This week we are going to be doing a deep dive into restaurant operations, data, and reporting in the industry. We are going to be exploring areas of the restaurant business where operators could be collecting more data, what that data could tell them, and strategies to collect data.
The restaurant industry as a whole is starved for meaningful data and actionable reports. We as an industry have gone without them for so long that we don’t even know what we don’t know about data-driven decision making. In my last job, we worked with clients that had highly automated systems in other industries and were able to develop meaningful reports that made their decision-making easy and proactive. The question is why don’t we, the restaurant industry, have better data?
The answer, we are a people business. We serve a highly variable product to people, and it is delivered by people in real-time, that makes it difficult to collect data. In the corporate restaurants systems I’ve worked in, we only had access to formatted register and customer service data. I will add food ordering and inventory data to that list if the company is running an inventory control system.
The problem with making decisions based off of customer service and sales data is that those data points are downstream of operations. A company spends money on marketing with the goal of reminding people that they exist and trying to get people to come to their restaurants. Then the people come to their restaurant, and they experience operations that result in sales. If you are lucky 1 to 2% of your most vocal customers, happy or mad, will give you their customer feedback for a bribe of a cookie or future discount. Where your business is winning or losing is in your operations, the quality of the food, service and experience. A bad restaurant that does a promotion will drive immediate sales but because they are bad will ultimately have lower sales at the end of the promotion than they did before because they didn’t take care of their guests.
It is in that operations data where you can fill in the blanks between marketing, sales and customer feedback. It is in the operations data you can search for causality in how you operate and look for cost saving profit increasing efficiencies.
We know that ops data is important but before we can go deeper into what data we should be collecting, let’s talk about how we can collect it. There are several ways to capture operations data they boil down to automated, fewer options, and human entered.
An example of automated ops data capture comes from temperature loggers; temp loggers can collect temperatures every 15 seconds and send the data to the cloud.
Unfortunately, there is no sensor that will tell you if your bathroom is clean and pleasant or that your waitstaff is perky vs. being hungover. Those kinds of datapoints require a person to make a judgement call and get the data entered into a system.
The most common way to collect data in the restaurant industry is also the cheapest, pen & paper. Pen & paper is also the worse way to collect data because you can’t do anything with it easily. You pay to have the data entered on paper. Then you will have to pay a second time to have the data entered into a spreadsheet so it can be used in the most basic analysis.
Spreadsheets are better than pen and paper and ok for single unit organizations but they can be hard to use on tablets and walking around with a laptop is not recommended. Spreadsheets also don’t allow you to take advantage of other types of data like pictures. We have seen several small chains where they send their Area Manager’s out into the field with a paper inspection. Then their Area Manager has to spend about an hour per inspection entering the data from the paper form into a spreadsheet for scoring.
Another limitation of spreadsheets is aggregating data across several locations. It becomes difficult to bring spreadsheets from multiple locations together into a master spreadsheet and you start to run into some data limitations very quickly. A Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet can only have 65,536 rows in it. That sounds like a lot of rows, but it isn’t.
One of our clients has 18 restaurants and runs a 52 question line check for lunch and dinner service daily. So you can see how quickly data add’s up, that is 1,872 rows of new data being created daily. At that pace, they could fill up an Excel spreadsheet in 35 days. Now you have to create a new spreadsheet tab, and you start to loose your ability to do any historical analysis easily. Also, as spreadsheets get bigger with more data they slow down your computer, and I have seen them become unstable and prone to breaking and causing errors.
Databases are ideal for storing and managing large data sets, but you need to have a way of getting the data into the database to make them useful. Capturing data requires an app that can directly insert the data into the database. When you move from a spreadsheet to a database, you now need an entire new set of skills to manage the collection app and databases. You are becoming an IT shop instead of a restaurant.
Survey Monkey(paid) and Google Forms offer a unique solutions for small chains, in which you can get a web front end for collecting data that is easier to use than a spreadsheet. You could export your data to a spreadsheet and then if you wanted get it imported into a database. You are still stuck with the limitations around spreadsheets and the additional costs of database management, but they are better than a spreadsheet.
Services like OpsAnalitica that are built to collect, aggregate, and display data from many locations are probably your best bet for capturing operations data for the following reasons:
- We don’t require your company to become a database and programming company.
- Our Inspector is made to collect restaurant data and aggregate it across multiple locations into one reporting platform.
- The app allows you to collect more than just the answers to questions, allows pictures and additional comments.
- Our reporting portal and data warehouse allow you to view reports of your most important data on any device.