As the old saying goes, I may not know art but I know what I like. And I like coffee. Also, for the record, I know art pretty well, but that’s neither here nor there. Back to the coffee. If you’ve been in a specialty coffee shop lately—and I know that you have, because someone has to be buying all this coffee—you’ve probably watched a barista carefully drizzle steamed milk into a cup of espresso in such a way as to make you think, “OH MY…. HURRY UP I NEED MY COFFEE.” It’s hard to stay mad, though, when you’re presented with a beautiful, consumable work of art like this:
It’s no secret that restaurants are notorious businesses for having high failure rates. The frequently cited statistics point to 60% of new restaurants going under within three years, while the failure rate after five years is 75%. But don’t let that fool you into thinking you can lay back and do nothing if you want your restaurant to fail. Anyone who’s run their shop to the ground will tell you it’s hard work—you’ll work long days, which will most likely be stress endurance tests as you struggle to figure out how to leave your customers dissatisfied enough to never come back. No one said it would easy to start and then shut down your own restaurant. But we’ve made it easier for you. Kounta customers are an accomplished lot, and by reading through our myriad success stories certain patterns emerge to tell the story of how these restaurants do it. And once you know how to do it, not doing it becomes that much easier. Here, then, is a checklist of things to get you well on your way to locking your doors one last time and handing the keys over to the bank.
- Don’t worry about developing a unique concept that will make you stand out. Time and time again, we see that our most successful customers delivering a clear vision of what their establishment is all about. From sourdough bakeries to fast-and-fresh burgers to microbreweries, they all execute a concept that can be described in just a few words. More importantly, they’re offering something unique to the neighbourhoods they serve, and aren’t relying simply on tasty food to drive business. This is exactly what you shouldn’t be doing if you’re trying to fail spectacularly. Instead, convince yourself that food is what brings customers to restaurants then focus solely on cooking spectacular meals. That will be reason enough for people to show up and spread the word.
- Be friendly with your customers and serve them a good meal, then wait for them to come back and do it again. Then keep waiting. To create loyalty with your customers is a two-pronged approach. First, they need more of an incentive to come back than a good experience. The second is getting to know them as more than revenue sources, on a personal level. The Kounta users who we’ve seen grow the most are the ones who use our POS with this in mind. Customer profiles that include individual purchase histories facilitate both of these tasks; the data gathered can be used to push personalised offers through standard marketing channels. The they take it a step further with various mobile app integrations—for loyalty, social media, or credentialed wi-fi access—which let them connect directly with customers in and out of their store. Don’t do any of this. It might be tempting to, since customer outreach in this method is so much easier and more effective than ever, but this is a checklist of failure—and you’re reading this for a reason, right?
- Experience is overrated: you cook the food then serve the food. It isn’t rocket science. This goes for you and your staff. Your friends keep telling you your Tapas are amazing, so you’re golden. You’ll figure the rest out—or not. As for staff, the experienced ones will want more money. Sure, that seems like a good way to burn through cash quickly, but did you know you can haemorrhage money even faster when your newbie staff is wasting food and time and making customers so angry they won’t pay? Of course you didn’t know that: you’re inexperienced. Our most successful users are the ones who’ve spent a life in hospitality before going out on their own and know the ins and outs of several aspects of the running a restaurant. And they look for the same credentials in their staff. Even then, they don’t just rely on their people to make things run smoothly, they use the advanced order flow features in Kounta to keep everyone in sync. This is not what you’re going for, though. Just keep cranking out those Manchego-stuffed phyllo puffs, buy a cash register, and pray that your 19-year old sous chef doesn’t burn the place down before you have a chance to go out of business with class.
- Don’t bother with inventory. Just check what you’ve got at the end of each day and buy what you need the next morning. Who’s got time for keeping inventory, anyway? Not you, and your soon to be ex-restaurant. Fun fact, though: successful restaurateurs don’t have the time to do a proper inventory, either. So how do they stay on top of everything? They leave it to their technology. We built a pretty robust inventory module into Kounta, capable of deducting ingredients as they’re ordered in a dish and generating new purchase orders when they get low. Your cash register can’t do that, so at least you won’t be tempted to even try this.
- Ignore the past and don’t fret about the future. There is only today! They say that those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. In your case, that’s not possible: you opened a restaurant in the past, and you’ll have a pretty hard time securing credit for another venture after you’ve delivered the death blow to this one. Mostly, it’s the owners who embrace the past—and apply its lessons to the present—that will have a future. There’s a lot of valuable data inside Kounta, and the longer you’re running it the better information you can get out. The reporting features can help identify any number of ways you can improve things. Knowing when your busy and dead hours are help you schedule staff accordingly. Seeing which side dishes tend to get ordered with which entrees can help you create combo offers that will sell. Knowing which ingredients are almost near the end of their shelf life can determine the special of the day. There is much to learn from the past, which is why you should pretend like it never happened.
If you can accomplish these 5 easy items, I can guarantee you the failure of a lifetime. It’ll be a great story to tell your grandkids one day. If they even listen to you, that is. They’ll probably be ordering a pizza on their smartphone from your old competitor.
The state of Vermont, in the northeast US, does things a little differently than the rest of the country. It’s the only state in the country whose capital doesn’t have a McDonald’s. There are only five Starbucks inside its borders—as a matter of perspective, know that there are 17 inside a single airport in Chicago. Just a few days ago, the town where I live held its annual Strolling of the Heifers parade, a very mellow variation on the Running of the Bulls that shines a light on the state’s dairy industry. So I wasn’t really surprised when I read an article about a small cafe in Burlington, VT that banned laptops and tablets in its dining area. Of course August First Bakery & Cafe is in Burlington, the city whose mayor once was this guy named Bernie you might’ve heard of recently. Sure. It made sense that here in Vermont is where one cafe puts up a sign encouraging “reading, daydreaming, and chit chatting” as alternatives to screens.
But not so fast. It’s all well and good to say these are just Vermont hippies enforcing their luddite worldview on customers. The fact is, though, cafes lose money when you set up shop and linger for hours. Even if you buy a couple of meals over the course of 3 or 4 hours, that’s far less business the cafe could’ve done if someone walked in and every 30 minutes that table was empty. A quickserve cafe isn’t like a full service restaurant. Customers aren’t going to wait around for a table, even for 15 minutes. They may get something to go instead, but often they’ll just go somewhere else where they can sit. This is exactly what the owner of August First said was happening at her shop, and even though she slowly phased out cafe screentime that didn’t stop the number of complaints from going up. Fortunately, it didn’t stop her sales from going up, either; August First has seen its sales revenue increase since instituting the ban. Even though that makes all the sense in the world, there’s still a counter intuitive aspect to it.
In this day and age, wouldn’t forbidding electronics cost you customers in the first place? How many people will just a walk away if they see a sign advertising the lack of wi-fi alongside laptop and tablet restrictions?
It might be hard to answer that question concretely, but consider the person who just walked away: rejecting a cafe on the grounds that he couldn’t use his laptop is like leaving a circus performance because it didn’t feature accountants doing math. When you had dreams of opening a cafe, did any part of it involve serving up bandwidth to people? I’m guessing the answer is “No.” You wanted to serve up delicious food and put smiles on people’s faces. That person who walked away isn’t going to be your ideal customer. You may have lost out on a sale, but he just made room for another 5 or 6 of them. And if you’re currently offering free wi-fi with no time limits on table occupancy, there’s actually a way to see how much laptops are costing you.
Even though you might not be a full service restaurant, you can still benefit from Kounta’s Tables module to start quantifying things just like this. Every time someone sits down with a laptop, star the timer on their table and note the customer is using a computer. Start tracking every table, whether there’s a laptop or not. After a few days you’ll be able to see the discrepancy in revenue at tables with a laptop, and tables without. After a week, you’ll be alarmed at how much you’re losing. After a month, you may just cry a little bit. For a large place that does a steady To Go business, this might not be such a big deal, But for a smaller cafe with limited seating and a cramped counter area for placing orders, you might find you can’t afford to keep offering what’s essentially free office space for students and professionals. This all-or-nothing solution might not be for everyone—maybe you just institute laptop free zones, or you actually charge people to sit per hour—but you’ll be able to find the right approach for your shop. Using technology to help phase out or curb technology helps you do so with precision.
Over here in the States, there’s a certain segment of people who got real upset a few years ago when President Obama pointed out that business owners aren’t creating successful companies all by themselves. He was talking about the infrastructure that a civilized society is able to provide, through government and other businesses, for its citizens—roads, electricity, communications, buildings, etc. That you didn’t build it alone isn’t an insult, but a lot of business owners here chose to take it that way. Another segment of the population heard this message loud and clear, though: the employees of businesses. They know full well all the things their employer isn’t doing, because they were hired to do those things. Hiring someone isn’t charity. If I pay someone to paint my house, I’m not doing her a favor. It’s why they’re called mutually beneficial arrangements: everyone gets something out of it. The same goes for employment. Because of the accepted hierarchy of things, it’s often the case that the owner will get more out of it than any employee—in terms of dollars—and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem starts when staff feel like the money’s not even worth it to stick around. As is too often the case, the blame for this fall squarely on the shoulders of management and the owner. This doesn’t mean they’re mistreating employees, nor should you infer that I think this is malicious. More likely, it stems from something much more damaging to a business than malice: indifference. If, the last time someone in your employ quit, your response to that was, “Oh, well. I’ll just hire another person,” you might be part of the problem.
And that problem doesn’t lead to just perpetual searches for employees while you wonder why it’s so hard to find good help these days. Those searches cost you money. The time spent to process the paperwork of your new hire costs you money. Training costs you money. Any lingering bad feelings your ex-employee might share with friends may, right or wrong, come back to bite you and cost you money. How much money? According to the Bureau of National Affairs, a private organization which isn’t nearly as governmental as it sounds, US businesses lose $11 billion annually due to employee turnover. That’s kind of a scary number, unless you put it in context. “Businesses” is a pretty broad term. If you subtract government entities from the United States’ GDP, leaving just business, $11 billion is less than one tenth of one percent. Even if you just based it off the revenue of the US restaurant industry, it’s still only 1.4%. Bad, but not devastating. So why am I downplaying the monetary impact of employee turnover while warning you against an environment that encourages employee turnover? Because there’s more to the cost of unhappy employees than just money.
That’s not to say money is never a factor, but the fact is people very much value their happiness with a job. This post over at aaronallen.com—the website for a restaurant consulting firm—notes that only 12% of people quit their jobs because they got a more lucrative offer somewhere else. The rest are employees who, for one reason or another, don’t feel good about their jobs. Maybe they haven’t been trained well enough and always feel one step behind. Maybe they’re passionate about the business and have ideas or input, but no one listens to what they have to say. Or maybe they just hate their boss, like 75% of employees who leave their jobs. Hell, even I hate my boss—and I’m self employed. The solution to this, then, is to invest some extra resources in creating employees that feel empowered at their jobs, are excited about the product, and don’t think twice about going the extra mile whenever needed. Because Aaron Allen & Associates are a consulting firm, they had to give this a jargonised name: Employee Engagement. The engaged employee is one who will stay because she feels part of a team, and won’t be tempted by a competitor offering a dollar or two more an hour. Good employees will absolutely justify the expense of hiring them. But, the article notes, “by increasing spending on associate engagement programs by just 10%, companies could increase profits by $2,400 per year per employee.” Your mileage may vary on that ROI, and it might not be so easy to quantify, but your business will get something out of it. Among other benefits, engaged employees are:
- More likely to spread the word about your business and recommend it to friends and family (and with social media, much more than that).
- Going to effortlessly take care of your customers, representing your business in the best possible light.
- Less likely to call in sick and create problems for everyone (and more likely to fill a spot vacated by the disengaged employee who calls in sick)
Now, no one seems to have any research on this, but I’m willing to bet that owners who invest in their employees to keep them engaged reap benefits beyond the financial. Employees who don’t cause problems eliminate a lot of stress at the workplace. The ones who are outright happy to be there can be a boost to everyone’s morale, including the owner. And imagine the feeling of security you’ll get when you take your first vacation in 5 years and don’t have to worry that no one there knows what to do in your absence. These are all things that you can’t quantify the cost of when you don’t have them. But you also can’t put a price on benefits like these.
A while back, I wrote a post here about the kinds of things found on menus that will annoy your customers. One menu choice that I cautioned against was not having prices for each item. The whole construct of a restaurant is that people are going to pay for their meal, and they’d like to know what you’re going to charge them in advance. But in Banbury, England, cafe owner Naomi Perkins had no other choice for her menu, given the idea behind the place. Her eponymous Naomi’s Cafe Bar operates by donation only, meaning that you can order what you like, and then pay what you like. Maybe that sounds crazy to you, but that’s more the result of you being brought up in a market society where goods and services are exchanged for predetermined amounts of money. Just because that’s the way you’ve always known it to be done, doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be done. And it seems to be working for Naomi’s Cafe—in an interview in January, 2015, not long after she’d opened, Perkins stated that it was too soon to tell whether the business model was sustainable (but noted that they had turned a profit so far). Now, it’s over a year later, and Naomi’s is still going strong, and it’s uber-welcoming vibe has turned into a something that looks more like a community-supported hangout than a cafe.
Now, the little socialist that lives in my heart is overjoyed to hear about things like this: a business built on faith in humanity and the cooperative spirit is a thing of beauty. But the little capitalist that lives in my wallet is telling me to shut up with all that hippie nonsense. He’s reminding me that the bulk of my income comes from a Point of Sale company, and Naomi’s just an agitator undermining Kounta’s, and therefore my, value in the marketplace. Of course, capitalists are super tunnel-visioned about things not having to with money in their cash-holes, so he doesn’t really understand that there’s more to the software that, no matter the business model, makes something like Kounta a must for any cafe. Point of Sale isn’t just about ringing up the sales, which is something I think I’ve typed several dozen times in the last year. But it’s an important point worth repeating. And for an enterprise like Naomi’s Cafe, it may be even more important.
Most businesses, and cafes are no exception, live and die by their sales forecasts. Having a specific number tied to your projected revenue, even if it’s an estimate, gives the business some kind of mooring. If you can reasonably expect to bring in X number dollars over a month, then you also know that it would be unreasonable to spend Y, if Y is greater than X. It can’t work this way for Naomi’s Cafe, though. Even if she could predict with accuracy how much of each item she tends to sell, without a firm price attached to that item there’s no way of knowing what the income is going to be. This makes staying on top of expenses all the more important, especially around the cost of ingredients and labor. If you can’t predict what’s coming in, you had better know exactly what’s going out. Plus, the more granular you get about that kind of information, the better chance you’ll have of identifying cost saving measures you might not have been aware of. A few off the top of my head:
- The ability to track wastage facilitates smarter purchasing decisions in the future. No sense spending money on ingredients that will end up in the trash.
- Automated purchase ordering ensures you only spend money on inventory when you need to.
- While you can’t track revenue per hour to match up against labor costs, you can use reporting to see when you’re busy times are strictly by sales volume. If you notice certain time frames where things are slow, you can cut back on staff during those times.
And just because you’re not pricing things, relying on the kindness of your customers, that doesn’t mean your cafe POS can’t help you boost revenue, either.
- Add online ordering through mobile apps and your customer base expands beyond your walls. They can order a free meal and then enter their donation as a tip, or just drop cash in the donation box when they pick up the food.
- Store customer profiles and order history for personalised offers. Those offers won’t be coupons or anything to do with discounts, for obvious reasons, but there are creative ways around that. Invite customers on their birthdays for a donation free-piece of cake or dessert. They’ll probably show up with someone else who’ll drop a little extra on a meal. Or create events that you’ll want to invite your loyal diners to, and encouraging them to show up when they might not otherwise have.
If you can be creative enough to make an unconventional business like Naomi Perkins’ work, you can certainly figure out ways to make a POS work for you in driving business. And with so many other aspects that tie into the system, from your accounting to staff management, a point of sale is still a necessity even when there aren’t any sales happening.
The post Pay-By-Donation Cafe Doesn’t Need a POS—Or Does It? appeared first on Kounta.
It’s not easy being a hipster. The whole enterprise is fraught with contradiction. A general disdain for mainstream pop culture is requirement number one, but staying ahead of the trends is a close second. If any obscure thing loved by the hipster finds its way to mass appeal, the hipster either has to disavow that thing entirely, or at least remind people that he was into it “before it was cool.” And now that being a hipster is cool, what’s a first generation skinny jean aficionado to do? How are they supposed to stand out in a sea of people who look just like them? Changing their appearance and taste preferences is out of the question: that’s just another side of the same conformity coin. No, the best thing a hipster can do—and this is what they’re doing—is to wax that moustache up real pretty and become a businessman. Or, trade the Buddy Holly glasses for Cat-Eye frames and become a businesswoman.
One of the most common hipster businesses is the cafe. What better way to express individuality than through food and drink? But starting a cafe isn’t easy, let alone starting one that aims for a demographic predisposed to reject anything that looks like crass consumerism. Fear not, sweet hipsters: I am here to help. You see, I’ve spent the better part of the last few years making fun of you, with your barbershop quartet hats and vintage carry-on luggage that won’t fit in the overhead bin. But I also know firsthand what it’s like to want to do the opposite of whatever the general populace is into. I was contrarian before it was cool. So, I’ve assembled this list of handy tips, sprung from my observations about your charming subculture, that should help you create the next trendy place that nobody goes to anymore.
- As with hospitality business, location is key. But here’s where having the audience you’re looking for helps you out because you definitely don’t want to be right in the middle of everything. There’s nothing hip about opening a coffee shop on a busy street or in a shopping plaza. Plus, it’s spendy to be on a main drag. The hipster cafe should be an out of the way place, preferably in an old industrial building that’s being repurposed for retail space. You’re looking at lower rental costs for the less-than-desirable location, and the space likely already has the kind of aesthetic you’re going for. If you can’t get off the beaten path—maybe you’re in a city where all the paths are well and truly beaten—then try and put yourself as out of the way as possible. Underground locations are ideal in this regard, and you can even go a step further and minimise signage. You want to maintain the air of an exclusive club or a well-kept secret. Kounta-favorite Uncle Ming’s is a great example of this.
- Create a community around your cafe. Despite wearing a protective cloak of ironic detachment from the world around them, hipsters (and millennials in general) are looking for more than a consumer experience when shopping or dining out. Within your space, having one or two large communal tables encourages people to keep their heads out of their devices, and is becoming a pretty popular option for cafes. Another way to foster an inclusive vibe is something like a game night, but choose carefully. Trivia Night has been done a thousand times over. I bet you’d get a huge crowd for something like a Hungry, Hungry Hippos tournament.
- Have some kind of central theme. Mostly, these themes start and end with the food, some kind of specialty of the house, the dish or ingredient that is your bread and butter. If you have a cafe dedicated to toast, for example, your bread and butter would be actual bread and butter. In New South Wales, Bruce Leaves started with the idea of salad and then ran with it. In other cases, the food is, while not exactly secondary, not the theme of the place, either. Atelier de Velo in Sydney is serving up great coffee, but the place is all about bikes. Like, there’s a full-on sales and service bike shop in the cafe. Or there’s a cafe in the full-on sales and service bike shop. Probably both are true, depending on who you ask.
- Tell the stories behind the restaurant that highlight its themes/your passion. Because hipsterism is first defined as a perspective in opposition to the mainstream, doing something square like starting a business almost seems out of character. But everyone’s got something they’re passionate about, and for a hipster cafe that passion is what drove the business in the first place. If you’re brewing single origin coffee one Chemex pot at a time, tell your customers what all that means. Why is it better? Why is it important to you? Getting a little personal on the menu or marketing materials helps customers connect with you, while flashing your knowledge of the food and prep techniques establishes the cafe as a labor of love rather than a business—that and a good meal will breed loyalty.
- Break the rules and be different. Very Different. Some people will love you for it, some will hate you, but when you reject convention in favor of doing your own thing you’ll get very few people will be able to remain indifferent. A great example of this is the UK’s Cereal Killer Cafe. The menu is basically just store bought cereal, poured from the box and served to customers at a premium. You can add toppings and select from a variety of milks, or partake in a “cereal cocktail,” a mixture of different brands paired with just the right extras. Either way, you’re paying more for a bowl of cereal than you would for an entire box at the grocery. People love it so much that a second cafe opened less than a year after the first. People also hate it so much that the cafe was vandalised by an angry mob wearing pig masks and carrying pitchforks. That might sound horrible, but it’s also free publicity for the cost of scrubbing the word “scum” off their windows.
For the hospitality entrepreneur, wine is a tempting avenue to pursue. Whether that avenue becomes the fast lane to expanded revenue or detour through a construction zone is entirely up to the wine list. And the wine list is entirely up to you. You don’t have to be a logics professor well versed in the transitive relationship between two givens to understand the implication of that last sentence, but it definitely would have helped with this one. It’s all up to you, is what I’m saying, and if you don’t know your catawba from your gewurztraminer then getting it right becomes a little tricky. For a casual, mid-tier restaurant that wants to improve the experience while boosting revenue, the cost of a consultant is probably an overinvestment, but you don’t want to just close your eyes and pick 10 bottles at random either. Still, a little research and some conversations with people who know better can steer you in the right direction. You’re already on top of the research portion, because you’re at this blog, reading a post about creating a great wine list. And you’re probably wishing I would just dispense with the nonsense and make with the helpful tips already—this is a very good idea. Without further ado, then, a list of ways to make a great list.
- Find out about local suppliers and/or distributors. If you’re trying to figure out what wine you should be offering, you can at least narrow your list down right off the bat by checking out what you can actually buy. You may like a bottle you bought in a store, but that doesn’t mean it’s available through the channels available to you. If you’re nowhere near wine country, that means contacting distributors. At the least, a rep can provide you with a catalog of what she can sell you; at best, she’ll ask about your menu and give you advice on what would be most appropriate.
- Drink some wine. A lot of wine. On its own, this seems like very irresponsible advice. I should clarify that when I say “a lot of wine,” I mean you should try as many varietals as you possibly can. Distributors will often hold tasting events, or arrange something special for you, but if you have access to wineries so much the better. You may pay a little more working on a smaller scale, but you’ll be dealing with people who really know their product, are passionate about it, and will want to teach you a thing or two. If you learn what makes a cabernet a cabernet, that applies to all cabernets—not just their bottle. More important than knowledge of the grape, by tasting wine you’ll be able to learn what you like. Your food is a reflection of your taste, and the wine you offer should be, too.
Don’t overdo it. You may find, during step 2, that there an abundance of wines that you just love and you can’t decide between them and figure you’ll just get all 40 or 50 of the ones you tried. That’s just too much. You want your list to offer a variety, while staying within a clear focus—not to mention the inventory management headaches such a big list would entail. Resist the temptation to be the place with the “extensive” wine list. Also, resist the temptation to ever drink wine again. You might have a problem.
- Make sure the wine “makes sense” for your restaurant. A family style italian restaurant doesn’t need to offer bottles of Koshu from the Tomi No Oka winery out in the Yamanashi prefecture. Italian and Spanish wines would work much better there. It might also be tempting to get some super fancy high priced bottles, but it’s best to stay away from those in a casual setting. Sure, Hooters has been serving up Dom Perignon with chicken wings at a price way above anything on their menu, but they can afford the gimmick. You’ll likely just end up with hundred dollar dust collector.
- Avoid trying to describe the wines on your list. Let’s be honest here: most descriptions of wine are utter nonsense. Here are three excerpts of tasting notes from Wine Enthusiast magazine, and one I just flat-out made up. See if you can pick the impostor:
a. This pure Merlot is racy, ripe and ready to drink
b. Green pepper and asphalt aromas provide intrigue
c. A Malbec that hints strongly at chocolate and berries
d. Lactic oak and rubbery black fruit aromas lead to a wiry, acidic palate
First, I’m going to tell you that the last one is real. But lactic oak? What does that even mean? Lactic acid produced by an oak tree? Is that better or worse tasting than the asphalt described in option B, which is also a real thing someone said about wine? I made up the third one, the only one that even sounds appetising in this list, and I can’t tell you how many times someone’s told me a wine had “chocolate and berry notes” that I just couldn’t taste. Describing the wine on the list is either going to turn people off or lead to disappointment. Just list the winery, the name, the varietal, and the year, and let your servers handle the rest. You don’t have to tell someone what a wine tastes like to say, “It goes really with our fish special tonight.” If you add your own pairing suggestions into your POS, your servers can have all that information at their iPad holding fingertips.
Just remember to keep things simple. Wine should be something to be enjoyed, and not stressed over. Your customers can relax when you and your staff can speak confidently to the wine list, and help them choose a good match for their meals. You can keep your stress to a minimum by not overextending yourself, staying on not of your inventory, and indulging in the occasional bottle from your stash.
The post Que Syrah, Syrah: Tips for Creating a Great Wine List appeared first on Kounta.
On February 16, Apple CEO Tim Cook signed his name to an open letter from the company to its customers. The short version of the letter’s contents is this: the FBI—the U.S. government’s law enforcement agency—asked Apple to create a version of iOS that could bypass any of the the built-in security features. They would only like it on one phone and for one investigation, and they promise they won’t do anything fishy with that kind of power, no sir. Apple is refusing and going public with this request, so that people can fully understand the depth to which governing bodies disregard privacy. It’s downright Big Brother-ish, in a very literal way. Why am I bringing this up in a post about the ways restaurants can use data to better and more personally serve customers? Because there’s the inevitable cries of “Big Brother!” whenever the conversation goes to the topic of creating detailed customer profiles and tracking their buying habits using software. And if you feel compelled to make that comparison, just stop reading here. Because I’m going to talk about collecting data on your customers and using it to do better business with them. The ability of a business to target offers and discounts to its regular customers isn’t a slippery slope to government overreach. More likely, it’s a gateway to free pizza.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t so-called Big Data we’re talking about. Big Data, even at a consumer level, is a little creepy even to those of us who don’t wear tinfoil hats. It’s gathers a large amount of data across huge swaths of the populace such that trends emerge which can actually predict or influence future behavior. This is not what’s happening in a restaurant that monitors its customers purchase history. With Big Data, your age, salary, neighborhood, ethnicity, real estate ownership status, outstanding debts, and educational background can all be used by data scientists—people who’ve trained to analyse data—to identify you as a potential homebuyer who starts receiving offers from shady banks for a loan. With your point of sale, you can look and see that your customer orders the same pizza every single time he comes in, and will be flattered that you know his “usual.” It’s whole different ballgame we’re talking about here.
Sure, you can do some Big Data-like things, such as running reports drilled down to certain time periods to identify slow times where you can focus extra attention. Say you learn that Monday through Wednesday from 3-6 PM are your slowest times; a common remedy for this would be a happy hour offer of some kind—say, half-price Wings, or free soft drinks with purchase—valid only during those times. But you can also then parse through your data to find out which customers tend to come during those hours and send targeted promotions their way to really drive more business. Similarly, you can identify those people who gravitate towards your vegetarian entrees, either by purchases or their engagement with you on social media. If you’re adding a new veggie quesadilla to your menu, you’ll know who you should tell about it. If you were to integrate analytics software, like Swarm, with your POS, your data can get even bigger. This is because you can start compiling external information—like weather, foot traffic, peak shopping/tourist seasons for your area—and analyse it alongside your internal (POS) data to uncover trends you may never have noticed otherwise. And all of this adds up to running a much more efficient operation: your promotions go to the people who are likely to respond without annoying those who aren’t interested; inventory and management becomes much less of a guessing game when you know when to expect high and low periods; long term sales trends can reveal items that don’t sell well and may even cost you money just to have on the menu. This is the idea behind Big Data, compiling all the information people leave behind in the wake of their transactions to better operate your business and serve your customers. Compare that with Big Brother watching you in your home, forever monitoring your allegiance to The Party under threat of imprisonment and torture. It’s kind of a different story, so let’s all calm down.
Overall, the trend of how consumers feel about having personal data collected or tracked has been moving towards one where people are cautiously OK with it. At this point in the history of online shopping, we’ve all pretty much abandoned the collective 90’s freakout of OH MY GOD THEY’RE COMING FOR MY THOUGHTS and there’s a more general attitude of empowerment surrounding online security and data collection.
This doesn’t mean people are naive enough to think they’re always safe, only that they’re more well versed in privacy concerns and comfortable they’ve taken whatever measures they ought to. And when it comes to stores or restaurants collecting data to better serve them in the future, people tend to be fine with it—if you tell them what’s going on. Social media has definitely relaxed consumer attitudes about privacy. People willingly hand over personal data to apps that tell them which Smurf they would be, so to do so in order to get a coupon isn’t much of a behavioural stretch. There’s a distinct reason why a small business such as yours would want personal customer data, and that reason happens to coincide with what consumers want: targeted deals that benefit them. It’s when data is gleaned simply for the sake of getting it, with no particular win-win goal in mind, that consumers start to get antsy about what personal information they’re giving up. It’s the collect-it-all-up-front-and-ask-questions-later strategy that people have issues with, the kind of strategy that this article states is what got the “US government’s NSA in such hot water,” if hot water can be defined as saying “Oops” and then changing the subject.
There’s no law that says you have to inform customers that you’re saving the data that they already know you have access to. Data like what dishes they tend to order or how much they spend on average when they order them are examples of things customers tacitly allow you to know, simply by their showing up and ordering dishes and spending enough money over time to allow you to figure out what they average. It’s not a leap to assume that if someone didn’t want you to know what kind of things they like to eat or how much they tend to spend on a meal they wouldn’t go out and order something they like or spend an amount they could afford. It’s not such a fine line between Big Brother and Big Data, and these days most of your customers know that their choices are being recorded, analysed and used by retailers and hospitality owners to better cater to their preferences. It’s not the data you collect, but what you do with that data that has certain people worried. Repeatedly buying hummus should get a customer on the short list for discounted hummus in the future. If you have knowledge of someone’s proclivity for hummus, no one’s going to fault you for giving them a discount on an order of hummus. It’s when you decide that an affinity for hummus is politically suspicious that people start to take offense. So keep on gathering information on your customers. And then use it in a way that benefits the both of you.
The post Big Data Isn’t Big Brother: Why Restaurants Shouldn’t Leave (Or)Well Enough Alone appeared first on Kounta.
The menu of your restaurant is a given—you’re going to print one up, and your guests are going to order from it—and that might be why its value is often understated. It’s more than a price list of the food and drink you offer; it’s often the deciding factor for getting people in the door in the first place. Prospective customers are looking at more than your food options and prices. They’re looking at the layout and the font, and reacting to things like the language you use and the color scheme. Most of this processing happens in the background of the mind, and if you’ve designed a good menu they might not even consciously note these little factors. But if you mess them up? That’s when customers notice. Print your menu in Times New Roman, and your customers will barely register a reaction. Do it in Comic Sans and you’ll instantly alienate all kinds of people everywhere. Seen in this way, you can start to see your menu as the way you communicate to the public what you and your business are about. If your restaurant were a paranoid, anti-government loner, your menu would be its manifesto.
It’s important, then, to get it right—but that’s a topic for another post. This one isn’t about getting it right, it’s about getting it not wrong. In other words, the things you shouldn’t be doing with your menu. In no order of importance, here are 10 menu practices that tend to really bug patrons.
- No Prices / Vague Prices. This happens mostly with alcohol—a menu will list what kinds of beers, vodkas, whiskies, etc., they have and not include the price. But it happens with food, too, in the form of the cryptic “Market Price.” No one likes to ask how much a menu item is, they just want to be told. And if you’re making something that you can’t predict from day to day how much it will cost, take it off the menu and put it on the specials board.
- Spelling Mistakes / Bad Grammar. If you’re listing a Hamburger with Sheeps on your menu, I’m leaving. Get someone to proofread it before you print out hundreds of menus. It’s not that hard. To be clear, the judgment here is not that you can’t spell or pluralise properly. It’s that you rushed the menu without being careful, and what kind of shortcuts are you taking in the kitchen?
- Highlighting Inconsequential Ingredients. Rosemary Mashed Potatoes is an appropriate name for the dish, because you taste rosemary and potatoes. On the other hand, something like Saffron Rice only leads to disappointment. Saffron’s strong metallic flavor makes it best suited to complement other ingredients within a dish, meaning that rice is pretty much going to taste like rice. You wouldn’t call pizza “Yeasted Cheese Bread.”
- Dirty Menus. This is gross. When I see old, crusted food stuck to a menu I want to run away, fast. When servers take the menus back from the guests, they should be giving a cursory look at each one to make sure they’re clean. Especially when they forget to take them right away, which your servers clearly did because how else would they food have gotten on them? A dirty menu just broadcasts an image of a sloppy restaurant where cleanliness is not a priority.
- Handwritten Price Changes. OK, I get that you don’t want to print up an entirely new menu just to add $1 to the price of all the dishes with shrimp. But some places go too far, making all sorts changes—crossing out dishes no longer offered and changing prices on several items, for example—in pen or marker. The whole thing has the stink of failure all over it, like you’re just barely getting by and can’t afford to go to an office supply store and spend 20 cents a page having something printed up new.
- Nonsensical Ordering of Categories. The categories should be in the same order that they’d get eaten. Restaurants will often screw this up because they want to highlight their “signature dishes” (aka their most profitable dishes). It can be frustrating though, to have a two-page spread of a handful each of appetisers and entrees, only to turn the page and see more appetisers, along with soups, salads, and sides. Then turn the page and for more entrees and desserts. It turns ordering a meal into a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style book, only without a point.
- Unsubstantiated Claims of Greatness. Really? Your house-made Caesar dressing is famous? I don’t think so. If it were, I’d have heard of it before reading about it on your menu but it wouldn’t tell me anything about the quality of the dish. Charles Manson is also famous. What about your “Original Recipe” gravy? It’s not really original. At best, it’s your own super tasty variation of something that’s been done a thousand times before.
- Not Knowing What You’re Selling. Have you got Chai Tea on your menu? Or Marinara Sauce? These are redundant, and betray a certain ignorance on your part. That doesn’t mean they won’t be tasty, but it certainly colors my impression of your food’s authenticity. Likewise, if you offer “Mescaline Greens” on your menu, and then serve me Mesclun Greens, I’m going to be super disappointed.
- No Descriptions of Dishes. “Boom Boom Shrimp” is certainly a fun name, but if you don’t tell me that it’s a sweet chili sauce providing the boom, I’ll have to ask my server for clarification. And that would mean I’d have to say out loud, “Can you tell me more about this Boom Boom Shrimp?” and I swear that’s never going to happen.
- Liberal Use of Vague and Terrible Language.Your steak had better be “grilled to perfection,” so don’t waste my time telling me you’re doing your job. If you use words like “exquisite,” “complex,” “bold,” “delectable,” or anything else that’s not telling me concrete facts about the food you’re preparing, I’ll be annoyed. I don’t litter my blog posts with Oysters Rockefeller or Veggie Pad Thai. Don’t clutter up your menu with words like “sumptuous” or “mouth-watering.” Deal?
The post Vegetarians Served with Rice, and Other Dumb Menu Choices appeared first on Kounta.