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Five ways restaurant businesses can get the best out of customer data

In 2019, we’re all running data-driven businesses. Information about customers, employees, and operations is the bedrock of every decision we make. If we’re not doing it consciously, we’re doing it unconsciously: if we’re operating in the restaurant industry, we might notice that more people are buying a certain item; we might notice they’re buying more of it at a certain time. This information inevitably guides the decisions we make.

What makes a difference is the quality and reliability of this data. The more of it we have, the more informed we are; the more we can turn a hunch into an actionable strategy. The problem is knowing where to begin. If you’re running a restaurant, you probably don’t have a data scientist to hand.

So which information should you prioritise, and how should you use it?

Managing stock

Here’s a basic rule of restaurant (and, if we think about it, business) success: have more of the products that sell well, and have less of the products that sell badly. Of course, to do that, you have to know what sells well and what sells badly.

With food and drink, this is especially important, because when you keep the stuff that sells badly, it tends to go off. However, if you’re using an inventory management tool in tandem with data-driven electronic point-of-sale (EPOS) and kiosks systems, you can gain full transparency into what’s flying out of the kitchen and what’s mouldering in the back room. You’ll be able to understand what you need to restock and what you need to rotate out of your menu - and you’ll be able to do it in real-time.

Managing choice

When you know what’s selling like hotcakes – and it’s the restaurant industry, maybe you do sell hotcakes! – you know what’s most likely to appeal to customers and which items are most cost-efficient. And when you know what’s most likely to appeal to customers and which items are most cost-efficient, you know what you should promote. 

Gathering menu item performance data can help you keep a finger on the pulse of customer preference as it is now, as it was in the past, and as it will be tomorrow and in the not-too-distant future. Those adhering to, or trying to adhere to, a paleo, vegetarian, or vegan diet will appreciate being able to choose vegetarian and vegan options; a visitor who buys a normally seasonal dish might like it if it’s available all year round. Follow the data and expand your menu accordingly.

Managing offers

Suppose you have a regular customer who visits your restaurant accompanied by friends: a busy working mum, for example, who pops by for a much-needed break from the kids to socialise and de-stress. Suppose she eats ribeye steak with a vodka martini. Suppose you have systems capable of providing you with this level of insight into her behaviours, past and present. Why not make it easy for her to come back even more? Why not send her a time-limited discount or other rewards for her loyalty the next time she pops in?

If it’s viable, it makes sense to ensure that people have an incentive to return to your restaurant. So, give them the incentives. Use ordering systems and customer loyalty schemes to amass as much information as possible about who’s ordering what, at which times they’re most likely to order it, and what they’re likely to order in future – giving you the chance to personalise discounts to suit purchase behaviour.

Some ordering systems can even make it possible for your team to identify demographics and interests of customers, facilitating even deeper customisation. So, for example, if a group of students comes in, the waiter can add details to the system that presents relevant ads for beer or cocktails on the tableside ordering tablet. Similarly, if your chain has its own mobile ordering app, make sure to use the customer’s data to advertise relevant offers.

Managing your staff

A restaurant’s workforce needs to be finely balanced: too many staff on hand and you’re paying people unnecessarily; too few and you’ll find it hard to give customers the level of service they deserve. Either extreme can have adverse effects: the latter influencing public perception of your establishment; the former making it easy to run up unnecessary expenses.

Using historic sales data from your EPOS and other ordering systems, such as kiosks and tableside tablets, it’s possible to see how busy your restaurant typically is on a given day, and even during special events like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. You can then adjust rotas to suit the expected level of demand – ensuring that staff aren’t working shifts when they’re not needed, and that you have enough employees on hand to service everyone when they are.

Managing insights

Perhaps the most potent benefit of running a data-driven restaurant is the chance to improve operations – and then make further improvements as needed. By capturing an assortment of visitor and staff data, you can understand how teams are performing, what sales and marketing activities customers are responding to, and which menu items ought to be jettisoned at the first opportunity.

By centralising reporting through an app or a dedicated digital reporting system, you can use data-driven insights to gain a comprehensive view of your establishment’s performance – both in and of itself, and in relation to any other locations you might have. Indeed, these systems are particularly conducive to making improvements across multiple restaurants: you can see trends on a store level, on a regional level, and even on a national level.

It also beats doing it manually – for restaurant managers, having data at your fingertips saves valuable time that could be best used on other strategically valuable activities. And this, perhaps, may be the ultimate appeal of becoming a data-driven restaurant or chain of restaurants. It’s not so much about what the technology does, but what it allows you to do thanks to the cost and time efficiencies it creates. When you collect data properly and compliantly, it can transform your operations and your commercial fortunes alike.

Seek out qualified technology partners to make sure you know which information you need, how to use it, how to anonymise it (if applicable), and how to centralise it to make sure teams aren’t isolated or working from different information. But above all, make sure you use it. Because as mentioned, we’re all data-driven to some extent or another. We just perform much better when we use good data.

Jurgen Ketel, Managing Director EMEA, GivexImage Credit: Flyt

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