Socially Distanced Menu-Item Testing
Methods: Menu Evaluation, Central-Location Test
It was the summer of 2020. The restaurant industry had been hit hard by mandated temporary dining-room closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and restaurants have had to adapt at lightning speed to shift to a takeout and delivery model.
Surviving restaurants have opened back up for dine-in service in most states—albeit under new restrictions, including reduced capacity—and consumers are cautiously trickling back in, though an increased consumer appetite for takeout and delivery remains.
An upper-end casual-dining chain with limited locations sought to increase its delivery footprint, and came to Decision Analyst for help in testing new versions of several menu items that could be more easily executed in ghost kitchens. That is, kitchens outside the brand’s existing locations that would be dedicated to delivery orders and that could, in this case, utilize less-specialized kitchen staff.
The delivery-only locations helped this brand extend its reach for a much more modest investment than that required for additional full-service locations. But since these delivery-only offerings were associated with our client’s existing brand, it was critical that the food meet consumers’ expectations.
In regards to the taste tests themselves, recruiting and execution had to be done with care, due to the ongoing pandemic. It was important that potential recruits felt comfortable with the planned safety precautions so they would sign up to participate and that the taste tests were executed safely for all involved.
Marketing Research Objectives
The client sought to determine whether new versions of menu items were essentially on par with the current versions. In addition, diagnostic ratings and consumer feedback were obtained to help the culinary team adjust new recipes as needed.
Marketing Research Design and Methods
The research design was fairly straightforward, while execution of the taste test required extra planning and precautions.
- Brand users were recruited to participate in sequential monadic testing of current and new versions of menu items.
- To maximize efficiency, participants tasted and rated current and new versions of two different menu items.
- Self-administered surveys were taken on tablets.
- During recruiting, staff communicated to potential recruits the precautions that would be in place.
- Participants waited in their cars until the appointed time, to avoid crowding in waiting area.
- Taste tests took place in a designated area of restaurant.
- Participants were seated six feet apart.
- Staff wore masks at all times.
- Participants wore masks when not seated at tables.
- Staff sanitized dining area, tablets, and styluses before each group.
- Hand sanitizer and hand wipes were provided, as well as tablet wipes, should participants wish to sanitize tablets again before using them.
Proctors received feedback from participants that the safety precautions outlined during the recruiting process made them feel comfortable with signing up for the taste test, and seeing those precautions in place during the taste test reinforced their comfort level.
In terms of research results, tests revealed which new items outperformed the current version, which items performed about the same, and which items underperformed. Diagnostic ratings and other participant feedback provided insights on what aspects of each dish to adjust should the brand wish to further develop the new recipes.
Marketing Research Services
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