July 27, 2023

5 Common “Gut Hunches” Restaurants Make & Why They Can Be Wrong

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Is running a restaurant an art or science?

Before you’re disappointed by the answer “Well, it’s both”, an argument could be made that most restaurants today are leaning too heavily on the “art” side, without backing up their decisions with quantifiable evidence and proof.

However, the best of brands prefer to adopt a more scientific, data-backed approach that’s rooted in guest experience and feedback, instead of throwing darts on a board with regard to menu decisions, staffing, marketing budget allocation, and a host of other things.

While the majority of restaurant brands are still going with “gut hunches”, the truly outstanding ones are busy collecting data that removes emotions from the decision-making process (it’s not coincidence that Dave’s Hot Chicken became the fastest-growing brand in 2022 and 2023).

In this article, we take a look at the top 5 most common “gut hunch” decisions that restaurants make — and how you should avoid them.

Restaurant Operations Improve Guest Feedback

1. “I feel like we should add more menu items that seem popular these days.”

Why this decision might be problematic

Just because a certain food item or trend seems to be all over social media doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for your brand, operations, or customer base.

While it can be helpful to take inspiration from trendy menu items from others, it’s important to tap into your own guest and operations data to make informed decisions.

How to turn the “I feel” into “I know”

1. Stay true to your brand and positioning. If the popular item is already widely associated with another brand, merely adding it to your menu may dilute your own brand messaging and come off as a “copycat” move (ex. see Sweetgreen and Chipotle’s fight over the chipotle chicken bowl).

Understand what your customers already love from your menu using guest satisfaction data, and then explore if any new food trends could enhance your existing offerings. If not, don’t force it – stay true to yourself.

2. Understand your customer base and their preferences. Just because something went viral on TikTok, doesn’t mean it would speak to your customers. Depending on your customers’ age, ethnicity, socio-economic status and more, your offering should be designed specifically for who you’re trying to attract.

Not sure who your key customers are? Attach a few demographics data questions at the end of your guest feedback surveys to find out! (Pro tip! If you are concerned that people won’t fill out long questionnaires, Tattle surveys have proven to achieve an average 94.7% completion rate even by collecting up to 55 data points per survey!)

3. Lastly, it’s also important to consider your teams’ operational proficiency.

For example, if your locations have been struggling with order accuracy issues, adding a really complicated recipe or allowing customers tons of freedom to create their own item might not be the best idea.

If you’re unsure, consider a trial launch of the new item at select locations and carefully monitor guest satisfaction metrics across every single operational category (e.g. food quality, speed of service, accuracy, etc.) before deciding whether to add it to your permanent menu or not.

This route allows you to have more control over the changes that you’re looking to introduce.

2. “I feel like we should work on accuracy/speed of service/hospitality/etc. as our #1 priority.”

Why this decision might be problematic

Whether this sentiment is a result from your own observations, feedback from the team, or anecdotal reviews on Yelp or Google, ultimately it’s not undergirded by structured, detailed, and statistically-significant data that paints a full picture.

This decision should be supported by high volume, granular, and direct feedback from guests — because that’s the single source of truth for any restaurant operation.

Not only is anecdotal information or angry reviews not representative of all guests, but it’s hard to prioritize what would most likely impact your guest satisfaction and revenue when there’s so much noise around.

How to turn the “I feel” into “I know”

Start collecting direct guest feedback using a customer experience platform.

You might be wondering, “Can I just use any sort of feedback form?” The answer would be no — and here’s why.

1. Your surveys need to be able to break down a guest experience by ordering channel, daypart, and operational category (e.g. food quality, accuracy, hospitality, speed of service etc.)

This way you can standardize what you are measuring across all your locations, and pinpoint exactly the area you need to improve on.

2. You need high volumes of guest feedback to reach statistical significance. We typically recommend that each restaurant location reach at least 20-30 survey submissions per month — although, the more the merrier (many Tattle partners have recieved upward of 60 survey responses a day!).

You can achieve high volumes by sending automatic survey emails after a transaction via integrations (see who Tattle integrates with here).

3. As the cherry on top, you’ll want an algorithm that helps you quickly sort and understand the large amounts of data you’ve collected, showing each location their top area for operational improvement.

Tattle does that with a proprietary algorithm, and automatically sets a monthly objective for each restaurant unit. This focuses each team on just one operational category every month that, if improved, will result in an 84% liklihood of higher guest satisfaction within just 30 days.

Restaurant Menu Analytics and Menu Insights

3. “I feel like we should double down our marketing spend to promote the top-seller on the menu.”

Why this decision might be problematic

Just because something is selling well, doesn’t mean your customers actually like it the most.

While this sounds counter-intuitive, there are many reasons why something can sell well. It could be that you have done the most marketing promotion around it, it’s in a prominent position on the menu, or guests consider it to be the best bang for their buck.

However, by only focusing on sales numbers, you can miss out on two important considerations:

1. Your top-seller might not enjoy the highest guest satisfaction scores. As a result, most people end up purchasing something that might not be cooked properly, prepared too slowly, or often made inaccurately.

In fact, we have found that the top-selling menu items have also been the reason why many of their lost customers never come back!

2. You’re overlooking your crowd pleasers. On the other hand, there might be items on your menu that enjoy great satisfaction scores, but aren’t selling well.

Maybe you haven’t really promoted that item, given it a prominent position on the menu, or put much thought into an memorable name. These are the items that you should try to turn into best-sellers, because you know that they’re guaranteed to give a great experience, and will more likely generate a repeat visit from your guests.

How to turn the “I feel” into “I know”

Leverage guest sentiment data in decision-making, instead of relying only on sales and traffic data.

The truth is, sales is only a lagging indicator, whereas guest satisfaction data is a leading indicator — telling you where your potential and opportunities lie.

The key to making informed menu decisions is to start collecting menu-item level feedback.

Sound really granular? That’s the only way to make sure you’re going in the right direction for your guests. In fact, many restaurant brands are already collecting menu item level feedback using Tattle.

Either through integrations or uploading a photo of the receipt, Tattle surveys automatically identify what a guest ordered and asks them to rate each item. These valuable insights have helped many brands make informed, confident decisions on menu optimization and LTO promotions.

Restaurant Operations Improve Guest Feedback

4. “I feel like we should reduce our operational complexity to make it easier for the teams.”

Why this decision might be problematic

Sometimes, due to the nature of your business model (on- or off-premise) and recipes, there can a certain level of operational complexity that comes with it.

There are clear signs that your operations might be too complex and are taking a toll on your teams. For example, you might hear complaints from your unit-level teams, see longer wait times, or notice order accuracy becoming a bigger issue.

It’s likely that there are always steps you could simplify in your operations, the challenge is pinpointing what to simplify first — without sacrificing the guest experience.

How to turn the “I feel” into “I know”

1. Identify exactly what your team should simplify. By leveraging Tattle’s smart objectives, you could first isolate the operational area that your locations need to work on that will most likely improve guest satisfaction. That could be speed of service, accuracy, food quality, and more.

This helps you tackle one challenge at a time, and prioritize those with the greatest impact based on data insights.

2. Go one layer deeper into the operational category and identify the factors responsible for most of the guest dissatisfaction.

For example, you might be able to isolate the “build-you-own” menu items as the main culprit for guest detraction within the order accuracy category.

Brands have tried many different ways of tackling this specific challenge, from limiting customization options to placing commonly-paired ingredients beside each other at the assembly station. This is where a bit of creativity could help you prescribe the best solution for your teams.

3. Test and monitor your guest sentiment data to track the effect of your changes. This is especially true when it comes to major changes (i.e. removing a menu items due to disproportionate operational complexity, overhauling store layouts to optimize traffic flow, etc.), you might want to roll it out at select stores first before implementing the change brand-wide.

We recommend designing such controlled tests for a few months and monitor guest sentiment to make sure they’re trending in the right direction. Also, focus on one change at a time so you can isolate the impact and make confident decisions as you go.

Restaurant Guest Feedback Customer Experience Insights

5. “I feel like we should add our last LTO to the permanent menu / bring it back next year.”

Why this decision might be problematic

LTO creation, testing, and marketing can consume a lot of resources for restaurants. It also can be an emotional and subjective process, as it’s often the culmination of the teams’ creativity, preferences, and hard work.

It can be challenging to remain objective and let the data speak.

Similar to gut-hunch #3 above, sales numbers aren’t the only indicator of an LTO’s success. It’s important to combine that with guest satisfaction data, along with other metrics such as average basket size, return visits, incident involvement rate, etc. to understand whether a menu item is truly worth bringing back or adding to the permanent menu.

How to turn the “I feel” into “I know”

Before launching an LTO, make sure you add the item-specific questions at the end of your guest feedback surveys (many restaurant partners are already doing this with their Tattle surveys, and are seeing incredibly high completion rates that are north of 80%!)

This enables you to get a good sense of not only the overall satisfaction of this item, but also its performance in each operational category, including flavor, texture, presentation, speed of service, accuracy, and more.

There are also some other metrics you should look out for.

For example, the item’s incident involvement rate — how often is this item included in the order when guests are dissatisfied with their experience?

Another one is the average check size of guests who order this item — do they tend to be larger orders or just as a single item (which might be an indicator of whether they speak more to families, parties, or just individual diners)?

Also, you might want to track how many of your guests who order this item are new customers, return visitors, or loyal fans. To go one step further, how many return to your restaurants after visiting and ordering this LTO for the first time?


We hope this article gives you a good sense of what “actionable feedback data” really means — and how it’s currently being used by thousands of restaurant units to make a variety of operational decisions.

By leveraging such data, you can take bias out of objective decision making and get easier buy-in from the teams. Additionally, you’ll finally be able to make confident choices based on what “I know”, rather than what “I feel”.

You can watch a quick video to see how the Tattle platform works to generate all the insights you need to make the above decisions. Or even better, book a live demo with our team to get started!

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