In this age of big data, the restaurant industry trails behind all other major industries in data collection and analysis. Most restaurants collect feedback and contact information from fewer than 2 percent of their guests, leaving them unable to understand their guests' preferences and ultimately leaving them unable to get back in touch with their guests. This striking data gap has resulted in the birth of a new restaurant technology industry called guest relationship management (GRM) technology. This industry aims to solve this data shortage by combining feedback, guest communications, and loyalty into one "smart" system. Restaurants across the country are starting to use these systems and, based on initial results, it appears these systems could soon take the restaurant industry by storm.
The more you know about your guests, the better you can run your business. Seems like a no-brainer, right? More feedback, more email addresses, and more guest preference data should lead to more revenue in the form of more repeat business. However, the restaurant industry is one of the worst industries in the world at collecting and using guest data. Just think about the number of guests that come into a typical restaurant each day compared with the number of emails collected and/or comment cards that are filled out. Often, the difference is staggering: tens of thousands of guests leave each restaurant every year without providing that restaurant with any data. This has created a huge retention marketing gap in the industry that is only just starting to be filled.
Justin Harkey is the Regional Manager at Francesca's Restaurant Group, a 33-unit group that includes 3 brands: Francesca's, Davanti Enoteca, and Glazed and Infused. According to Harkey, "The restaurant industry has been way too consumed with attracting first-time guests for a long time. The reality is that almost two-thirds of our business comes from repeat guests. Our priority is to increase the frequency of our loyal guests and encourage them to bring friends. The crucial factor in retaining these customers and encouraging them to come back frequently is knowing about their guest experience and implementing a systematic process to keep in contact with them."
So what exactly is guest data and how can it be used to generate repeat business? Imagine for a moment knowing what everybody in your restaurant would say on Yelp before they left - would that help you make better decisions on what tables to touch? Now, what if you knew what everybody's drink preferences were when they walked through your door - would that help your servers provide a more memorable dining experience?
Restaurateurs like Harkey see the potential value in knowing these types of guest preferences. He also sees the value in reaching back out to these guests through email or other methods. "Guest data has become a huge priority for Francesca's. We used to have an online feedback form, but that just wasn't getting the job done. We are now implementing a guest relationship management system across all our restaurants that will help us capture guest data and use it to drive more repeat business."
Harkey is one of the first restaurateurs in the country to adopt this guest relationship management (GRM) philosophy. GRM has been around for as long as restaurants have existed. Comment cards are standard practice for most restaurants and guest communications through email, social media, and/or loyalty programs have become commonplace. However, until recently, these tools have existed only in silos, causing restaurant organizations to pour hours into data analysis to try to connect the dots.
This philosophy of collecting and using guest data has spun the growth of a new restaurant technology industry that is focused on providing GRM solutions to restaurant groups. Tuee, for example, is a tablet system that allows restaurants to capture guest data at the end of the dining experience and use that data to automate retention marketing campaigns.
"When I first met the team from Tuee, I knew that I had to have their system," says Harkey. "It's a no-brainer. If you can collect real-time feedback and contact information from 8 out of 10 people in your restaurant, you'll have a guest database that will enable you to drive repeat business like never before."
Companies like Tuee are popping up all over the country. Their mission is to help restaurants collect much more guest data and use that data to improve retention marketing tactics. For example, some restaurants send emails to all guests who have a positive experience asking for an online review. Some send more personalized emails to guests based on what types of food or wine they like. Others use guest data to better cater to guest preferences during the dining experience (e.g., suggesting red wine to a guest who previously purchased red wine).
Says Harkey, "I think pretty soon that you'll see personalized everything in restaurants. Instead of generic rewards, you'll see rewards based on guest preferences. Instead of email newsletters, you'll see targeted emails based on previous dishes tried. This is where the industry is heading and Francesca's is set on being one of the first to embrace this trend."
This is an exciting time in the restaurant industry. Thanks to these GRM systems, restaurants will soon be able to deliver more personalized experiences on a more consistent basis, similar to what large hotel groups like Marriott and Starwood do today. Progressive restaurant groups like Francesca's are set to be some of the first to benefit from these new technologies - and from the way it looks, more are sure to follow.
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