It’s difficult to manage a business successfully if you don’t know what’s going on. And in today’s fast-paced world, it’s more important than ever to not just know what’s going, but to know what’s going on in real-time.
Restaurant operations in particular can benefit from the ability to incorporate new streams of data and analyze it in real-time. This can help you identify trends while they are taking place (not after the fact), correct course when something goes awry and even make changes like pricing and marketing strategy before it’s too late to have an impact.
Of course, collecting, analyzing and acting on real-time data can be a challenge for many restaurants. Below, we identify five areas where restaurants can apply real-time metrics to measurably benefit operations.
1. Food Safety
It’s vital to ensure that, at a baseline, your food meet all quality and safety standards. As we’ve written about before, food-borne illness is an all-too-common problem in restaurants, with 50 percent of all cases in the U.S. each year being reported from dining-out experiences.
To ensure your restaurants don’t contribute to this problem, you need to put in place foolproof systems that ensure proper measures are being taken. One good place to start is with your walk-in.
Yep, we’re talking refrigeration. Using a digital thermometer that sends real-time data via the cloud means that you never have to run in to your restaurant late at night to check and make sure the power’s still on after a storm. You’ll already know. And you’ll never have to wonder whether that leftover package of steak has been kept sufficiently chilled to revive it as a special. Just check your data.
Use real-time data to your advantage to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed when it comes to the basics of food safety in your restaurants.
Another area where many restaurants can realize gains by applying real-time metrics is around efficiency, and its cousin productivity. For district managers with several restaurants to oversee, it can be nearly impossible to visit each and every location to monitor your employees and ensure that everyone is being as efficient and productive as possible.
The good news is that this is no longer necessary. Today, we can measure efficiency in real-time and make in-the-moment decisions about how to improve when needed.
A good place to focus here is on total labor hours vs. revenue. If you set up systems to compare income with labor data on an hourly basis, you’ll even be able to identify specific times when service speeds up or slows down, whether that’s in the kitchen or on the floor.
Then you can correct course, whether by offering breaks to fatigued workers, bringing on extra labor or having a direct conversation with a less-than-efficient employee.
Likely at least some of your marketing efforts take place online. You probably have a website, social media profiles and maybe even a CRM system. What you probably don’t have is all the time in the world to comb through the data these tools produce.
While you should obviously make time at least on a monthly basis to review your results and make tweaks, in the meantime you can make it easy on yourself. Set up automated alerts that will get your attention when something important happens, whether that’s a spike in visits to your website, an increase in mentions on social media or a dip in online reservations.
If the tools you’re using don’t support this natively, set up a clever IFTTT recipe to make sure you never miss another crucial opportunity.
Rather than babysitting your marketing systems, you can use automated alerts and reporting to do the work for you and help you identify anomalies, whether good or bad, while they are actually happening. That way you can capitalize on or minimize them as appropriate, before it’s too late.
Another area where real-time metrics can be helpful is in forecasting your labor, inventory and capital needs. While you may think of forecasting as an “after the fact” activity, the truth is that you shouldn’t be waiting until the end of every month to take a look at your performance and make changes.
Instead you should spend time setting up systems that will help you capture and analyze performance data in real-time and make micropredictions throughout the day and the week. This kind of forecasting is often more useful than the data from a year ago, which may or may not have all that much effect on today’s reality.
For example, if you have an abnormally heavy breakfast rush, you might predict that lunch will also be high-traffic. This can help you make sure you have executed the right staffing and food prep precautions, for example, to handle the bump in customers.
It’s key to always be able to keep tabs on your costs and on your cashflow. Knowing how much money is in the till, what bills are coming up and when costs are particularly high or low can help you make smart business decisions.
Being able to do this in real time means you can often catch a troublesome pattern before it spreads and creates a larger problem. Perhaps your electricity bill has gone up by a dramatic amount. Noticing this in the moment can help you spot the source (have energy prices gone up, or might you have a faulty appliance?) before it blossoms into a major issue.
Now that you have a sense of five important areas to pay attention to, it’s time to set up metrics that can help you streamline and energize your operations. As you do so, remember that none of these metrics is useful on its own. They need to be overlaid with relevant datapoints like time, season, weather, profit etc. that will bring the story behind the numbers to life. Only then can you call it “business intelligence” -- when it truly becomes the kind of information that you can use to make your restaurant smarter.