GrubHub’s website published a blog post back in 2015 discussing how some of the biggest restaurant chains were attempting to introduce a measure of personalization. The thinking was that personalization could help restaurants better position themselves for growth. Did it work? And if so, can personalization continue to help restaurant growth in 2020?
Unfortunately, there are not any hard numbers that quantify whether or not personalization has helped over the last five years. But the idea is at least worth looking at anyway. Ultimately, growth in any industry relies heavily on meeting customer demand. After all, if customers are demanding personalization, any restaurant refusing to provide it would be jeopardizing its own future.
Examples of Personalization
GrubHub cited numerous examples of personalization in their 2015 piece. Among them was a McDonald’s program known as ‘Create Your Taste’. The program allowed customers at select restaurants to build their own burgers from an extensive list of ingredients. McDonald’s saw it as a door into the artisan market. It failed miserably.
Create Your Taste lasted little more than a year. If folded in late 2016 after the company realized that the amount of effort needed to keep the program running was not worth the revenues it generated. People just weren’t interested in creating their own burgers. They wanted the old standbys.
Other examples cited by GrubHub were customizable music at KFC locations in South Africa, Applebee’s Two for $20 menu, and a customizable pizza offer launched by a New York City pizza chain. All three programs eventually went the way of Create Your Taste. They did not generate enough buzz to turn into long-term trends.
Some Models Built on Personalization
It would seem from the examples cited thus far that personalization is a non-starter. But wait just a minute. There are some restaurant models that are built on personalization and always have been. Take submarine sandwiches, for example. You can go into just about any sub shop and build your sandwich any way you want. It is a model that has worked for decades.
Buffet dining is also built on personalization. Some of the best buffets in this country are outstanding simply because of the sheer variety of choices on offer. The common thread here seems to be the basic premise of all or nothing.
People Want to Experience
The people behind Salt Lake City’s Taqueria27 Mexican restaurant chain say that the biggest thing that determines success in the restaurant business is experience. In other words, with the exception of diners who subsist mainly on fast food, people who go out to eat want to experience something that makes them feel good. Yes, they want good food. But they also want a comfortable atmosphere, an environment that allows them to relax, and so forth.
The thing about personalization is that it can either enhance or detract from the customer experience. In the three cases cited by GrubHub, personalization was isolated to a single thing. In McDonald’s case, the entire menu was not personalized. Only burgers part of the Create Your Taste program were.
For personalization to have any kind of long-term effect, it has to apply throughout a given restaurant model. It has to be all or nothing. When restaurants attempt just a little bit of personalization here or there, they get a short-term bump from it. But the bump never lasts. Any gains realized are eventually lost when the novelty of personalization wears off.
Can personalization fuel restaurant growth in 2020? Yes, if restaurants embrace it fully and completely. If they try to piecemeal personalization, it won’t do any good.