These strategies can help business owners gather and use the right information.

As a restaurant owner, you’ve got plenty to think about. Between guest experiences, menu offerings, marketing initiatives and keeping your business in the black, you’re knee-deep in a multifaceted venture that necessitates a strong business strategy and an uncompromising vision. Fortunately, modern advances allow us access to the kinds of automation and integration our ancestors could only dream about, streamlining our processes and lending us an unprecedented customer reach. So with all that technology in the mix, concepts like “restaurant data” denoting measurable outcomes related to your business become the new currency.

While it’s not exactly a cryptic term, “restaurant data” gets a bit confusing when used an obtuse catch-all for every process in your kitchen and front of house. Nowadays, the data question shifts from “how much data can we scrape?” to “how much data do we actually need?”

These tips will help you see what data you should be collecting in your restaurant, how to get it, and why it’s important.

1. Individual Customer Data

What You Need: Most businesses collect some measure of data on their customers, and great ones make it a necessity. Which specific data you collect and how much you retain is up to you, but basic contact info, like a name and a means to contact via email, phone number or street address, are great ways to begin. Other fields to consider would be guest-specific food allergies, their favorite dishes from the past, and their birthdays.

How to Get It: There are a number of ways to collect this data. Directly asking for contact information doesn’t have to be tacky, as long as you’re straightforward with your intentions, and it never hurts to incentivize. For example, a customer can give an email address to receive a coupon. Remember that even if you use a point of sale (POS) system to take orders from offsite, you usually cannot “keep” this data except for use within that specific transaction in process, so don’t assume that you have access to this data until you’ve checked with your system. Third-party data collections may be a good route to go, and can usually be licensed out for relatively cheap, but the quality of your data will always depend on its source.

Why You Need It: Your customers are your lifeblood and your marketing efforts will go a lot further if your efforts are targeted directly to them. This customer data swings a powerful arm for your restaurant, a portal to recurring promotions and promotional outreach, that creates a unique and individualized dining experience.

2. Kitchen Data

What You Need: You’ll want to collect some data on your kitchen that’s specific to your inventory and food prep. While there’s a number of kitchen metrics you can gauge, the most important data to collect are in increments of time. Cook times relate specifically to how long it takes a menu item to go from its initial order to completion, while plating-to-table time measures how long it takes food to get from this completed prep stage to leaving the kitchen.

How to Get It: To truly maximize this data, you’ll want to segment it out by various food stations in the kitchen so you can determine exactly how long each process takes. You could use a stopwatch or a timer to collect times and then log them in a spreadsheet, but this is antiquated and tedious. We’d encourage an automated kitchen display system that can log this individual data for you as well identify historical averages.

Why You Need It: Keeping tabs on food prep times will help you identify choke points in your kitchen workflow, especially when you can compare your current times against historical averages. If you notice a dish falling significantly behind its average cook time, you can jump in to remedy. Furthermore, if the data is segmented by station, you can make targeted improvements to one area that won’t disrupt your whole workflow. Furthermore, this actionable data will help you in goal setting initiatives for you and your team.

3. Guest Management

What You Need: Now that you’ve got your kitchen and individual customer data in order, it’s time to focus on your guest management data. Again, there’s a whole book on metrics you can tab here, but to really understand how you’re performing as a restaurant, you should be collecting on the following:

  • Wait times – how long it takes, in a given moment, for a party of a given size, to be seated at a table
  • Turnaround time – how many parties you’re serving within a designated period
  • Average party size – on average, how big are your parties in a given time period?
  • Average guest counts – on average, how many guests do you have in your restaurant at a given time
  • Seating efficiency – how well you’re using your seating economy at any given time

How to Get It: All of these data points require some math to calculate manually, and while the processes aren’t inherently difficult, time is a finite resource. An automated system that will automatically calculate wait times based on historical data, current table statuses, and an internal reservation book will save you time and energy. For manually calculating wait times, you’ll need to identify a measurement period and total the number of parties served at each table during the measurement period, then divide the number of parties by the number of tables. For turnaround time, calculate the number of parties served within a designated period and divide by the number of tables used. For average party size and guest counts, total up your raw party numbers or guest counts and divide this by the number of entries. For seating efficiency, calculate the number of seats filled and divide by the total number of seats—remember here that the hypothetical 100 percent isn’t technically possible, but you should aim to create the highest percentage possible. Again, automation will be your friend here.

Why You Need It: As it does in the kitchen, guest management data will help you identify bottlenecks in the workflow and give you an indicator of where to put your energies should something go wrong. Feel like you’re not using your seating capacity to its full potential? Worried you could be getting guests seated quicker? This is the data you want. Remember, a team can’t make improvements to its approach if it has no measurable data upon which to work.

4. Financial and Inventory Data

What You Need: This data relates specifically to how much you’re spending, how much you’re bringing in, and how effectively you’re using your food inventory. Though there are entire books written on restaurant financing and kitchen budgeting alone, for our purposes the most important streams of data you can measure in relation to your finances are:

  • Utilities and Payroll – recurring items like your rent, utilities, and payroll not related to food.
  • Number sold – number of menu items that have sold.
  • Food cost – how much you’re spending on a particular item.
  • Menu item sales – how much a particular item is listed on the menu
  • Total food cost – how much you’re paying for food overall, factored by considering you’ll your individual food. prices and multiplying them against number sold.
  • Total menu sales – how much revenue you’ve generated on food.
  • Contribution margin – your profit, calculated by taking your total food cost and subtracting your total menu sales.

How to Get It: Today, we’re hesitant to suggest anyone attempt this via pencil and paper (or even paper and calculator). While accounting principles are universal, implementing an automated system that can freely track inventory and the disparate streams of revenue you’re creating with ease will help immensely. We strongly suggest checking out some thought leadership regarding menu engineering, which specifically relates to optimizing your menu item by item and helps break down costs to the most granular level.

Why You Need It: You need to know how much you’re spending. You need to know how much money your business is generating. You need to know if you’re going to be able to keep the lights on for months to come. Ultimately, this is the data that determines whether or not your business is successful or not and the data that will determine every other budget in your restaurant.

5. Social Media Data

What You Need: Your personal mileage may vary with these, but in modern times, a business with no social media presence is neglecting a robust subsection of customers. Which specific social platforms you choose to implement are entirely up to you, but we strongly suggest having a branded Facebook page at the very least. Social media data you can measure includes the number of followers you have and how well your posts are engaging with others.

How to Get It: Most of this data is built directly into the social media platforms your use via “insights.” For example, Facebook will give you a weekly breakdown in the followers you’ve gained or lost and can show you how engaged they are with the content you’re creating. If you use Twitter and Instagram, both platforms will give you the same metrics, just keep in mind that these audiences tend to skew younger, and on Instagram specifically, content cannot “travel.” Find a way to log this data, whether you outsource it or simply choose one day a month to store it into an Excel file, you’ll find that over time you can monitor trends and follower counts and strategize that way.

Why You Need It: At this point, it goes without saying that social media isn’t a fad. It’s where the vast majority of your customers will be on a given day, and in many ways is their most convenient point of entry for contacting you. Learning how to optimize your reach and create content that registers with your followers is paramount to success in the modern business model.

Ultimately, we could write a separate blog article for each subsection in this blog, but the most important factor for you to remember is that collecting restaurant data isn’t an exclusive principle for math majors and analysts. With strong restaurant data systems in place, you can preserve your energies for what’s truly important—running your restaurant. 

Expert Takes, Feature