In July, Restaurant News ran an interview with Boston Market chief brand officer Sara Bittorf to discuss the chain’s focus on “Big Data.” Central to those efforts is Boston Market’s partnership with edo, as Bittorf explains: “One of the best things about this is it’s one of the ways to figure out how to use Big Data. When they deliver us a report, I can understand what my average ticket is and who I’m targeting. I know people have been to a Boston Market before but haven’t been in the past 60 days, for example. This is a frequency play for us, and we’re getting incremental visits we would not have gotten.”
I mention this not just to toot our own horn, although we are quite proud of Boston Market and the article itself. Rather, Boston Market’s foray into Big Data strikes me as part of a larger industry trend where restaurants, notoriously late on the technology curve, see incredible potential with Big Data applications.
This is no small shift. Consumers know that restaurants routinely skimp on tech investments, if the quality of websites is any indication. You’re probably familiar with this. You search for a restaurant on your phone, pull up the site of one that looks promising and what happens? Terrible load times; horrible navigation; usually some funky Flash theatrics that you couldn’t care less about; and, the crème de la crème, music! And we haven’t even gotten to the worst part. You click on the menu tab only to discover that it’s a PDF of their actual menu.
What makes this terribly ironic is that restaurants are the No. 1 search topic for mobile users. According to the research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey, in a survey of nearly 1,500 smart-phone users, 81 percent of consumers reported that they searched for a restaurant in the past six months using a mobile app.
The study also found: “…84 percent of those consumers surveyed said they are likely to look on their phones at more than one restaurant before deciding where to eat. A full 80 percent of people said it is important to see a menu before they dine at a restaurant, and 70 percent of respondents went further to say that restaurant menus should be readable on a mobile screen.”
But change is coming. According to Juniper Research, restaurant retailers plan to spend $55 billion annually on mobile marketing by 2015, almost double the $28 billion level expected this year. While this concerns the big corporate restaurant chains, like McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, and Domino’s, it does reflect a massive change in awareness for an industry that hasn’t grasped the mobile revolution as quickly as others. It also shows that the food industry has grasped just how much they stand to gain by learning as much as they can about their customers.
For instance, John Costello, president, Global Marketing and Innovation for Dunkin’ Brands (parent of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins), was quoted as saying this about the company’s Big Data strategy: “The power of this data is that we know sales by store, by SKU, by hour. We know what the sales are of all the product categories. This enables us to geotarget offers — so in the Northeast, for example, where there are strong beverage sales, we can build ticket by offering deals on bakery sandwiches.”
And geotargeting is just one element of a much larger Big Data strategy. Restaurant brands pursuing a Big Data effort can also use the information to improve loyalty programs, via more personalized offers, and new products, via faster and more accurate test rollouts.
Big Data can even help restaurants save more than a few bucks by improving inventory and buying down to the single unit. Indeed, the possibilities are almost endless for restaurants, as Bittorf says: “So who are the people mostly likely to make the extra visit, and what can motivate them to do that? What do they look like, and how often do they visit restaurants in general? I could use that information to refine my media buying or help new-product development, so it can help in a lot of different ways if we can get a better handle on who that person is.” Once a tech backwater, restaurants are poised to exploit Big Data like no other industry.