Think back to the last time you ordered a meal. Did you swap out or remove some ingredients? Did you ask for a different sauce or get the dressing on the side? Lots of people are taking the opportunity to customize their meals and if you’re in the business of providing or serving food, you know there’s no shortage of factors driving consumer’s decisions. Making its way to the top of that list is the expectation of a more personalized experience.
For instance, 62% of consumers say the ability to customize their order is important when visiting a fast-casual restaurant according to Technomic. For the food industry, the trends generally show consumers are more health-aware, more sophisticated about flavors and ingredients, and expect to be able to customize their food and beverage. Fortunately, meeting these consumer expectations doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Our teams at Aramark have discovered four ways to give consumers the options and experience they’re craving.
1. Listen to consumers.
Jill Marchick, head of our consumer insights team, says that personalization must be driven by consumers. We utilize a combination of methodologies to ensure we understand consumer’s needs and wants. We are constantly monitoring trends and conduct our studies with consumers from our proprietary 60,000 member panel.
“Based on our studies, we know that quality, health, convenience, and personalization are key factors when eating away from home,” says Marchick.
Having a method for guests to provide input and feedback is critical. Consumer feedback is an invaluable resource. “The reason why we have such high engagement is because we are in their places of work, their schools, their hosptials and impact their daily lives so they want to provide feedback,” Marchick says. The insights team spends a lot of time evaluating new products, concepts, and initiatives.
Our attention to personalization is getting results: our growth in consumer satisfaction is strong, and personalization scores are on the rise.
2. Highlight inspiring menus.
What do personalization-hungry customers want to eat? Lisa Bush, who oversees our consumer promotions team, leverages restaurant rotations, celebrity partnerships—like Iron Chef Cat Cora’s Mediterranean concept, OLILO—and other special products or programs that can be offered.
After the initial push from consumers for broad menu choice evolved to a demand for build-your-own autonomy, Bush now sees consumer desire for control over food offerings being balanced by their desire for guidance and curation: “What we've been seeing in the past year or two is that consumers still want a little bit of inspiration.” So the menu design team, chefs and celebrity partners, including Cat Cora, have them covered: “You can have the bowls that I’ve created, or you can mash it up and do whatever you want to,” Cora says. “I love that and I think the consumer loves that.”
We also have a popular ramen bar concept called O-Mori that allows consumers to build their own meal or select from signature recipes like our chashu pulled pork bowl. “Typically when consumers are trying out one of our core brands like O-Mori for the first time, they’re ordering directly from the menu. But when they’re coming back a second or third time, they’re now either tweaking it slightly or completely starting from scratch. Our goal is to inspire them with creative menu offerings, but also give them the opportunity to make it their own,” says Bush.
3. Offer on-the-spot customization.
Bush says her team also discovered how to parse personalization strategically to keep quality and satisfaction high, for both providers and consumers. She explains that given the right ingredients and tools, guests can hand-build meals, allowing recurring visitors who might be ready to try something new the control they want at a quality level consistent with our standards.
What a consumer wants can vary each day. “Monday, you enter your café and notice Wicked Eats is running, our Cat Cora Mediterranean street brand, and go with falafel over greens with couscous and add your personal blend of sauces, sides and heat. By Friday, you return craving a similar dish, but you treat yourself to the Spanish flavored shrimp over bravas fries. It's about providing the flexibility our consumers are looking for, what are they familiar with, and what health, heat lever, and flavors are they seeking on that particular day,” Bush says.
4. Deliver excellent service—every time.
Marchick asserts that customization and personal touch have to work together to be effective. “Personalization is really two fronts: it’s about the ability to control the way you want your order but it's also about the customer service you experience every single time,” she says. “As more and more people have less human interaction, just having somebody nod or smile at you and feeling some warmth is very important today because people can feel a little isolated.”
Marchick says that guest feedback is essential in this area, too. “We use our Voice of the Consumer data—our instant feedback tool—to evaluate how we are performing and understand how to optimize performance, but also look at who's doing a great job and learn from those different accounts so that we can then share best practices.”
Personalization, Marchick believes, is not going anywhere. “Consumer feedback helps us better understand what people want and identify opportunities to connect and empower them to make choices.”
The proliferation of feedback, awareness of choices, and a population that increasingly eats away from home, mean food providers have an opportunity to bring significant value through quality, health, convenience, and personalization to a highly-engaged consumer base. For us, the most important aspect of personalization remains the person—being seen, truly acknowledged, and being able to exercise choice.