Real-time Data to Perfect the Restaurant Experience
BY: ERIC HANSEN
JULY 12, 2017
In an industry where speed and quality of service can turn a stranger into a patron, it was only a matter of time until restaurants would recognize the potential of real-time data for a complete personal experience. Most restaurants have a customer feedback system in place, like Q&A cards and professional critiques. While sometimes useful on a store-by-store basis, these systems rarely give the larger organization the insights they need to make real performance driving changes. So, how are restaurants employing more robust data strategies and what data-centric questions should innovative chains be asking?
So, how are restaurants employing more robust data strategies and what data-centric questions should innovative chains be asking?
FLEXIBLE CHAIN OPERATIONS
Finding the right balance between local market choices and a consistent customer experience is a long standing challenge in the restaurant industry. Through careful refinement overtime, all restaurants within the chain must operate the same way, use the same ingredients to recreate the same meals, and have employees follow a code of conduct.
While uniformity does work to uphold a baseline of customer satisfaction and efficiency, some restaurants, like Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, are looking to add flexibility to their operations driven by real-time data.
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit uses its business intelligence and point-of-sale systems to connect the real-time operations of 514 restaurants to corporate headquarters. In a Forbes interview with CEO Roland Dickey, he explains, “We look at where we want to be on a tactical basis—we are expecting sales to be at a certain baseline at a certain store in a certain region, and if we are not where we want to be, it lets us deploy training or operations directly to contact that store and react to the information.”1
Can your stores easily see data about brand consistency and chain operations? Access to real-time data can be the jolt restaurants with many locations need to keep operations aligned with corporate’s baseline but inspire the creativity and extra effort that wins loyal customers. Key positions like regional managers and COOs gain meaningful transparency into restaurant performance for quick adjustments where needed for optimal operations while leaders on the ground understand where they can make a unique difference in their own stores.
ENCOURAGING CUSTOMERS TO SPEND MORE
Restaurants like Chili’s and Olive Garden are using digital devices like tabletop tablets to personalize menu arrangements for suggestive selling. The convenience allows customers to be more relaxed when ordering food, picking the items they want to eat at their own pace. When a customer scrolls through the menu, they’re introduced to complementary items based on order history, location, and time.
Matching customers to their favorite menu items is only the first step. This seems like an easy win, but are customers using it? When you have a customer experience program in place, it’s important to understand customer adoption in participating restaurants. Understanding the performance of new program or device can help leverage the learnings for other restaurants in the chain, helping improve performance overall.
Understanding the performance of new program or device can help leverage the learnings for other restaurants in the chain, helping improve performance overall.
IMMEDIATE ACCESS TO CUSTOMER FEEDBACK
Internet reviews and social media engagement have increased the influence that customer service has on short-term sales. A bad tweet from a major online personality or scathing review on Yelp! can quickly send a restaurant into crisis management, as single events like this can be made public for thousands to see.
Italian restaurant chain Zizzi is one of many restaurants looking to strengthen their customer service by analyzing “unstructured text feedback”—such as online reviews and social media comments.2 Traditionally, chains would rely on “mystery visits” from upper management to test the quality of their service and food in the restaurant environment. Now, by analyzing online feedback, Zizzi has access to an open stream of events as they occur, allowing restaurants to adjust menu items and quality of service as needed.
You may have multiple systems that manage some aspect of customer experience, but how accessible is your data? To really see the benefit of programs like these, restaurants need to learn to use the all of the available data sets together. How does the social media activity track with revenue? With the number of staff scheduled? With food costs? Using real-time data, restaurants can respond to events as they happen and making more data-driven decisions.
Chain and casual dining restaurants are actively pursuing strategies that allow them to better service their customers and quickly respond to changes through real-time data. Doing so allows them to impact the day-to-day experience and their bottom line leveraging the reliability of a consistent customer experience coupled with the decision making and leadership skills of local managers.
Is your organization aggregating real-time data and turning it into action? How are you using the information your organization receives customer feedback or in-store experiences to improve store performance? Everyday we help large organizations build metrics around customer experience programs giving them visibility into what works and what doesn’t. Interested in learning what we could do for your organization? Schedule a demo with our team now.
 Bernard M. “Big Data At Dickey’s Barbecue Pit: How Analytics Drives Restaurant Performance”. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2015/06/02/big-data-at-dickeys-barbecue-pit-how-analytics-drives-restaurant-performance/#261988516d95
 Jonathan B. “Market research gets up to speed with real time data monitoring”. Marketing Week. https://www.marketingweek.com/2014/01/08/market-research-gets-up-to-speed-with-real-time-data-monitoring/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
As a member of our strategic accounts team, Eric’s expertise is in finding creative solutions and building lasting relationships with his clients. His philosophy is that business is not just business—there is an important personal aspect to helping a client reach their goals, and he is invested in working to simplify their complex problems. He knows he’s doing something right when he makes life better for his customers—and his customers’ customers—while making their job easier. Outside of Square Root, Eric is an adventure-enthusiast. He enjoys camping, fishing, hiking, skiing, and reading the works of great outdoorsmen like Ernest Hemingway and Teddy Roosevelt. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Oklahoma State University and has attended Colorado State and Imperial College in London.