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Technological marvels are touching every industry, including the restaurant and hospitality industry. Restaurant owners are ready to invest in technology integrations to improve operations, efficiency, and customer service, as we have been exploring for the last year. But there is one underlying factor that trumps other technological advancements and improves restaurant business most directly: data.

Data, as Nations Restaurant News (NRN) puts it, is the new “currency” for restaurant owner-operators. From AI marketing to menu engineering, data is the power source driving profitable shifts in operations and customer service. “Data — whether its collected by machine learning or AI — has proven to be the universal currency of restaurant technology in 2024 and beyond. Operators are waking up to the significance of data collection and optimization in operational decision-making, from employee scheduling and inventory management, to marketing data about customers,” writes Joanna Fantozzi for NRN.

This was incredibly apparent at the recent National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, where “the most popular technology tool on display…was mostly invisible,” says NRN. “What do the robotic arms, POS systems, back-of-house analytics tools, and more booth gadgets have in common? Most of them are powered by and supported by data.”

The fact is, NRN explains, that data collection and optimization impact every facet of a restaurant’s functionality and success—“from employee scheduling and inventory management, to marketing data about customers.” Data collection is the means, for owner-operators, to improve every part of their restaurant business and the key to greater understanding and profitability than ever before.

For example, this example from the Toast booth at the 2024 National Restaurant Association show:

Toast was showcasing its new Benchmarking tool that allows restaurants to compare their restaurant and menu performance against similar restaurants in their region (though all of the data is anonymized). In this case, the aggregate Toast operator customer data is used to provide insights to restaurants on what they should put on their menus next, and how they can update their pricing to keep up with operational trends and their competitors. The technology uses both AI and machine learning to aggregate and analyze menu data.

We wanted to create something that enables each of our merchants to see whats happening outside of their four walls,” Susie Riley, product designer and vice president of new ventures with Toast, said. So, if your sales were down last week, youre probably wondering, is it just me, or was this happening to other restaurants in my neighborhood?’”

This is a perfect example of how data-collection can impact big-picture strategy, moving marketing and customer service efforts beyond the small pool of existing customers and instead, incapsulating targeted, regional efforts to cater to new customers.

And the data collection has implications on in-house operations as well. “It was surprising to see how many data-supported hardware and equipment were on the Restaurant Show floor, including robotics,” Fantozzi writes. “While robot arms that specialize in dipping fry baskets and sprinkling cheese on pizzas have been around for several years, technology startup Robochef takes this automation technology to a new level with the addition of data insights, alongside customizable back of house robotics solutions.”

The way of the future of the restaurant industry is in technology, and technology runs on data. Data collection will directly impact, not only how restaurants do business, but ultimately, their success. If you are interested in upgrading how your restaurant business collects data, consider working with a restaurant consultant to start with a full analysis.

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