From Bites to Bytes: How Real Data Powerhouses Are Transforming the Restaurant Industry


Cooking is a science just as much as it is an art. And while the science part of culinary is usually associated with the food chemistry behind how ingredients change in texture and taste as molecules act together, there’s a new science in foodservice that’s revolutionizing the way we think about our industry: data science.

That’s right, we’re going from bites to bytes.

Big data. Unstructured data. Thick data. Data is the digital buzzword rising up in the restaurant and hospitality space. Although it is something our leaders and executives are seeing more of every day, it is something that many brands still find difficult to grasp and use to their full potential.

Whether we like it or not, business intelligence — and the data behind it all — is getting bigger and bigger. Gennet reported that 2.3 trillion gigabytes of data are created every day. By 2020, the IDC stated that we’ll have 44 trillion gigabytes of information at our hands. The question is: How will brands use that immense power at their disposal? Taking big data and turning it into actionable insights, and ultimately ROI, is no longer an option. It’s a must if brands want to thrive.

But no doubt about it, big data is intimidating and overwhelming, however, when you see the beauty, not the beast, of big data, it comes with bigger rewards and opportunities. The first step? Making sure you have good, sound data. If your data is not reliable, or doesn’t tell the full, comprehensive story of how your restaurant is performing — good and bad —, it’s like steering your ship through a fog and hoping you don’t hit the rocks. Data sheds the light, and in the wise words of market analyst Arthur C. Nielsen, “the price of light is less than the cost of darkness.”

So, as a restaurateur or operator, where do you go from here?

What to Look for When Using Data-Centric Restaurant Rankings

In this Food & Wine article, Bo Peabody, founder of Renzell, a data-driven app that ranks restaurants based on algorithms and surveys, said to the New York Times that the world of data collection has taken over every industry except for restaurants. False?

“Foodable is the first and longest-running data-driven ranking by guests. Foodable has been doing this since September of 2013, when the Foodable Top 25 launched in eight cities. Even further back was the Restaurant Social Media Index, which ranked the top brands and independents on social,” Paul Barron, CEO/Founder of Foodable said.  

The Foodable Top 25 rankings are based off of unstructured data, and the RSMI, culminating into Foodable Labs, itself is a digital data powerhouse that analyzes more than 167,000 brands, 220 million global restaurant social consumers, and over 500,000 foodservice locations.

While still relatively new and continually improving on its algorithm, the way Renzell is currently structured relies on about 2,000 survey-takers in New York, self-identified as patrons of upscale restaurants, to answer more than 70 questions for a holistic view of a restaurant experience, from cocktails, design, service, and more, measuring hundred thousands of data points against member preferences.

On the other hand, Foodable Labs analyzes 721,000 consumers in New York City alone. Other major culinary cities include: 692,000 in Chicago, 1.1 million in Los Angeles, 561,000 in Miami, 892,000 in Dallas, 982,000 in San Francisco, and more.

“Renzell seems to be a good service, but I still challenge any survey-led data on social, where the respondent could feel compelled to answer a certain way, and where they are also limited to certain restaurant selections,” Barron said, emphasizing that big data is useless without relevant industry context. “Our data is contextual, based on over 250,000 industry terms, and is unstructured as a listening measurement versus a survey.”

How does Foodable Labs’ methodology work? As the largest index of global restaurant data, analyzing both brands and brand performance, as well as consumer engagement behavior of both foodservice professionals and food enthusiasts, Foodable Labs tracks five key metrics to provide business trends, insights, and future strategies. They are:

  • Sentiment, which allows for predictive sales by measuring consumer sentiment on brand products or services.
  • Influence, which is an analysis on a brand’s general and hyper-upser so that they are able to target the influencers in their audience.
  • Engagement, which is an in-depth look at a brand’s social audience and how effective they are in growth, reach, and meassaging.
  • Mobile Engagement, which measures consumer-brand interaction on mobile — especially important, as mobile use now dominates desktop in the digital landscape.
  • And a new metric, formerly known as Location-Based Actions, Social Restaurant Visits, which is a measure of location-to-consumer behavior and provides insights on social ROI.

“Context is king. Without terms and industry speak that is relevant, you simply have run-of-the-mill reviews like YELP. These cross-competitive elements with this data can tell an operator so much about their own operations,” Barron said. “Additionally, we score in two key areas: sentiment with both food and service, and influence, both soon to add a super key element this December with our Social Restaurant Visit score, which details sentiment on engagement on people who have actually visited the restaurant versus just talking about it.”

What can come from these metrics? Check out these industry reports pulled from unstructured data, from the Most Loved Brands of 2016 and the Top 100 Fast Casual Social Brands, to the Top Sandwich Brands to the Top 100 Social Restaurants of 2016! And we’re only serving up more orders of food for thought! Keep an eye out.

Do or Do Not Data, There is No Try    

Of course, Foodable Labs is only one of the multiple data powerhouses in the industry, and more and more are entering the space every day, all with the goal of improving restaurant and hospitality. Regardless of where you get your brand data, there’s no denying that technology is transforming the way we eat, and the way professionals plan around consumers. Businesses and restaurants can either keep up or fall behind — but it should be obvious where you want to stand.

And where does the future of data and foodservice lie?

“The future is in the data roadmap that relies on even more local data, meaning the last mile of where your operations are living,” Barron said, referencing to an innovation by Digital CoCo, LLC called VenueBeacons, which give contextual data on guests and guest frequency on a localized level.

Intuition, experience, knowledge, management, skill, talent, and passion are unquestionably all key factors to a restaurant’s success, but it’s time to master the beast of big data to keep operations roaring. To ignore the presence of data would be to not make use of a powerful limb. A quote by Kevin Gerahgty, a leader in reporting and analytics, puts it best:

“Data science is not voodoo. We are not building fancy math models for their own sake. We are trying to listen to what the customer is telling us through their behavior.”

So, listen to this new language they’re speaking, and your business understanding will only grow.