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Every restaurant owner knows that top-notch service and great food are the most critical ways to keep diners coming back. But how else can a restaurant stand out? With locally sourced food options? A great craft beer list? Instagram-worthy décor? If you’re strapped for time and cash, it can be difficult to decide where to make a bet.

Upserve was interested in clarifying this decision for restaurant owners, and surveyed 520 adults from around the US to find out what – aside from food and great service – will bring them back to a restaurant. Turns out diners are a lot more interested in figuring out a way to get Fido onto the patio than they are about Happy Hour.

Their top asks of restaurants:

  1. Let me bring my dog:

Fifty-six percent of respondents said that a dog-friendly restaurant was important or very important in their decision, and 32 percent said it is one of the top three things they consider when deciding to return.

Being family- and dog-friendly is a huge reason guests return to a restaurant

Jeff Balfour of Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery in San Antonio, Texas can attest to this. Last April, for its two-year anniversary, Southerleigh hosted a dog adoption event and offered specials on both brews and food, which brought out new faces for the cause, and, in turn, built more brand loyalty.

“Since San Antonio is big on being an animal-loving community, conscious efforts to be more animal-friendly have noticeably kept customers happy and coming back,” says Balfour.

  1. Offer Online Ordering:

Seventy-one percent of respondents said offering takeout or delivery was a factor in their decision-making process.

You can control the conversation and change the way guest communication is handled with proper staff training.

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  • Twenty-two percent of respondents said online ordering was one of the top three things they considered.
  • When it comes to different age groups, millennials (ages 18-29) stand out as being online ordering consumers: 35 percent said it was a very important consideration, and 86 percent said it was a factor in their decision.  

If the thought of integrating an online order system with your POS gives you heartburn, Upserve has launched a new Upserve Online Ordering platform to integrate online ordering with its existing Upserve POS; eliminating the extra steps of manually transcribing orders into the point of sale, and updating multiple menus across online platforms.

  1. Support local farms:

Sourcing local products for craft beer requires a top POS system, and is an important factor to 42 percent of respondents; nearly a quarter said it is one of the top three things they consider.

And so you’re prepared for the most savvy, educated, and discerning of customers who value farm-to-table restaurants, here are some likely practices they’ve adopted and may grill you on. This group will:

  • Understand seasonality, and find out what grows in the area and at what times of the year, making the connection between themselves and their food — visiting farms and producers in the area.
  • Define local — there is no single definition (other than Thornton Wilder’s witticism of “an agreed upon falsehood”), so will ask the manager or chef how they define local.
  • Build relationships with the people who work at your local market, co-op and/or restaurant supplier.
  • Read labels: Does it say Certified Organic? Certified Humane? Fair Trade? Is there a Country of Origin designation?farmers market

What do diners not care about?

Surprisingly, a restaurant’s alcohol selection: More than half of the respondents said that the menus for wine (54.6 percent), beer (54.8 percent) and cocktails (53 percent) were not important in their decision making.

People were also not as excited about Happy Hour as you would think: only 29.6 percent said it was very important or important, while 37.4 percent said it was not important at all.

What’s the takeaway for restaurants owners?

Fun elements like an awesome cocktail menu will likely help you stand out but prioritize other more critical pieces – like perfecting your online ordering system, and having kid-friendly menu choices  – to draw in repeat customers first.

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When she's not debating with her young sons about which Star Wars character is the best one, Carol Lin is likely to be ordering a Lychee martini and spicy tuna roll at her neighborhood sushi joint. She loves controversial (but delicious) foods like foie gras and haggis, and believes there’s few problems that a conversation over buffalo wings and cold beer can’t solve.
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