Big Data Shifts the Restaurant Landscape in 2013

Big Data is the new island of collected wisdom for the service and retail sectors. With so many companies and consumers providing massive amounts of information to the internet and social data ecosystem, the critical mass of statistics has reached a point where restaurant and retail brands can make real strategic decisions, but only if they can make sense of the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data that are created every day.

According to a 2011 McKinsey study, capturing and analyzing very large sets of data are becoming a foundational elements in competitiveness across industry sectors.  Brands that want to build and maintain competitive advantage will not only need access to multiple data sets, but also the analytical skill to process and understand the stories the data are telling.  Here at DigitalCoCo, we focus on domain-specific data that build restaurant industry dossiers, not just on John Q. Public but on John Q. Public’s actions, activities and interests.  

Where the magic of Big Data comes into play is the Impact Reach of consumer connections:  consumer interactions with restaurant and retail brands and with others in their circle of influence. "Impact Reach" is a new term we created to explain, in part, what we do with our Social Insights algorithm.  In a nutshell, Impact Reach is digital word of mouth that can be traced.  

Envision following the imaginary line from a word of mouth mention in your community:  where it goes within (and outside) the community; what type of people it reaches; what their interests and passions are; and, perhaps most importantly, if they are targeted to your business or matched with what you sell.  This is what Impact Reach does – it provides the new roadmap of social and consumer science.  Businesses of the future will not rely on outdated “spray and pray” initiatives, but rather they will depend on Impact Reach and Social Science to make critical product and market decisions.

Exposing the Content to Reach the Target

This is a new concept for the restaurant business.  Even though we in the restaurant industry are some of the most powerful entertainers in retail, we miss the mark in exposing the wizardry behind what we do, and even take for granted, every day.  We are content creators every time we prepare a dish, create a special experience, or impact someone’s life. This is a daily content opportunity for every restaurant business, and it is the new form of brand awareness both for the brand and for the consumer.  An Instagram image of your best dish; a tweet recommending you to 10,000 people; a Youtube video of a party at your restaurant that shows your stunning décor; your impact on your community with social good, this is all content. The real opportunity for restaurants is learning to harness and unleash this potential with enhanced brand content and mined user-generated content.

I am a big proponent of social, but the real gain we have as brands is to reboot the concept of how we fish for customers.  I started my career at Microsoft in the 80s and helped to evolve the modern day POS, consumer-facing strategies, vertical media, and, since the 1990s, social science.  In 2007, I gave a talk on the evolution of social and that the curve and critical mass would soon be here, allowing us to zoom in on new and innovative ways to reach our customers.  When you think about it, it really has been an evolution of where this business is going. Big Data will be the era where we see more super brands emerge, or where we see a full breakdown of our industry due to the increasingly massive amounts of consumer data, reviews, and content.  There is no hiding any more:  this business is now an open kitchen, whether we like it or not. Those that embrace this new reality will be the next Howard Shultzs of our industry.

Real Big Data, Real Customers

As always, technology, consumers, and environments change.  My predictions are that we are entering a new era in social consumer connections.  Sure, Facebook is at a billion users and Twitter has now clamped down on third-party developers for limited expansion of their platform.  Instagram has been purchased by Facebook, Pinterest is waiting for a suitor, and Youtube has shifted away from organic videos of ‘dance revolution’ to a full blown network of concentrated content production.

All of these things lead us to a new place in social behavior, a place that will, in a few years, allow us to create something very special:  a deeper, better-rounded level of engagement with customers.  The critical mass that social has reached puts us closer to the tipping point in Big Data that will enable us to learn more about our competitors and evolve into a place to connect with the social consumer.  And here is the kicker: that place may very well be on our own platforms!

Yes, the era of social media is really approaching the level of social science, or social business, with real ROI, real actionable data, and best of all, real customers.  The strategies we use in the creation of web hooks, through what I am calling Social Poaching, become the art of getting that targeted consumer off the domain of social and onto a new interactive and open brand domain.  

Unless Facebook and Twitter and the multitude of new platforms to come open up their networks, similar to the initiative of, we could see these behemoths go the way of MySpace and AOL.  But let’s not forget what each of these networks brought us:  the rise of email power and the development of what I believe is the vertical web in news, content, and more all originated from community-powered AOL, and the birth of blogging, was in part a whole new era of consumers, from the pages of MySpace.

Why does all this matter in relation to Facebook and Twitter?  Because this new social consumer is producing so much content, that can reach so many people, you have to pay attention to what they are saying.  Today these consumers have something they did not have five years ago - a voice, and it’s powerful.

Next steps are tough for most brands and businesses. The science behind brand experience is here, now, and most of us are just not ready.  Much like the explosion of social, including the raw power of blogs and videos, surprised us, we will be even further behind in social science unless we become fluent in the new language of influence.  I believe this is the magic key that will help propel our industry to an all new level, and the reason is simple: billions of smartphones worldwide, in the hands of digitally-savvy consumers, producing a steady stream of photo and video content, have remapped our planet, and understanding the new topography is our next major challenge. 

By: Paul Barron

As THE Go-To guy in digital, social and media for restaurant and hospitality industries, Paul is the founder of DigitalCoCo - one of his six companies in media and technology launched over the past two decades. Web entrepreneur, publisher and producer, Paul has been instrumental in developing and publishing platforms, creative content, tech solutions and web audience for global brands with real impact and results. As the founder of and, he has been a catalyst for both the retail and the restaurant industries, and is known as "the father of the Fast Casual segment." Paul is also a sought-after public speaker and a consultant to many top global brands in the business.

A 2012 Forbes Top 15 Social Power Influencers, Restaurant Trendsetter of the year 2012, Host of Fast Casual Nation a new global documentary, and considered one of the best data scientists in retail and food, his compassion for the restaurant business has been mastered over the past twenty years with more than 500 brands.

Posted on September 28, 2012 and filed under Restaurant Social Media.