Big data is in the news with the latest Facebook data mining scandals. With concerns about privacy online, how are restaurants using data to get information on their customers?

Restaurants started using data to keep track of a customer's experience in an establishment. Author Damian Mogavero wrote about how data collection can help restaurants run more efficiently to serve customers.

"How many times have you gone into a restaurant and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t find the server. I want to pay for the check,’ or, ‘I need to order another drink?’ All those things are actually buried in the data.

And the data actually can help the restaurateur really understand what the strengths and weaknesses of a server (are) so they can provide that training, so they can provide a consistent guest experience,” said Mogavero.

Restaurants use data similar to how baseball depends on stats.“It really is like ‘Moneyball’ for restaurants," said Mogavero. “And it’s like a baseball card. So on a baseball card, you would have runs batted in, on-base percentage. But in the service scorecard, it has things like, how many times have you sold an appetizer, what the table turn time is.”

Many restaurants also use apps like OpenTable to learn about customer practices. The app was originally started to help diners make reservations at their favorite restaurants. However, restaurants use the data that customers enter to determine what times of day customers go to restaurants to dine and how frequently they eat in establishments.

Through OpenTable's GuestCenter, restaurants can infer what their customers want by analyzing guest profiles. Through GuestCenter, restaurants can learn which diners are repeat visitors and how far in advance they make reservations. With that data, restaurants can cater to customers' needs and increase their profits.

Though data can be used to help find customers, big data can be misused as well to hurt restaurants. A recent scandal erupted in Chicago when it was discovered that an employee at OpenTable was making fake reservations with the rival app Reserve. The action was clearly a revenge against restaurants that use OpenTable. As a result, there were hundreds of no-shows at restaurants like Boeufhaus. Manager Jamie Enskat said the manipulation of data cost dozens of restaurants much-needed business.

"Without blowing anything out of proportion, it's a big deal to us,"said Enskat. "We're a small restaurant — there are 36 seats and only five tables that can accommodate a group of four. Empty seats in a restaurant our size have a very real impact on every employee."

Big data is fact of life in the restaurant industry. However, the data used to keep track of customers' habits can lead to a breach of trust if the information ends up in the wrong hands. Restaurants must make sure that analytics and data don't come before a restaurant's integrity and a customer's privacy.

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash