It seems as if queuing is almost part of the Singapore culture – it appears to be that we’re happy to queue for things we know will be worth the wait.
However, a report on the customer satisfaction index of Singapore that zooms into the Food & Beverage (F&B) sector reveals that longer waiting times were associated with overall scores of lower satisfaction and loyalty among respondents.
For fast food restaurants and cafes & coffee houses, satisfaction and loyalty registered a statistically significant decline for customers who felt that they’d waited 10 minutes or more to queue and receive their order. Meanwhile, respondents who perceived a wait time of 20 minutes or more to receive their food at restaurants also gave lower satisfaction and loyalty scores.
Technology and the consumer, and how it changed F&B
While customers might previously have tolerated long waiting times, the F&B landscape has changed with the emergence and proliferation of online food delivery companies such as Deliveroo, FoodPanda and UberEATS, catering services, and the use of online reservation platforms including Chope, HungryGoWhere and Quandoo. These changing landscapes result in changing customer expectations.
The increased availability of food services has given diners today a wide variety of options for food, with a high degree of convenience. They can kick back at home and wait for food to be delivered to their doorstep or make reservations ahead of time and expect to be seated upon arrival. The ease and immediacy of these services combined with increasingly hectic lifestyles may have inadvertently shifted something in the psyche of consumers. Do they now expect food service to be as immediate as well?
While anecdotally we’ve all heard of customers who would be willing to wait 30 minutes or even up to an hour for experiences they deem to be ‘worth it’, this is more an exception rather than the norm. With that in mind, what should F&B operators in general do given the correlation between longer waiting time and lower satisfaction and loyalty?
While people understand and accept that waiting is part and parcel of the experience of eating out, they become increasingly frustrated if the waiting time is longer than what they are prepared to accept, or if the waiting experience is unpleasant. This is a scenario that is paralleled in the Healthcare sector – in the CSISG 2016 Q4 study of the Healthcare sector, longer perceived waiting time was associated with lower satisfaction ratings for hospitals. Yet, the attribute that had the most significant impact on perceived quality was the waiting experience. For many F&B establishments, there are real limitations on cutting down the waiting time – for example the availability of tables and service staff. What they can do is to focus on making the waiting experience a more pleasant one.
Improving the waiting experience
One way to improve the waiting experience is to give your consumers mobility instead of waiting to be seated. This includes adopting an SMS queue management system, akin to what industries such as banking have adopted – this gives the consumer more control over their time. Some F&B establishments have also invested in technology that allows customers to see how many people are ahead of them in the line and this information can then help a customer decide if he is willing or able to wait.
Other establishments such as Hai Di Lao, which is known for their long wait times have designed experiences that make waiting less unpleasant. By offering games, a children’s play room, free manicures and massages and even snacks, they’ve turned the waiting experience into one that’s easily tolerated, and some may say even enjoyable.
Another way to optimise the customers’ waiting time is to allow customers who are in line to pre-order their food and drinks so that by the time they are seated, their order would arrive shortly. At Astons, customers can select, order and pay for their food as part of the process of waiting to be seated. By the time customers are seated, peripheral service processes are already out of the way, and customers can enjoy the dining experience. Integrating service processes such as order taking as part of the waiting time makes it feel less like a waste of time, and more like part of the customer experience.
Finish with a smile
As patience is tested by the perception of long waiting times, it is human nature to be a little more expectant when it comes to service. F&B operators should bear this in mind and ensure that at the end of the wait, customers would be met by service staff who are attentive, able to meet their needs and be professional in their interaction. Nothing would affect an experience with a brand more negatively than a double whammy of waiting for an order that ends with bad service.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Neeta Lachmandas assumed the position of Executive Director at Singapore Management University's Institute of Service Excellence (SMU-ISE) in October 2015. In her current capacity, she leads the Institute in driving forward its mission to raise service levels in Singapore through three key areas of focus: benchmarking and comparative analysis using customer satisfaction data analytics, research and though leadership, and industry engagement.
Prior to her ISE appointment, Neeta was Assistant Chief Executive, Business Development Group, at the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). Neeta has 20 years of working experience in the areas of marketing, communications, account management and business development, in companies such as Leo Burnett (S) Pte Ltd, Northwest Airlines Inc. and the Media Corporation of Singapore.
Throughout this time, Neeta had been responsible for profile building, business development, identifying and targeting new clients, brand management, advertising and client communication, public relations, event management and putting into place loyalty and CRM strategies.
Neeta graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelors of Law degree (LLB) hons.