In the restaurant business, engendering customer loyalty is all about how well you deliver on the experience – the quality of your food, the atmosphere of your restaurant, and the professionalism of both your frontline and kitchen staff spell the difference between a repeat customer and a one-star Yelp review. In the fast-casual dining sector, where parity and proliferation create intense competition, restaurant chains are looking for another edge – delivering a differentiated, personalized experience based on data. Enter fast-casual Mediterranean dining chain Cava, which has taken one-to-one dining to another level.
By Rick Ferguson
Cava Mediterranean Grill is one of the newer entrants in the fast-casual assembly-line dining concept pioneered by Chipotle and other chains: stand in line, move down the counter while assembly-line works construct your personalized meal based on your choices, and then dine in or carry out. There’s nothing original about the concept other than the Mediterranean-themed cuisine – which puts Cava into tough competition with all of the other fast-casual chains assembling made-to-order Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Pizza, and many other meals besides.
To differentiate, Cava has become a leading-edge pioneer in the use of data to improve the in-store experience. Fast Company first profiled the company in January, detailing their use data collected via in-store sensors to monitor and improve the customer experience. A few highlights:
- Redesigned menu boards that help the lines move 10 percent faster and increased line capacity by 12 percent.
- Increased seating capacity to accommodate longer in-store dining in suburban locations increased revenue per square foot by 20 percent.
- Data from kitchen monitors has reduced food quality complaints by 28 percent.
Having delivered such stellar results in the holistic customer experience, what does Cava do for an encore? Focus on delivering differentiated, one-to-one experiences to build loyalty. The company announced recently their plans to launch a loyalty program—one that will build on the company’s tradition of leveraging data to improve customer relationships. Money quote from another new profile courtesy of Fast Company:
“As part of the new [loyalty] program, the company will likely track what customers order in-store, then send that data to a preference engine that could signal what other deals or rewards might be on point for that individual. ‘We’re really focused on creating a personalized one-on-one experience,’ [CEO Brett] Schulman added… The system might sift through people’s past ordering preferences to spot, say, eaters who consistently love harissa–a signature sweet and spicy dip with stewed tomatoes and crushed red pepper–to send harissa loyalists a coupon so they can pick up more of the good stuff at Whole Foods, which currently carries many of Cava’s dips and spreads. That deal could, theoretically, be paired with at-home recipes for using the ingredient in new ways too.”
Likewise, Cava’s chief data scientist Josh Patchus, quoted in Skift, touts the restaurant chain’s commitment to data-driven personalization:
“Speaking at this year’s TechTable Summit, Cava chief data scientist, Josh Patchus, hinted at the [loyalty] program, noting that communicating digitally with Cava’s customers via email and the Cava app is ‘the next big thing.’ The important part is touting the whole in-store experience, he noted, not just optimizing for speed. ‘Efficiency is not the end goal,’ he said. Instead, it looks like the end goal is a totally personalized experience, one that powers guest satisfaction, driving repeat visits and brand loyalty across Cava’s offerings.”
Cava hasn’t announced a formal launch date for their new program, but expects it to debut sometime in 2018. For the fast-casual dining space, the Cava case study reveals an important evolution: success now relies as much on customer data as it does the menu, the staff, and the location. Those core elements of the customer experience deliver loyalty; customer data delivers the edge.
Rick Ferguson is Editor in Chief of the Wise Marketer Group and a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP).