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Study pegs keys to bringing diners back for more

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Study pegs keys to bringing diners back for more

What is it that makes consumers want to return to a restaurant again and again?



January 18, 2011, United States – What is it that makes consumers want to return to a restaurant again and again?

The keys are the social experience and the availability of healthy menu options, according to new research from the University of Tennessee and the College of Charleston.

Researchers from the two schools have developed a 20-item scale called DinEX, which can predict whether diners will like a restaurant and return to it.


"Given the research we did to develop and test DinEX, we're confident that this is the new generation of restaurant rating systems," said John Antun, an associate professor in the Department of Retail, Hospitality and Tourism, and director of the Culinary Institute at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "Food, service and atmosphere have always been critical factors in a restaurant's success, but recent literature suggests restaurants have become a significant social outlet for people.”

Antun added that the team’s research showed, “diners also rank 'health' high among the factors that will determine whether or not they'll return to a restaurant."

To develop DinEX, the team assembled a small panel of restaurant owners and operators from several regions of the U.S. and asked each member to list "guest expectations" in the areas of food, service, atmosphere and social connectedness, as well as any other areas they felt were relevant. This list of 108 items was used to develop the first draft of a survey.

This 108-item survey was presented to six focus groups – three groups of restaurant professionals and three groups of restaurant customers – which completed the survey and critiqued it. The results produced a revamped 100-item survey, which was tested with the public. The survey was then pared down further, eventually resulting in the 20-item DinEX questionnaire.

According to findings published in the Journal of Foodservice Business Research, the survey is "efficient and yet comprehensive" in measuring the five key desires of restaurant patrons: food, service, atmosphere, social and health.

The National Restaurant Association reports that the U.S. foodservice industry serves more than 130 million meals every day, with people spending an average of 48 per cent of their food dollars outside the home. Yet, restaurant sales growth in the U.S. has been on the decline since 2004 and, for the first time, eating places are expected to see a negative 1.2 per cent real growth change from 2008 to 2009.

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