After attending the Fast Casual Executive Summit in Seattle it became even more apparent that we can’t ignore the importance of data in today’s restaurant industry. Data was a top line talking point in almost every session over the three-day conference. Whether the session was focused on marketing, human resources, leadership or training, the panelists kept returning to the topic of data.
Data is a broad term that encompasses a vast amount of information. Survey, demographic, sales, traffic, POS, social analytics, marketing campaign, salary and turnover data were all mentioned by the expert speakers. While absorbing insights from the far-reaching topic of data by industry leaders, several themes rose to the surface.
Most operators now have a base of internal data to support their operations
Kathleen Wood touched on one of the most important points during her presentation of helping restaurant operators get off The Struggle Bus as she referenced the difficulties of restaurant operations. She stated, “The clearer the leader, the clearer the team.” This was a sentiment that was echoed over and over throughout the conference. Paula Suarez spoke about the “Evolve or Fail” attitude with her brand and the long battle they embarked upon to solve their data challenge.
It was universally agreed upon that data is essential to restaurant operations, however it was also clear that a lot of confusion remains in the industry about how to use it properly.
Many speakers, including Billie Jo Waara of CiCi’s Pizza, spoke about their company spending much of the past 18 months collecting and organizing their internal data. This sentiment was echoed throughout the conference as operator after operator spoke about the tall task they had or were taking on to understand their own data. Most operators now have an internal or partner platform that provides detailed internal reporting, so they can better understand their sales, traffic and marketing data.
Rachel Layton of Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe stated, “Getting lost in data is a trap; ignoring data is also a trap.” This summed up a lot of what was repeated throughout the event, we have all this data but how do we use it?
We have data, now what?
The second major insight was that most companies in the industry are still working to understand how to best use and leverage the data they have. Many are working to build internal mechanisms for reporting on their own data which is very time consuming. They see the value of the data and most are willing to make the investment in understanding it.
James Park from Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh stood out as one of the most data forward operators and spoke about the importance in mining your data to best understand it. He stated that not only is it important to have the data available, but we also must take the time to get to know it, quoting, “there is great value in working your data.” As one of my best college professors once told me: there is a huge difference in execution between familiarity with a subject and truly knowing the subject.
It is not enough to have the data at your fingertips, it’s imperative that you organize your data in a meaningful way while making it accessible for multiple levels within the operating structure of the business.
Benchmarking, the next step
It was welcoming to hear how data has really come of age for the restaurant industry. Leaders in all operating departments are focusing on data and are investing significant resources into understanding THEIR business’ data.
What is most exciting is that for many of the operators, they are now positioned to open up an entirely new level of data insight, benchmarking. You now know your business, so how does it stack up against your competition? When you can take your data and measure against the industry, segment, region, state or DMA level you gain true insight into performance.
Operators can find answers to the questions:
- Is it me or the market?
- What does top quartile performance look like?
- How do I improve my performance?
- What metrics and/or locations should I focus on?
There are huge opportunities to maximize performance and positioning in the market for operators that have invested in understanding their brand’s data. They should look to continue to further leverage this investment in their data by understanding how they compare to the broader restaurant industry. It’s an exciting time for the industry with operator confidence on the rise and data shining a light on the path to success.