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Understanding Restaurant Analytics Helps Turn Data Into Profits

Nate Nordstrom helps restaurant owners use data and analytics to their advantage as founder of BrandHoot.

With each page view, menu click, Facebook post and retweet on Twitter, restaurants generate thousands of pieces of data every day. The problem is operators can’t see most of it and the words “restaurant analytics” and “big data” can strike fear into the hearts of owners and managers. 

Instead of being scared of data, however, operators should look at this information as a key tool to increasing profitability for their restaurant. Not taking advantage of it can ultimately cost businesses money and opportunities through underperforming menus, marketing campaigns that miss the mark, and social media posts that don’t engage the right customers. 

At Canadian Honker in Rochester, management didn’t know customers were looking to the restaurant for gluten-free dishes until owner Powers Ventures hired BrandHoot to develop new websites for its brands and provide analytics consulting. That’s when BrandHoot founder Nate Nordstrom said data showed one of Canadian Honker’s top 10 pages viewed was its gluten-free menu, which at the time was more of an afterthought.

“So [owner] Joe [Powers] said, ‘OK, let’s take this more seriously and really develop those offerings,’” explained Nordstrom. “They were able to take action to benefit the business.”

Canadian Honker also learned vegetarian items were a hot search and so the restaurant created new menu options and began marketing itself to that customer base, said manager Nick Powers.

“In the restaurant business, any time you can get a little smarter, it goes a long way,” said Powers.

Prior to starting Rochester-based BrandHoot in 2012, Nordstrom worked for a daily deals website and spent much of his time with restaurant clients, getting to know and understand their business model and ways they communicated with customers. Those experiences now inform his strategies as he and his team offer focused website, branding, and analytics solutions for a range of businesses. 

“It’s just data unless you do something with it,” said Nordstrom. “I want to use data to cause positive action, otherwise it’s all pretty useless.”  

His advice to owners: Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. “Yes, you have tons of data,” he said. “Start with one or two pieces that matter and go from there.”

Restaurant owners often have a difficult time creating a profile of what their ideal customer looks like, usually because they think everyone is their customer. Instead, Nordstrom advised, owners should think about who their best customer is and focus on data that informs how those people interact with the brand.

“Look at who you’re trying to communicate with and where they’re looking for you or your competitors,” he said. Digging into Google Analytics will yield valuable information such as how visitors are landing on a restaurant’s website, which searches are generating traffic, and are posts on Facebook and Twitter resulting in cross-linking from those sites. Tools such as Mouseflow create heatmaps showing where website visitors click, how far they scroll, etc.

That “best customer” profile also helps inform social media strategies, especially as new platforms pop up and restaurants try to identify which ones deserve attention. To Nordstrom, the “less is more” philosophy applies.

“It’s better to effectively use one tool than have a poor presence on 10 tools,” he stressed. “It’s important to maintain a steady pace and stay engaged with sites like Facebook—you can’t do that if you’re on every site.”

To help restaurant owners manage their social media presence, Nordstrom and his team invented FanCoach, a tool that provides automated Facebook marketing consulting. 

“One of a restaurant’s biggest challenges is, what do I talk about on Facebook,” said Nordstrom. FanCoach analyzes Facebook data and provides a customized weekly report with information on post performance and messaging recommendations to engage more fans and reach more customers. 

Canadian Honker began using FanCoach in its beta testing phase and Powers said it’s been a fantastic tool in helping the restaurant understand its audience. In an ever-changing industry that’s knowledge to embrace instead of fear. 

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