Close the CX loop on your food service operations

Close the CX loop on your food service operations

Written by Johann Leitner

Close the CX look on your food service operations

A great customer experience (CX) is essential to ensure guest satisfaction, promote loyalty and advocacy and thereby impact the financial performance of your food service operations. This white paper introduces a model that describes how real-time feedback processes are critical to close the customer experience loop and determine if the actual experience matches the designed experience and if it meets, exceeds or falls short of the expected experience.

Expected customer experience

Every customer has a set of expectations when visiting a dining location. As a minimum they expect to receive friendly and efficient service, a tasty and satisfying meal and a pleasant and clean environment. Guest satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy are determined by whether the actual experience meets, exceeds or falls short of the expected experience.

Planned / designed customer experience

Planned designed customer experience

Significant effort is spent by dining management to design a great customer experience. As shown in the diagram, many reference sources and inputs are used to support this effort including customer demographics data (such as age, ethnicity, dietary preferences and needs), industry trends and best practices, focus groups and a variety of surveys (benchmarking and other). The outcome of this process results in a range of menu items, service standards, quality standards, training programs, marketing plans, amongst others. Many actions and considerable effort is then spent to ensure that food service staff are trained to act in line with these standards, prepare meals and deliver the designed experience on a daily basis.

Does the actual experience = The designed experience > The expected experience

How do you know if your customers are satisfied and that their expectations have been met? Does the actual experience meet, exceed or fall short of the expected experience? How do you know if staff are complying with standards and delivering the designed experience? Does the actual customer experience meet the designed experience? If not, what additional steps should you take to address short-comings, and resolve issues?

Traditional surveys provide some insight into the CX but are only conducted infrequently – annually, bi-annually and sometimes quarterly. They generally provide feedback related to the overall perceptions of a customer, but are not helpful in identifying day to day CX issues and needs.

Close the CX loop

The best way to keep a finger on the pulse of your operations is to use both In-the-Moment Guest Feedback and Mystery Shopping Feedback with results available in real-time. This helps to identify likes and dislikes, resolve problems and take actions, and engage customers. It also enables you to determine if staff are complying with standards and procedures and perform quality audits. These two key feedback processes complement each other and together close the CX loop to provide the insights required to enhance the overall experience.

In-the-moment feedback

This provides the ability for each and every customer to provide quick on-the-spot feedback any time they visit your locations. This feedback typically identifies likes and dislikes about the current interaction and highlights any problems or great service experience (e.g. staff shoutouts). In-the-moment feedback compares the actual customer experience with the expected experience and highlights gaps between these – either positive or negative. As shown below, the likelihood to provide feedback increases the more the actual experience exceeds or falls short of the expected experience.


To be successful, the process to support in-the-moment feedback must be quick (take less than 1 minute), be easy to do and utilize the preferred communications channels that customers use daily (e.g. text message, web, social media). In addition, customers want to be acknowledged instantly that they have been heard and kept up to date on what actions have been taken. This builds trust, loyalty and advocacy.

Mystery shopping feedback

This provides in depth insight into the performance of your operations and determines if staff are complying with your service and quality standards. It enables you to measure those things that are critical in your operations and address any gaps.

Mystery shopping feedback compares the actual customer experience with the designed experience and highlights gaps between these – either positive or negative.

To be effective, it is necessary to perform secret shops on a regular basis and at different times. One shop a month is insufficient data to make meaningful conclusions as it provides a single snap-shot in time – a weekly shop at different times is recommended for a more complete picture. Managing the process in-house using appropriate software allows you to define and schedule shops and collect the required data.


Closing the loop on any operation is fundamental to successfully managing a business. Measuring the actual performance or outcome and comparing it with the desired and expected performance or outcome is essential to identify what actions need to be taken to close the gap. In today’s competitive environment, a great customer experience remains one of the few differentiators to grow your business and be successful. Real-time in-the-moment and mystery shopping feedback are critical processes that close the CX loop and help you achieve your objectives.

Other relevant resources


Food safety regulations

Food Safety Audit & Inspection trends

Food service audit standards and best practices

AHF member survey on patient feedback

Insights into real-time patient feedback and audit methodology used by AHF members

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