Americans have more access to better food and food for a sophisticated palate than ever before. Great meals can be had everywhere from airline terminals to 5-star restaurants specializing in haute cuisine.

Most people are aware of the rise in the foodie culture, where people from 18 to 75 pursue sophisticated foods ranging from roasted squab to artisanal chocolate to craft beer. But most people don't think "digital data" or "analytics" when they think of eating. In fact, technology news like digital data and analytics have a great deal to do with food and restaurant companies and their ability to meet the American palate's growing sophistication.

A Revolution in Analytics 

The restaurant industry has traditionally eschewed heavy reliance on technology, largely because the chefs and restauranteurs often relied — or wanted to underscore their reliance on — intuition and instinct in creating both excellent food and a great restaurant experience. 

However, a recent book, The Underground Culinary Tour by Damian Mogavero, highlights how much the influence of technology and the influence of a new generation of foodies has changed the restaurant business.

Mogavero notes that data analytics can track precisely both sales trends and employee trends. Does a particular dish sell well and outperform its peers? Restaurateurs and chefs of an earlier generation might have noticed sales trends and incorporated them, or may have relied on talent and innovation. With recent data analytics, they can track definitively the performance of each dish. 

Employee trends can show when a server, for example, is underperforming the peer group by tracking the statistics on what he or she sells vis-à-vis their peers. One example Mogavero gives is a server who was selling significantly less wine that the peer group. When he was questioned, it became clear that he was uncomfortable opening a bottle of wine. 

Once data analytics has revealed the pattern, potential reasons can be corrected.

Use in Business Strategy

One of the reasons tracking sales and server performance is so important to restaurants is that the business is very low margin. For that reason, any improvement that will help margins will help the industry.

Microfraud, for example, is an emerging trend. In microfraud, a server will void one charge on a bill and replace it with another charge. The amounts are insignificant — a beverage might be billed at $8.00, when it should have been charged at $5.00. Added together, however, the annual amounts can be significant. Algorithms can catch microfraud simply because they do not occur predictably.

Another significant use of data analytics is to suggest areas where costs can be cut. Those areas would be important at any time but are particularly significant given the recent push toward a $15.00 per hour minimum wage in many areas across the country. For restaurants, that often means that prices will be going up. If restaurants are to remain profitable, they must cut costs somewhere else.

Smart data crunching can improve the service in restaurants. These establishments are often a foodie paradise. Now, behind the scenes, they are a digital aficionado’s paradise as well.