Restaurants turn to nontraditional sources for data

(Picture of a cell phone app screen)

The restaurant industry—like so many other industries—has been struggling with a big data problem. After years of having access to no data, there’s now too much of it.

To make sense of it all, restaurateurs are starting to turn to some nontraditional sources.

Michael Jacobs—a partner in Corner Table Restaurants, the company behind the Smith restaurants—says that he and his team look at analytics that categorize all the social media chatter about their brand by common themes and keywords.

Jacobs said Yelp was the No. 1 source of the company’s social media analysis two years ago; today it’s Instagram. “Yelp has shrunk in terms of comments that come through there,” he said during the American Express Restaurant Trade program at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen last week.

Maureen Cushing, vice president of technology at Union Square Hospitality Group—the company behind eateries like Union Square Café, Blue Smoke, and Gramercy Tavern—said her team uses OpenTable as a data mining tool, which is not something the reservation booking site was designed to be used for.

Cushing is also following new platforms like Resy and Reserve that are working on letting customers invite friends to a reservation. That would give the company a window into everyone who’s eating—not just the person who made the booking. “You’ll be able to understand everyone at the table and their preferences,” she said.

All of the chefs on the panel talked about the importance of ensuring that technology doesn’t take the human element out of hospitality. Cushing, for her part, said she never wants to see technology on the floor of the restaurant. “Good technology doesn’t replace human connection,” Jammet said. “It enhances it.”