Chances are that when you hear the term “big data,” you think of Ph.D. candidates slaving over massive banks of computers—not restaurants. Big data has initially gotten a bit of a bum rap because few businesses—restaurants or otherwise—have been able to successfully harness their big data. Fortunately, foodservice operators, and particularly multiunit operators, already have access to tools needed to put their own big data to work improving their business.

Every multiunit operator in the industry is likely already using some data to make business decisions. That data usually comes in the form of spreadsheets or the basic transactional data systems, neither of which comes close to realizing the potential of big data, says a leading restaurant information solution provider.

If your company hasn’t already started to do so, this expert says it’s now time to move beyond spreadsheets and transactional systems to analytical systems that let you manage and learn from all your data working together. That’s where operators will see real business benefits that impact the bottom line, he adds.

“The first step toward making the most of your big data is to understand the possibilities that information management can offer the restaurant industry,” says Dave Bennett, CEO of Mirus Restaurant Solutions. “The good news is, you don’t need to be a statistician to wrap your head around the topic, and your eyes needn’t glaze over in the process.”

There are many reasons to embrace better restaurant information management, and harness your big data, and below are three of the most compelling:

1. You’ll get better information.

Alas, spreadsheets have limitations. Not only are they vulnerable to human error when entering data, but also even the biggest, most complex spreadsheet can’t begin to handle all of a company’s data. Transactional systems (think point-of-sale, inventory, labor scheduling, customer loyalty, etc.) only offer part of the story. They typically have limited reporting capability, and each transactional system’s data is usually siloed away from other company data.

“The good news is, you don’t need to be a statistician to wrap your head around the topic, and your eyes needn’t glaze over in the process.”

“On the other hand, analytical systems bring all your data together under one digital—and preferably cloud-based—roof where it can interact,” Bennett says. “That way, the relationships amongst your data can be evaluated to reveal a complete picture of your business.

Bennett also stresses the importance of exception-based analysis. “The best analytical systems don’t just identify trends from your data, they study the exceptions in your data and the lessons that can be learned from those exceptions,” he says.

2. With better information, you can make better decisions.

So what type of data, and how much of it, do you need to better manage your business? Ideally the answer is all of it. “That’s the heart of big data. A robust analytical system can help you to collect, organize, and interpret massive amounts of data, so that you can make the best possible business decisions,” Bennett says.

Here’s a simplified example of what’s possible: All operators watch their labor costs. The typical spreadsheet or labor transactional system compares daily labor costs against an established target.

“Coming in under target is considered good, coming in over target is considered bad, right? Not so fast,” Bennett says. A thorough analytical system, he says, will compare labor costs against a store’s high- and low-volume sales hours to determine whether a store was understaffed or overstaffed.

3. Better decisions allow you to increase profits.

Elevating your information management capabilities can bring many benefits. The key benefit is that by having more information, you can take action sooner on opportunities you could not see before.

“Simply put, when you know more, you can do more,” Bennett says. “Knowledge is power; in this case power that can be turned into dollar signs.”

Bennett even cites a recent example: A Mirus client developed a new product for its multiunit operation. Store operators were concerned that the new item would cannibalize their top-selling item, causing overall sales and profits to decline. By analyzing test results at the check level, combined with the cost of each menu item, management was able to demonstrate that the new item actually increased both sales and profits. Further, the new item created incremental sales during the lunch meal period—a result they did not expect. The new product was launched, and store sales increased more than 10 percent in the first year.

“Harnessing your restaurants’ business information can and should ultimately increase all of an operation’s metrics, from traffic and same-store sales to the bottom line,” Bennett says.

This is the first article in a two-part series about why and how to boost your bottom line by embracing restaurant information management.

Brenda Fried is president of Harbor Bay Consulting Ltd. and has more than 20 years of experience in the foodservice industry. A published author of many foodservice articles and a book, her clients include those in restaurant information management solutions. Contact her at
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