Looking to deliver a great customer experience in food service? Deliver on the basics first.
Food service is a very tough gig. Differentiation and positioning are key ingredients to success. Then there is the never-ending need to keep pace with changing consumer trends and needs. Keep pace or risk death.
I was reminded of this when I met a former colleague for a coffee. We went to a coffee shop I had never frequented before. I ordered my beverage of choice and reached for my credit card. I was shocked when the hostess politely mentioned it was “Sorry, cash only.” I reached for my debit card. That was met with a more terse reply, “It is cash only.” I remarked in complete honesty that I never, ever carry cash. I keep a little cash in my car to pay for on-street parking (I only need this in a few towns and cities that do not have automated meters yet). The coffee shop hostess directed me to a cash machine in the coffee shop, which I may use to get cash for my purchase. I did, and was quite annoyed to have to pay a $3.00 fee on top of my $6.00 beverage.
I had already decided that I was never, ever going back. I did not even need to taste the latte I ordered. I did not need to ask my table guest that morning why this shop was so good or so different. Maybe the mood and ambiance were unique. Maybe the menu was eclectic. Maybe the food was out of this world. Maybe the service was over the top. I have to be honest, I didn’t give a crap about any of it.
Can you seriously be in food service, in a bricks and mortar establishment, and take only cash? It was not a street vendor. It was not the little kid down the corner selling me rocks she painted. How can anyone afford that business model in a retail area known for high rents in a city with less than a million people? Who did that math?
Look, I know it is tough to accept merchant fees on credit cards when transaction amounts are small. For the record, those fees are declining. I know there is a whole consumer segment out there that wants nothing to do with paying homage to banks and credit card companies. For the record, those numbers are dwindling. Cards are in, man. Get with it, or face certain death.
If they had offered to take cards on purchases over $10 or even $15, I probably would have traded up by buying a muffin for myself, or taking some back to the office. That was not even a choice. Small businesses complain about many things, but sometimes the only enemy is themselves.
You can differentiate on something that rewards consumers. You cannot differentiate on table stakes.
Andreas H. Noe, MBA, BComm Marketing, is a founding partner of Phase 5 and has more than 30 years of experience in marketing research and consulting. Andreas leads Phase 5’s Customer Experience and Market Insights teams.