EATZI'S USES SURVEY TO FINE-TUNE OPERATION

DALLAS -- Eatzi's here has concluded a survey that, among other things, asked customers to comment on the promptness of service at the restaurant/retail food store hybrid.Using a questionnaire, the survey asked customers how long they have to wait in line for their food and how long they have to wait at the checkout to pay for it.This is the first time Eatzi's has formally asked customers about their

DALLAS -- Eatzi's here has concluded a survey that, among other things, asked customers to comment on the promptness of service at the restaurant/retail food store hybrid.

Using a questionnaire, the survey asked customers how long they have to wait in line for their food and how long they have to wait at the checkout to pay for it.

This is the first time Eatzi's has formally asked customers about their typical waiting times, although its managers had conducted a survey of customers concerning other issues last summer, less than half a year after the store had opened.

Eatzi's, a concept built around freshly prepared meals-to-go, was launched in January 1996 by Brinker International here and restaurateur Phil Romano.

The questions about waiting time constituted just one part of the latest data collection effort, but they are significant because they reflect the continued sales success at Eatzi's, which has made long lines a permanent condition, officials at the operation said.

In the first survey last summer, questions concerning waiting times were not included because it was assumed the volume of traffic could be attributed to the concept's newness, but the volume has remained high, said Lane Cardwell, president of Eatzi's. Eatzi's officials have said in earlier interviews that sales volume exceeds $250,000 a week.

"Last year when we did the survey, we were only five months into the concept. There were lines, but we didn't know if they would sustain. They did," Cardwell said.

"In this past year, waiting time has become one of our concerns and this will give us a score on the time people have to wait for their food, or to pay for it," Cardwell said.

The data collected through the new survey, which was conducted by an outside agency, will serve as a guide for Eatzi's in both fine-tuning its operation here and making modifications at new locales, Cardwell said. The survey, launched in July, wrapped up at the end of August. Information is currently being tabulated and reviewed, he said. He added that Eatzi's will not be releasing the survey's results because it considers them proprietary information.

The lessons learned from customers' experiences will likely be applied to space allocations only at future Eatzi's locations, Cardwell added.

"At this one [in Dallas], we're limited in what we can do because we're out of space. We can't add more checkout registers, for example. But the questionnaire score can alert our staff here to the sensitivity of the issue, and they can handle it in other ways," Cardwell said.

Even without the benefit of analysis of the current survey's data, Eatzi's has decided to add four checkout stands to the layout of its second location, which opened Aug. 28 in Houston.

Eatzi's received universally high ratings in the survey last year, Cardwell said. He said while the meaningfulness of that data was skewed because Eatzi's was still very new and customers were excited about the concept itself, the earlier research "does give us a benchmark."

The new survey requested personal data and asked multiple-choice questions, which sought information on how often and what time of day customers shop at Eatzi's.

In addition, an entire page was devoted to scoring four basic categories: food qualit; selection and variety; service and convenience; and "Eatzi's overall." Customers were asked to rate characteristics under each of those categories as they would pertain to Eatzi's on a rating system ranging from one to 10.

Items under service and convenience, for example, include "adequate parking," "warm and friendly service," "serving/ counter lines move quickly" and "checkout lines move quickly."

The questionnaires were disseminated only as bag-stuffers at checkout registers. "We felt that way was the least intrusive," explained Cardwell.

Cardwell said the rate of return for last year's survey was above average and he expected it to be above average again this year. According to a source at the company conducting the survey for Eatzi's, a 15% return is considered average. The source added the rate of return on the Eatzi's project has been "excellent."

The most common comments in the "remarks" column last year were "thank-yous" from customers grateful for the arrival of Eatzi's, Cardwell said.