The next time you're at a restaurant, think about how much data you're giving the establishment--your name, credit card number, food and drink preferences. But restaurateurs are using big data platforms, built by startups and established companies alike, to leverage existing data and collect even more to weather business slumps, increase sales, make regulars feel at home, and even pick new locations for a chain to expand.

Erik Oberholtzer, a founder and CEO of Tender Greens, a fast-casual salad chain backed by restaurateur Danny Meyer, has been using data analytics to choose locations to expand the Los Angeles-based chain in New York and the Northeast.

According to the New York Times, Tender Greens used a customer analytics firm that helps identify ideal locations, plus data on where Uber and DoorDash make a lot of food deliveries, to find out where the company's core customers can be found.

"Silicon Valley looks at inefficiencies in the world, and they aim to disrupt the food space," said Oberholtzer, tells the Times, explaining how the company uses data to navigate the company's expansion.

Restaurants can use all the help they can get. Market research firm the NPD Group predicts flat growth in restaurant traffic this year over all, a two percent decline for full-service restaurants, and no growth for quick-service restaurants, the Times reports. Many restaurants are looking for other ways to use data to their advantage.

Older tech companies like Avero help restaurants merge data coming from outside the restaurant with internal data on customers, scheduling, sales, costs, and inventory. New companies, like Salido, are working on one system that creates customer profiles, analyzes operations and employee data, and suggests ways to save money.

Tom Colicchio, a Salido investor and restaurateur, tells the Times he is using the platform to help expand his sandwich chain 'Wichcraft. Made Nice, a fast-casual restaurant in New York started by the owners of the NoMad, Fuku by David Chang, Pasquale Jones, by Chloe, Num Pang, Cafe Luxembourg, ABC Kitchen by Jean-Georges, and others are also using Salido's point-of-sale system. (Salido is still working on its whole software solution.)

Other tech platforms, like Upserve, helps restaurants create customer profiles and match their social media accounts with their dining profiles and credit card numbers. Restaurants like the Michelin-starred Oriole in Chicago uses the platform to identify their top 100 customers.

Cara Sandoval, the co-founder of Oriole, tells the Times that servers use the system to recognize customers and call them by their name. "It surprises people, in a nice way, when they didn't make the reservation themselves," Sandoval tells the Times.

But other restaurateurs claim all the technology cannot replace the human touch.

David Kinch, a chef and owner of Manresa in Northern California, says he relies on simple rules of hospitality like kindness and attention.

"I'm pushed constantly about these new systems," Mr. Kinch tells the Times. "People say it's all about the guest? I think that couldn't be further from the truth. I place a tremendous value on direct eye contact and a genuine smile."

Published on: Aug 30, 2017