Why Pubs are Missing a Trick by Turning their back on Mystery Guests

Why Pubs are Missing a Trick by Turning their back on Mystery Guests

It seems fashionable at the moment for operators to be sacrificing operational measures in favour of customer feedback. The received wisdom being that “voice of the customer” is going to take care of measuring the customer experience but a recent visit to the pub by Client Manager Russell Bennett illustrated why this is not the panacea some would have you believe…

“I visited my local pub the other weekend – nothing new there, you may say – but within a few minutes what should have been a fun diversion after a morning of charging around after the kid’s sporting activities and running the gauntlet of my local supermarket became disappointing and frustrating.

My local pub is in a blue-collar area and is well targeted: lots of sports on TV, good value, family friendly food and promotions aimed at bringing their core customers in to take advantage of both.  So, making a pit-stop as a treat to catch a bite to eat and drink on the way back from my son’s football game seemed a good idea.  Right up until we walked through the door.

We didn’t go into the locals “over-18’s only” area but their grumbles are well known to me: “We’re their best customers but no-one ever comes down this end of the bar to serve as they are only interested in taking food orders.”.  The staff know it, too.  One told me that after the recent facelift refurbishment a core group of locals had not returned as a competing pub had made them feel more welcome.

Instead, it was the family area for us.  As the family-friendly bar area had all of the seats occupied by football fans who wanted to sit at a table rather than stand or perch on bar stools in the over-18’s bar (or perhaps they just like being served quicker?), we had to sit in the restaurant.  “No problem, there’s a TV in there.” I was told as I paid for our drinks.

We headed through into an empty restaurant and sat down just as the staff member pressed the button and the TV flickered into life.  It was soon obvious why no-one else was watching the game in this section of the pub despite the plethora of seats available – the picture was awful.  As we tried to watch the match through the snow (the match was being played in sunshine in the other bar), my son chose his meal from the kid’s menu and I set off to order his meal and a burger for me.

10 minutes later I was back in the restaurant shaking my head and apologising.  Having waited at the food till to be served, the first disappointment was that the mainstream meal my son had ordered was out of stock – this was early Saturday lunchtime.  Peak time.  No doubt this would now not be available for the whole of the weekend: I wondered how many other kids would also be disappointed until Monday’s delivery arrived.  The next was that there were no burgers.  You may have, rightly, guessed that this was the sort of establishment where an assortment of burgers was a significant chunk of the food offering.  “Hold on, we’ve just had our delivery.  You should check what’s on it.” a passing colleague helpfully said to my server.  Apparently, while the computer had said no it may just have been that the stock on the system had not been updated.

At this point my server disappeared leaving me stood at the bar for 5 minutes.  When they returned the news was no better.  The kid’s meal remained unavailable, and burgers would not be available until later in the day as they were still frozen.  A couple at the next food point were experiencing a similar situation trying to order a bar meal – this time coleslaw was the issue.  Somehow, this pub was managing to be out of stock of several core products all at their key sales time.  Eventually, after another wait to be served, having selected second choices (and a third in case of a repeat episode) we managed to place an order for something they had available.

(Not in this pub on a Saturday lunch time)

As I gave up on trying to figure out who had the ball through the fuzzy picture on the television, I noticed that I was again being bombarded with yet another request for an online feedback survey with the offer that by some million to one chance I might win a voucher so that I could return (why would I want to?).  I just sighed: how many of these a day do we see?  Anyway, why should I bother?  The experience had left us feeling unvalued as customers and pretty fed up: why should I waste more of my weekend telling them what they should already know?  One thing was for sure, no-one else was going to tell them: empty restaurants do not complete voice of the customer surveys (and I had a pretty good idea why it was empty!).  Next time, maybe I would join the rest of the former customers down the road?

It seemed obvious that a mystery shop programme would have enabled all these service failures to be addressed and solved.  A simple targeted assessment, focussing on the brand’s core offer would have highlighted the issues and provided the outlet, area and senior management with precise, actionable feedback.  Reports specifically for stake holders responsible for catering, bar service and brand standards.

No issues with an insufficient number of responses for the data to be robust at outlet level.  No rolling up of data to get to a usable sample meaning that the feedback gets dismissed as out of date or “always tells us the same thing”.  No concerns about biased or unrepresentative results as only really “happy” or “unhappy” customers can be bothered to fill the form in, or, if you have gone down the “just one question” route, no low ratings without knowing what needs to be fixed.  Cost effective, clear, actionable, and simple for everyone.”

To talk about how ESA can keep your customers coming back rather than migrating to the competition, drop us a line on or call 01727 730 300

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