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Behavioral data at work

Operators are learning more about their customers to improve the experience.
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Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup makes sure to identify wine aficionados before they set foot in one of its Jaleo restaurants. If a guest’s social media activity or records from internal customer management systems indicate they’re an oenophile, the restaurant may send over a top sommelier to talk details.

Software on the market today—whether it’s promoted as “restaurant management software” or a “customer relationship manager”—allows restaurants to both keep notes on repeat diners and use publicly available social media or search engine data to impress patrons. By leveraging this information, operators can customize guest experiences. “The information you gather can seem meaningless at the time,” says Kevin Boehm, co-owner of Chicago’s Boka Restaurant Group. “However, something as subtle as sitting a couple that is originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, with a server who is also from St. Paul can greatly improve someone’s dining experience.”

Without having to rely on servers’ memories, technology can help keep track of diner data such as birthdays, seating preferences and dietary restrictions. Many programs let restaurants track specifics from  potential VIPs to which diners are most likely to post to Instagram or Yelp.

Social data is an important part of the mix. By looking at diners’ Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn pages, restaurants can ascertain information such as whether a customer frequently posts pictures of their food (in which case an operator might seat them in a section that’s well lit) or whether their employer is likely to expense a long, profitable business lunch.

Boehm says one key experience that inspired him was when he was dining at New York City’s Eleven Madison Park, operated by Union Square Hospitality Group. Before Boehm’s meal, employees called one of his restaurants to make sure front-of-house staff knew how to pronounce his last name. That interaction made him realize how important it is to know customer details.

Boehm recommends operators ask servers to bring information to their managers about their tables’ experiences, which can be added to a restaurant’s CRM or record-keeping software. Because keeping track of diner information isn’t just a way to wow customers—it’s also a way to boost repeat business.

It’s not just individual diner data revealed through tracking guest information, though. Many operators also leverage CRM data to identify trends occurring within their customer base. All those well-lit pictures of avocado toast on diner’s Instagram feeds, for instance, aren’t just free advertising—they are data points that can be mined for trends. Aggregating that data can generate information restaurateurs wouldn’t otherwise have about customers’ average wait times, ordering habits, whether they pay by credit card and more; then, they can use that information to adjust operations as necessary.

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