Social Media

Diners Today Take 50 More Minutes to Finish a Meal Than in 2004. Here’s Why.

Taking Photos of Food

I stumbled on this fascinating article on Distractify the other day — a breakdown of what goes on during the course of the average meal at a restaurant, based on video surveillance tapes.

The impetus for this investigation was a consumer complaint that their restaurant’s meals took so long to get. The restaurant compared video surveillance from two similar business days — one in July 2004, the other in July 2014.

What did they find?

Meals were about 50 minutes longer in 2014 than they were in 2004, and it’s because patrons were using their cell phones so much.

So much for faster dining experiences.

How could mobile devices contribute to so much additional time spent at meals? A couple ways, some unexpected:

  • Today, customers whip out their phones before even opening the menu. This brings up the average time until a customer is ready to order from the 2004 average of 8 minutes, to 21 minutes.
  • Today, 57% of customers spend 3 minutes taking pictures of their food before they eat it. Another 31% take pictures of each other as they’re eating the food, which takes an average of 4 minutes as they review and retake photos.
  • 9 out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat it — presumably because they took 7 minutes snapping pictures of it.
  • 60% of patrons as the waiter to take a group picture; 31% ask for a retake. This adds another 5 minutes to the whole dining process.
  • Once the check is delivered, it takes 15 minutes longer today than it did ten years ago for customers to pay and leave.

Ways to Capitalize on Extended Meal Times

Instead of trying to change patrons’ cell phone behavior (good luck with that), let’s find some ways to capitalize on it. Here are a few ideas:

1. Turn that extra time into more transactions.

If patrons find it difficult to get to the menu-reading portion of their dining experience due to cell phone distraction, give them a shorter, scannable table menu to accompany the full menu.

This can be a standing menu in the middle of the table with just a few cocktail and/or appetizer options that are easy to understand (no complicated names — i.e. “Truffle Fries” instead of “A Taste of France” — and order quickly without much mental thought or deliberation. This might help you get more transactions from the table, helping you drive more revenue for a longer, but less active, dining experience.

2. Ask for reviews/ratings.

If your table is online for almost half of their meal, they might be willing to jot down a review. Include a review option on your receipt — it’ll help them make more productive use of that 15 minutes after the check is delivered, to when they leave the restaurant.

Ideally, they leave their reviews after the server has dropped off the check, but before he/she has run it — so be sure your server calls attention to it after they’ve put in their cash/card(s), so they have something to do while payment is being processed.

3. Ask them to share their photos.

Since a lot of the time during these additional 50 minutes is spent taking photos, ask your customers to share those photos online. For instance, after a server takes a group pic, you could ask if they’d be willing to tweet it at you so you can share it.

This is the prime time to ask for a favor — you just took a photo for them, after all — plus, it shows that you value their time spent at the restaurant.

4. Be available on all the social networks so you’re where the action is.

If patrons are taking a lot of time during their meals to document their experience on mobile, chances are they’ll use some of that content on social networks — whether it’s Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere.

Even if you don’t love the networks, your customers do. If you have a presence on them, it’ll make it easier for them to attribute their good time to your establish. So have a Twitter account that’s easy to find, and make it easy for patrons to check in on Facebook.

You’ve gotta be where the action is.

Editor’s Note: And with that advice, we share two hilarious must-reads: McSweeney’s open letter to people who take pictures of food with Instagram. And pictures of hipsters taking pictures of food.

You’re welcome.

About the author

Corey Eridon

Corey Eridon is the lead editor for the HubSpot Inbound Marketing blog, specializing in how businesses can use digital marketing to get found and earn customers.