In past posts on the Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) blog, we often discussed how often observational or ethnographic research is overlooked even though it can be critical to the market research project’s findings. Perhaps never more than in this case study blog post is that point summarized. Observational findings and research can add value to any project and the simple act of making a visit will provide the research team with a more comprehensive understanding of the research project at hand. Here are some simple examples of how observation research can help your market research:

  • Visiting each branch location of credit unions before beginning your mystery shopping process. It will help the research team who is analyzing the data and making recommendations (but often not conducting the mystery shops) have a better feel for process flow and employees referenced in the data.
  • Making an on-site visit to the plot of land or location for your feasibility study. In many cases, feasibility studies are completed in order to obtain financing to build. Incorporate some observational research into situations where a plot of land has been selected or where you can visit the intended building where the expansion will occur for your feasibility study. The pictures you take, the understanding of traffic flow and your improved feel for the surrounding area will all aid in your report writing.

restaurant survey vendor

Here is a case study example, which explains the importance and impact observational research can have on market research:

Objectives: A global restaurant chain partnered with RMS, a restaurant survey vendor, to complete a market research study. As part of the chain’s steady growth in the United States, the franchise opened a store in a growing population center in New York State. However, since opening, the store had performed below expectations and the restaurant chain commissioned market research to find out why. In addition to the main objective of the market research, the restaurant chain wanted supporting data around awareness of the store, its image, barriers to usage, patron satisfaction with usage, as well as qualification of other factors that directly affected the performance of the store.

Approach: In order to meet the objectives at-hand, RMS consulted with the restaurant chain to conduct intercept surveys on-site at the plaza in which the under-performing store is located. The fieldwork was completed on two separate days (one day of fieldwork on the weekday and one day of fieldwork on Saturday). Each batch of intercept surveys with consumers shopping in/around the plaza was done in two-and-a-half hour blocks around the lunch and dinner rush (for a total of 10 hours of intercept interviewing). The RMS team created a one-page survey of  five questions, which were completed with a random selection of visitors to the plaza. Respondents to the survey were provided an incentive: coupons and price discounts for various stores in the area. A total of 134 completes were obtained for this qualitative study.

Results: Here are a few of the key takeaways from this study:

  • Approximately two-thirds (68 percent) of visitor traffic to the plaza in which the store was located were aware of the restaurant. Among those aware, about half (53 percent) had eaten there in the past while 75 percent of those who have not eaten there stated they would try it.
  • Based on the intercept interviews alone, it appeared the restaurant chain’s store was experiencing two major issues, which impacted the performance of the store: awareness issues, locational issues and issues revolving around a lack of brand identity/understanding in the market for the store. There were also customer retention issues regarding poor impressions and experiences with the store when eating at the specific location.
  • In addition to the intercept survey data, the Research Director at RMS also placed an on-site visit to the location to obtain some observational findings. Based on these observational findings, the RMS team recommended signage for the store on the main plaza sign as traffic drives east and west along the main street and turns into the plaza. No signage existed for the store at the entrances into the plaza. With the store sitting at the far end of the islet, it was extremely difficult to view the logo and signage on the building itself (even when entering the plaza). Being located at the end of the individual islet, there are a number of empty store-fronts between the restaurant and it’s closest neighbor. The windows were darkened in the area between the restaurant and it’s closest neighbor giving the appearance that store may in fact be closed (or shut down). These observational findings that had a major impact on the success of the store would not have been noted unless a personal visit was made on-site because it would have not been anticipated or recorded with the standardized survey script designed for the intercepts.

Are you a restaurant or chain looking for restaurant survey vendor? RMS can consult with you to conduct customer satisfaction surveys, intercept surveys, menu tasting focus groups or advertising awareness and effectiveness studies. If you are interested in learning more, please contact our Business Development Director, Sandy Baker at or by calling (315) 635-9802.