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Relationship Goals: Getting to Know Your Guests in the Digital Age

12 February, 2021
Restaurant owner taking a order

Photo by: iStock

In a time of crisis, takeout and delivery have helped keep the lights on for many restaurants. After a year of forced closures and dramatic adjustments to business, restaurateurs are forced to balance simply keeping the lights on with making decisions that can help to grow their business. Digital technology might help replicate some lost business, but it can’t completely replicate the face-to-face hospitality that’s so important to a restaurant’s success. And increasingly, the process and art of getting to know a guest has been completely upended, with many restaurants serving faceless customers ordering from behind a screen. At a time when personal restaurant-guest relationships couldn’t be more important for restaurant survival, they've also become incredibly challenging. 

“Restaurants have always been using data and are probably one of the industries that really, fundamentally started to use data from day one,” says Zaedo Musa, founder and CEO of Superb, a Copenhagen-based guest experience and management platform. He’s talking about guest behaviour — food preferences, allergies, a favourite cocktail, a preferred reservation time — the sort of information restaurants have long carried in their reservation books. As restaurants have introduced more technology though, they’ve lost sight of the vital information they have. 

“The problem here, I think, is that restaurateurs think they are dependent on aggregators and third-party platforms to attract guests,” Musa says. “What they're forgetting is that they actually have a goldmine inside their own guest book. And, that goldmine can be used to up-sell to your most loyal guests, it can be used to make them come back, and to personalise the experience even further.” 

When it comes to sharing guest data, typical contracts with third-party delivery companies are the worst offenders. Restaurants often don’t know who their guests are when they order through a third party — there’s no way to contact them, no way to follow up, and no way to encourage them to return. That means information about those customers doesn’t belong to the restaurant, it belongs to the delivery service, and restaurateurs are leaving valuable guest relationships on the table. 

“Where I think restaurateurs fail is on the choice of technology,” Musa adds. “A lot of restaurateurs choose platforms and restaurant technology based on the convenience of features. Maybe they can sell gift cards through the platform. They can take reservations, they can sell tickets and so on. But they don't really think about the underlying importance of data that's behind, you know, why do people buy this? When do they buy it? And can they use that to somehow optimise their business?” 

Of course, once restaurants find their guest data, they have to know how to use it. 

Abhinav Kapur is founder and CEO of Bikky, a New York-based customer engagement platform for restaurants. Like Musa, he says that plenty of restaurants have all the data they need to re-engage guests and encourage repeat business. He recently helped one restaurant use guest data from its reservations provider to run a $300 targeted ad campaign on Facebook, encouraging guests to order takeout directly from the restaurant. 

“We just extend the restaurant’s ability to do hospitality and reach these guests through another channel,” he says of the campaign, which netted nearly $6,000 in revenue over a two-week period.

“When someone walks in the door, your maitre d’ or your GM has been the person who knows who they are and greets them as a loving and welcoming friend or person in the community,” Kapur adds. “We don’t have that right now, but even as we get back to normal, why wouldn't you want to make that interaction better? Why wouldn't you want to have the data in place to say when someone makes a reservation, they type in their phone number, and it pulls up their entire history. It sees what you'd like to eat, or what you like to drink, or that you're celebrating a special occasion. The data in and of itself is meant to augment the ability to perform hospitality. It's not meant to replace it.”

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