How to make data your restaurant superpower

How to make data your restaurant superpower
How to make data your restaurant superpower

Every industry relies heavily on data. From the advent of the internet to the dawn of AI, data is bigger than ever and more difficult to manage. How can restaurants utilize all this data and turn it into their superpower?

A panel at the RFIS Summit held in Kansas City, Missouri from March 24 to 26 covered this topic in detail. Abhinav Kapur, co-founder and CEO of Bikky Inc. moderated the discussion with panelists Bob Andersen, president of The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill, Yaron Goldman, CEO of Rib and Chop House, Jill Marchick, VP of consumer insights and business analytics at Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill + Bar, and Doug Willmart, president of MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes.

Tell a story

When Kapur asked the panelists how they thought about data as a superpower, Marchick said for her it’s about using data to “tell a story.”

“What I and my team try to do, is to really the story and make it actionable for our franchisees and for our corporate employees as well,” Marchick said.

In Applebee’s case, it has a partnership with Mastercard so the restaurant can see the buying behaviors of guests as well as their behaviors at other restaurants.

Goldman said that while Rib and Chop House doesn’t have as much access to data tools, it does use data to help find the next location, based on insights from existing locations.

He also said that Rib and Chop House gathers a lot of data from “focus groups and customer panels.”

How to utilize data

However, while data is certainly important, Wilmarth said there are several elements at play holding restaurants back from utilizing data.

“The promise of what data can do has been out there. Actionability has been a key question,” Wilmarth said. He pointed out that as a small team, it’s difficult to go through a 5-million-person database in an actionable way.

Anderson agreed it can be difficult to scale the data properly. In The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill’s case, it uses Guest Insights to gather together all of the customer feedback data into one place.

Marchick said that Applebee’s gathered all their customer satisfaction data together as well to create an experience score.

Getting franchisee buy-in

When looking at franchisee buy-in, the panelists had a number of strategies to get franchisees on board with data initiatives.

Marchick said that Applebee’s put data such as customer feedback onto an app that franchisees can access.

Wilmarth agreed saying the important thing is keeping it simple. “The magic is making it simple. If you can activate on one source [of data], that’s better than not activating on 11.”


In a more direct application, the panelists discussed loyalty programs as a method to gather actionable data.

Goldman said that during 2021, his restaurant was struggling with busy mealtimes and people not being able to get a seat. He even heard stories of people slipping staff a hundred-dollar bill to get a seat. As a result, they built a loyalty program for $50 a month that offers seating, gifts, a handwritten note, steak knives and more.

Wilmarth said that loyalty programs provide data that can help boost frequency in guest visits.

In order to boost that number, he said loyalty programs should “Give them incentives and information on what they want to know.”

Getting a clear picture

Ultimately, data needs to tell a clear narrative so you can make the right decisions, as Marchick discussed regarding Applebee’s Dolarita promotion. She said that her team developed a business case that looked at all the ways Dollarita affected the restaurant, including the negative such as large crowds. What they found was that Dollarita encouraged large checks since customers usually purchased food and drinks.

Despite these benefits, the panelists said that data has its limits. For example, Andersen said that while data on past locations could help inform where the next restaurant should be, it isn’t a foolproof method.

“We have to keep on eye on data that works, but we also want to make smart decisions when there’s gaps in the data.”

Wilmarth agreed stating data can mainly tell “a story about what’s behind you,” not necessarily what the future holds.

Written by bourbiza mohamed

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