social Mention shows you recent posts that contain keywords of your choice.


Survey Monkey

A platform that allows you to easily create and distribute surveys to your audience for polling purposes. Survey Monkey’s survey tool is great for gathering customer feedback in email campaigns and newsletters.



Think of it as your own personal newspaper. With content aggregators like Feedly, you choose the publications and RSS feeds you’d like to follow and they organize them in a lovely, easily digestible daily package. When you enter the platform, you can browse a Pinterest-like interface of relevant articles from publications you’ve chosen, cutting out the noise and without leaving any publications behind.


Market Research Firms

For those who want to make the most of all kinds of market research, market research consultants do it all: from creating and distributing surveys to holding focus groups, concept testing, testing brand image and brand reception, they’ll get back to you with what you’re doing right, as well as your areas that could use improvement.

With the number of new restaurants emerging everyday, there’s no shortage of competition in the restaurant industry. Leverage market research and the insights it delivers to help your restaurant stand out from the crowd.



Looking for more marketing tips and tricks? 

Check out our Restaurant Marketing Channel!




About the Author

Jackie Prange

Jackie is a Content Marketing Specialist and Social Media strategist at TouchBistro. She covers the latest food, dining, and technology trends for the restaurant industry. A lover of all things coffee, Jackie’s hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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