If 2020 and 2021 were all about helping operators find new revenue streams to reach guests when they couldn’t come into restaurants, then 2022 was all about getting customers back in.
Yet, just as virus restrictions lifted and customer demand shot back up, rampant inflation caused consumers to pull back on their spending, slowing restaurant recovery. Now everywhere a restaurant operator looks, it seems like they have fewer resources to continue meeting their bottom line, from fewer staff members to less personal bandwidth to dwindling regulars.
In contrast, customers are entering 2023 with higher expectations for stellar experiences when they do choose to spend money on dining out.
To do more with less in 2023 and retain loyal customers, restaurants should embrace data-driven tech tools that help them more easily create the best guest experiences.
Personalization with Data
Today, more guests expect special treatment – they want to have more of their needs anticipated before they even have to ask. To meet their expectations, operators can use detailed, data-driven guest profiles. These will become as essential to a restaurant as their secret recipes, holding the key to understanding guests’ behaviors and catering to their preferences.
Restaurants can automatically capture and tag key details about a guest at every point of their experience and aggregate these details into a centralized profile. Like the ultimate cheat-sheet, this profile gives staff deeper insight into a guest’s unique attributes – such as whether they prefer a quiet table or if they are allergic to peanuts – and empowers them to tailor their service by leading them to a secluded booth and marking up a peanut-free menu. Guest profiles will help staff wow guests, even if they are interacting with them for the first time.
Beyond putting guest data insights at servers’ fingertips, data science tools will deepen the personalization possibilities.
Soon, a server will not only be able to see a guest’s general preferences but also receive tailored food and drink upsell suggestions based on their prior orders. These could, for example, help a waiter suggest a special Italian wine pairing to match a guest’s usual lasagna order. Data science will also help segment guests into hyper-specific groups and automate email marketing campaigns, bringing in more guests without using additional staff. The campaigns will be tailored to each group’s unique desires, so a restaurant owner can get a plant-based promotion email in front of only their vegetarian customers with the click of a button.
Making More Informed Decisions
Beyond this deep level of personalization, data-driven tech tools will become trusted advisors, giving restaurant operators routine insights to streamline internal processes and tackle high-level operational challenges.
In the back of the house, AI can automatically anticipate inventory shortages and suggest quantities for restocking that are consistent with predicted reservations. An AI model might suggest ordering in more racks of lamb for a large party in the next week, for example, taking the burden of keeping track of inventory off kitchen staff.
On the management side, data science can aggregate customer reviews to help uncover elements of service that can be easily improved. It can be easy to disregard a bad review as an outlier, but data science can help reveal if it plays into a larger service pattern. Review aggregation tools layer guest feedback with reservation and order data, creating an overarching view of restaurant service that can help operators spot ongoing issues they might have missed, such as if servers consistently leave plates on tables for too long.
For operators, data science can also help them zoom out from individual customer preferences to macro trends among their entire customer base. Data-driven guest management tools will help operators better understand the differences between their off-premise and dine-in guests and suggest ways to tailor the menus for each channel to maximize customer loyalty. These models could identify that the burger is more popular with takeout-only diners and suggest an upsell of truffle fries or a side salad that pops up for any takeout order at checkout. AI could also analyze the spending behavior of on-premise guests, helping identify the most popular types of wine that might be ideal for a prepaid package offered to guests when they make a reservation.
Doing More with Less
Restaurant staff and owners continue to be stretched thin, yet they are being asked to do more than ever before.
From data science tools that identify potential regulars and empower servers with unique insights to wow them, to AI models that better inform menu and inventory decisions, restaurants should implement advanced technology to give their staff tools to continue operating at a high output and exceed guests’ high service standards this year.
While most guests won’t immediately notice this tech, it will be working in the background to help foster their relationship with restaurants. All they’ll see is that their favorite restaurant knows who they are and continues to delight them with personalized service.