The analytical revolution isn’t just for sports teams and tech companies; data-driven analysis is rapidly becoming a crucial component for restaurant operators in shaping their menus, forming restaurant marketing strategies, and overall business management.

Not everyone is inherently in tune with analytics, however, but understanding how your customers behave — and being able to make decisions for your business based on that info — will lead to increased profits for your restaurant.

If you want to know how to use restaurant customer data to maximize your bottom line… Here are a few helpful things to keep in mind.

Menu Optimization:

There’s nothing with a more direct impact on your profit than your menu; and if you know what your guests are ordering, it’s significantly easier to optimize your menu for better success.

1. Use the stars, bench unpopular items

First, being able to know what menu items are ordered the most (aka your “stars” and “workhorses,” per the Menu Engineering Matrix) provides you with the foundational staples that will stay on your menus throughout future seasons/years.

Read: What is Menu Engineering and how it can Boost your Sales by 15%

2. Know how to get creative

It also helps facilitate creativity: if, for example, your two burgers are massively popular but your five wraps are not… your next menu update can feature more burgers. Or, perhaps, if you want to have some experimental items (with special flavors/ingredients/profiles), then it would be best to test it in burger form above all else.

3. Add on with your add-ons

This also applies to small add-ons your menu provides. If any specific upsells do better than others, focus more on having more ways to add them to more menu items — or consider working them into core ingredients of new menu items.

4. The price(s) are right

Perhaps the most important thing in knowing what people consistently order, is knowing where more money can be made.

Going back to identifying those menu “workhorses” — the items that sell in high quantities but have lower profits — or even the “stars” (high sales/high profits), there becomes an opportunity to increase the price.

It doesn’t need to be drastic, as a 50-cent or even $1 increase will pay massive dividends in the long run. These changes can also be offset by taking staple items that are less popular (such as things that provide a unique alternative or have a high-profit margin) and decreasing the price slightly, giving the overall menu an appearance of parity… but making more bang for your buck on the items that matter most.

Finding the Right Times and Places

In addition to using customer data to figure out what to sell… you can also leverage that intel to best determine when to sell it.

The obvious low-hanging fruit is just figuring out when the restaurant is generally busy (or slow), and then possibly implementing promotions — think 2-for-1s, buy-one-get-ones, half-price apps, happy hours etc. — to bring people in during the quieter periods.

But why stop there? We can drill in even deeper.

1. Get specific

By using customer-driven data, you can figure out what items are most popular at certain times and create an item or time-specific campaign — or fill in potential gaps.

For example, do you have a unique appetizer that seems particularly popular between 4-5 p.m.? You’ve got yourself the grounds for a happy hour deal featuring that item.

Notice a lot of guests are ordering caesars on the weekends (but not ordering any food)? Maybe it’s time to look at adding brunch-style items to give people something more in line with what they’re craving.

Not getting many people on Mondays — but the ones that do come are ordering cocktails? Play up a cocktail special to expand on that day’s popularity.

2. Get real with your real estate

Your customer behaviour insights also can shed light on when people are coming for a quick in-and-out… and when guests are in it for the long(er) haul — and you can tailor menu/promotions around that as well.

For example, if the average guest table duration is shorter on Fridays after work, put an emphasis on appetizers and other quick-turnaround items to flip your tables as much as possible. But if Wednesday nights reveal that guests like to say, relax, and take their time… don’t rush them — instead focus on main courses, perhaps push bottles of wine and things that fit the customer profile.

Communicating Correctly

Using this info isn’t just about setting promotions or bringing new people through the door… it’s also about creating the optimal dining experience to match the pre-established needs of the guests that are already coming — and utilizing customer relationship management (CRM) marketing to turn them into repeat clients.

Once you have repeat customers, the road to making them regulars becomes much easier as you collect data. Using CRM marketing, both in-restaurant and electronic (e-mail, social media, etc.), there are a number of ways to target both new, newish, and established repeat guests.

This can be done by highlighting menu items, promotions, or sending offers — all uniquely tailored to your desired outcome… and which can be continuously adjusted based on the engagement and efficiency results.

1. For new customer acquisition

  • Focus on introducing unique/popular menu items.
  • Highlighting any happy hours/promotions/item-specific campaigns
  • Provide an exclusive welcome discount/promotion.

2. For turning new customers into repeat customers

  • Highlight any happy hours/promotions/item-specific campaigns
  • Focus on item suggestions (mainly “stars” and “workhorses”) based on initial experience(s).
  • Introduce a loyalty/rewards program.

3. For repeat customers

  • Highlight the perks and benefits of a loyalty/rewards program.
  • Provide exclusive promotions on specific customer favorites.
  • Offer a unique surprise-and-delight style reward for regulars.

CRM marketing works easiest for engaging your repeat customers, as more data is collected on those users, but there are ways to use all the data available at your fingertips to create effective ways of engaging customers of varying levels of exposure to your brand.

Smart Staffing

You can also use consumer habit information to provide the best experience for your staff as well, another crucial factor towards your profit margin.

No restaurant owner wants to be terribly overstaffed and have a tone of employees standing around with nothing to do: it’s akin to watching money just burn into thin air.

Conversely, not having enough staff during busy periods results in your employees getting overwhelmed and providing substandard service — which leads to discounts and voids (aka lost revenue now) and a poor guest experience that erases the potential of a repeat guest (aka lost revenue later).

Read: 8 Tips to Improve Restaurant Employee Retention

By knowing when guests are coming in, the service demands based on what they are ordering, and being able to dictate guest experience patterns with effective CRM marketing, you can also more accurately set your staff schedules to match the restaurant business levels.

No wasted money, no lost money, and the optimal customer experience… all because of data-driven decisions.

About Smooth Commerce:

Smooth Commerce is an all-in-one digital commerce and customer marketing platform for restaurants that combines online and mobile ordering, delivery, loyalty, and powerful marketing tools to help you grow your business, while giving you access to your customer data to help grow your restaurant. 

If you would like to learn more or talk to a representative from Smooth Commerce about how our platform can help you meet your loyalty goals, contact us at