by David Klemt

Ovation Reveals 5 Secrets for Growth

by David Klemt

Sign that reads "We hear you."

Restaurant guest feedback platform Ovation CEO Zack Oates reveals five secrets to what he calls the “digital table touch.”

The company touts itself as the number-one guest feedback platform. Ease of use is one reason the Ovation is viewed so favorably. Guests receive a two-question survey via SMS. Operators receive honest feedback they can use to improve guest retention and loyalty.

Those curious in learning more about the platform can check out several case studies on the Ovation website. Odds are, one of these studies matches closely with an operator’s own business.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on Oates’ 2023 Bar & Restaurant Expo education session. Getting even more granular, I’m going to drill down to Oates’ digital table touch approach to guest feedback and retention.

If Oates’ startling claim about first-time guests is true, guest retention is even more difficult than many operators would think. According to Oates, 70 percent of first-time guests don’t return to a restaurant. That number is, simply put, too damn high. Fifty percent is too high.

Feedback Reality

Let’s be honest about in-person feedback. While there are some honest guests out there, for some reason people tend to leave without being honest during their visits. In the moment, most of us will say “great” or “very good” when asked by a server or manager about our restaurant experience.

This is a compelling phenomenon. Per Oates, 15 percent of dine-in orders have issues. And yet most guests won’t say about an issue during their visit. That rate doubles to 30 percent for delivery orders, by the way.

Being totally transparent, Oates says he behaves the same in restaurants. He’s the CEO of a restaurant feedback platform and he’ll still say everything is fine during a visit even when it isn’t. So, while physical table touches are important, they’re likely not giving an operator an accurate picture of what’s going on in their dining room.

In fact, Oates says rather bluntly that “table touches are out of touch.” Further, they’re not scalable, off-premises, honest, or capable of fixing root issues, in his opinion.

Likewise, long-form surveys. According to Oates, long feedback surveys have an abysmal take rate: 0.01 percent. At that point, the rate may as well be zero. Online reviews, as may operators likely know, don’t really represent most guests.

The best solution to secure honest, actionable feedback appears to be Ovation’s SMS-based process.

Secret #1: Make Measurement Frictionless

Hot take: The easier a thing is to do, the more people will participate.

So, operators who want collect valuable guest feedback need to make it simple. If a guest orders delivery, operators should stuff carryout bags and top boxes with a call to action. For in-person dining, they should add a feedback CTA to table toppers. QR codes can make the process very easy. CTAs need to be visible and simple to complete.

The winning formula seems to be a two-question survey and collecting guest data. So, operators should consider enrolling guests who participate and leave feedback in a $100 gift card draw (or something similar).

Secret #2: Drive 5-star Reviews

Oates says that operators should push guests to rate their experiences on review sites. Doing so not only results in collecting valuable feedback, it can boost reviews and increase a restaurant’s visibility. The more discoverable a restaurant is, the more traffic it can potentially see.

Also, a note on actual five-star reviews: that’s not the best score. People tend to distrust perfect scores and one-star reviews. Per Oates, the best score is 4.7 stars, and operators should aim for at least a 4.0.

Secret #3: Respond to Feedback

This means good and bad feedback, and in a timely manner. Per Oates, one bad review reaches 30 potential guests. So, it’s best to address the situation as quickly as possible—if an operator can do so without losing their cool.

To ensure that emotions don’t prevail over rational responses, follow the Three Cs of Bad Review Recovery:

  1. Collected.
  2. Compassionate.
  3. Call to action.

Remember, people want to feel important. When they leave a bad review the underlying feeling driving the review is likely a sense that they’ve been disrespected. Operators attempting to recover from a bad review need to make the reviewer feel acknowledged and important.

Secret #4: Discover and Act on Trends

A business term that has been making the rounds for years now is “kaizen.” This is the concept of everyone in an organization working toward making incremental improvements to the business.

Savvy operators will set aside their egos, find trends within the feedback they receive, and work to improve on any shortcomings.

Secret #5: Text Guests to Bring Them Back

As I’ve said before, if you really want to meet guests where they are, reach them on the phones in their pockets. However, Oates has more advice than simply, “Text them surveys.”

To boost participation, tempt guests with an offer. Oates says to make the offer a good one. So, operators should consider the following:

  • Come up with an offer and put it first.
  • Make it a good offer: “The first X amount of people to complete this survey will receive 15 percent off their next visit.”
  • Track participation via a link.

While operators can leverage each of the above secrets on their own, Ovation’s digital table touch process is seamless and easy to implement. Either way, collecting honest guest feedback and acting on it is one of the most effective methods for improving guest retention.

Image: Jon Tyson on Unsplash

KRG Hospitality tech stack consulting. Tech. Technology. CRM. POS. Restaurant. Bar. Cafe. Lounge. Hotel. Resort.