To Survive in Tough Times, Restaurants Turn to Data-Mining

Karen Stabiner | New York Times | August 25, 2017

The early diners are dawdling, so your 7:30 p.m. reservation looks more like 8. While you wait, the last order of the duck you wanted passes by. Tonight, you’ll be eating something else — without a second bottle of wine, because you can’t find your server in the busy dining room. This is not your favorite night out.

The right data could have fixed it, according to the tech wizards who are determined to jolt the restaurant industry out of its current slump. Information culled and crunched from a wide array of sources can identify customers who like to linger, based on data about their dining histories, so the manager can anticipate your wait, buy you a drink and make the delay less painful.

It can track the restaurant’s duck sales by day, week and season, and flag you as a regular who likes duck. It can identify a server whose customers have spent a less-than-average amount on alcohol, to see if he needs to sharpen his second-round skills.

So Big Data is staging an intervention.

Both start-ups and established companies are scrambling to deliver up-to-the-minute data on sales, customers, staff performance or competitors by merging the information that restaurants already have with all sorts of data from outside sources: social media, tracking apps, reservation systems, review sites, even weather reports.

They have an eager audience. The NPD Group, a market research company, is predicting “flat” growth in 2017 restaurant traffic, with a 2 percent decline among full-service restaurants and no growth for quick-service restaurants. A 2016 National Restaurant Association survey reported that four out of five restaurateurs believed that business would improve if they embraced technology, and a third worried that they were lagging in those efforts.

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