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Why you may be giving millennials the creeps

I come into your restaurant. I order at a counter. Your staffer swipes my credit card. A week later, you have a profile of me from your backend-data company—you know my gender, age, race, area of residence, annual salary, how often I visit your restaurant versus your competitors and more. That’s right; data companies as well as some mobile-pay suppliers have partnered with credit-card companies and other tech innovators to tell you everything you need to help you get me in your store.

But the creepy part—I didn’t give you any of that information. I didn’t sign up for a loyalty app. I didn’t use your mobile-ordering or mobile-pay system. I didn’t even fill out a paper survey. Yet there’s enough of a spider web of digital information available that you don’t need my permission to build a comprehensive profile on me as a diner … or as a spender in general.

And because you know so many specifics, your marketing tactics can be tailor-made, just for me. In fact, 78 percent of marketers are systematically using data, said a panelist at this year’s Restaurant Leadership Conference in March. “Moving forward, it’s all about data. How well do we really know our customers,” said one mobile-ordering vendor.

Operators were chomping at the bit throughout the top-to-top conference to learn more about this one-to-one marketing. Time and again, the topic turned to marketing—how to capture today’s fickle diners, especially millennials, who want to be spoken to and engaged with, not marketed at. The answer: Overarching marketing platforms to target an entire customer base are out. The goal is reaching customers one at a time.

While the solution still seems to be in the early stages, there’s an agreement that data is needed in order to better understand each consumer and target them on a more personal level.

As a consumer, I’m torn about this invasion. On one hand, I think it’s unnerving that operators know so much about me without me telling them. But on the other hand, it is pretty great when a deal or e-message fits in exactly with what I want. As Chance Carlisle, CEO of LYFE Kitchen, said, restaurants can capture when you’re coming in and what you’re spending on, so they can push deals customized for you that aren’t offered mainstream. These one-to-one blasts make for a better customer experience. It’s a win-win for everyone; I get a deal or information on what I want and the restaurant a better shot at capturing me as a loyal guest.

And, as much as I hate to admit it, it’s just something I’m going to have to accept that operators are doing with more frequency, especially since this targeted marketing is what other industries are moving toward. Think of Amazon and other online-shopping platforms. The second someone buys something, those sites hit that person with suggested other purchases and related sale deals to draw them back in. “Our guests live in the world, not just restaurants,” said one data supplier. Other industries are surging ahead while most restaurants are slow to adopt this one-to-one marketing style. Yet, soon enough, it will become the expected. And by then, the creepy factor will be all but gone.

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