Dining Out on Data: Five Ways to Use Your Customer Information

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Click to learn more about author Jurgen Ketel.

If you’re running a restaurant in 2020 – or any kind of business – you’re be well aware that data is kind of a big deal. The more information you have on your customers, your staff, and your operations, the more productive, profitable, and ultimately successful you will be.

But knowing where to start can be daunting. After all, most restaurants don’t have the budget for a data scientist. So how can you determine which information is most relevant to your business, and start using it?

Staff information: Optimize Your Workforce

Knowing exactly how many employees you need at a given time is an enduring challenge for a restaurant business: too many, and you’ll be paying your team for twiddling their thumbs; too few, and you won’t be able to service all your customers. That can have an adverse effect on your reputation and your bottom line. Labor costs can be one of the most significant expenses an eatery can have.

By using information from electronic point of sale (EPOS) and ordering systems like kiosks and tableside tablets, you can get a clear idea of how busy your restaurant is likely to be during certain periods or seasons and adjust your staffing schedules accordingly. This means you don’t give staff shifts when you don’t need them, and that you can operate with a full roster when you do, avoiding the reputational damage of understaffing and the escalating costs of overstaffing.

Inventory Control: Optimize Your Stock

Managing inventory is another crucial pillar of the restaurant business. Excess unpopular items are liable to spoil, and scarce quantities of popular items will upset customers and you’ll lose business. Knowing how much food and drink you need to make your customers happy is an inexact science by nature – customer demand being unpredictable – but if you take steps to make it more accurate, you can see real benefits.

Inventory management systems, and some data-driven ordering systems which come with them built-in, can help you keep real-time visibility over items that are selling well and those that are selling poorly. You’ll then know which stock you need to replenish, and which you don’t, thereby avoiding overselling and wastage. Best of all, you can do it in real-time, meaning every time an order is made, inventory data is kept scrupulously up to date – and relevant stakeholders are alerted.

Menu Items: Optimize Choice

This one’s reasonably self-explanatory: The more you do to promote the best-selling items and those which are cost-efficient enough to offer, the better. Gathering data around menu item performance can help you deliver a culinary offering that’s both appealing, profitable, and in line with evolving dietary requirements and preferences. Customers with a gluten aversion, for example, will appreciate more celiac-friendly options; vegetarians and vegans simply won’t be able to visit your establishment if you don’t have them.

Deals and promotions: Optimize offers

Let’s say a male student who visits your restaurant with a group of friends routinely orders a round of beer with his meal. Let’s say you know this already. Wouldn’t it make sense to offer him a 20% discount on drinks from time to time, either as a reward for his loyalty or as an inducement to return?

If the margins made sense, you probably would. The question is, how do you know who he is? Capturing data on the people who visit your restaurant will tell you, and it will often allow you to develop more tailored offerings and promotions. Mobile ordering apps are especially good at facilitating this: They easily capture information on who’s ordering, what they’ve ordered in the past, and what they’re liable to order in future – automatically personalising offers to help close opportunities. Certain EPOS systems also can make it easy for serving staff to identify the demographics and likely interests of the people sitting at a particular table, allowing for in-restaurant offer customisation.

Reporting: Optimize Insights

Finally, through capturing different kinds of data, you can develop more intelligent insights – and better reporting across teams. This reporting can be centralized through an app or a dedicated digital reporting system and is particularly advantageous for anyone managing multiple store locations, where trends can be spotted across the franchise and action can be swiftly taken to capitalize on them. It also saves considerable time that might otherwise be spent manually collecting and trawling through data.

Indeed, it’s worth keeping the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of collecting data front of mind. From a legal perspective, there are limits on what personally identifiable information can be accumulated (the EU GDPR comes with heavy penalties for using this information improperly) and from a commercial perspective, it doesn’t make sense to collect information you don’t need. Working closely with tech partners to establish a Data Management strategy should be a priority: you need to know which data to collect, how to collect it, how to anonymize it when necessary, and, of course, when to centralize it. If information is held in siloed systems, you can’t make the most of it.

Integration across databases and across the entire franchise is key to both gathering sophisticated insights and developing them into meaningful action.

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