Twenty-five-year-old Prathamesh Rakshe, a Pune-based DJ, was shocked when a popular restaurant chain asked him to complete a survey to get the next meal free. “I was asked to enter my name, address, phone number (with OTP verification) and my date of birth, after which the survey asked a few questions about my dining habits,” he tells indianexpress.com. “Strangely, I had to even enter whether I drink alcohol or smoke regularly.”
Welcome to the age of lavish hospitality, where alongside the menu you’re served with a form to fill out your personal information as well.
In recent years, customer data has become increasingly valuable to hospitality businesses eager to obtain everything — from your date of birth to your opinion on how you liked a particular appetiser and your willingness to spend.
Niharika Seth, a 28-year-old Mumbai-based IT professional had a strange experience when she was in Goa. She received an SMS from an eatery, welcoming her to the city. “Although I visit this particular eatery in Mumbai regularly, how did they know that I am travelling?” she wondered.
The data mantra
Restaurateurs say the aim of collecting data is to offer an “unforgettable” dining experience to their customers. The other reason is the Covid pandemic.
“Prior to the lockdown, we had a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that would tell us a lot about our customers’ dining habits including their name, vehicle number, total visits, favourite dish, average money spent, etc,” says Sandeepraj Salian, owner of Farmaaish Bar and Restaurant, Pune.
Mumbai-based restaurants Juliette and Yazu regularly collect their guests’ names, and contact details, along with their dining habits to make the experience grand. “Imagine you walk into your favourite restaurant where your favourite table is reserved for you, and the waiter gets the food and beverage that you are fond of,” says Atul Chopra, co-owner of Juliette.
Taking a step further, Maai, a fine dining restaurant in Goa records the name of their customers’ preferred waiter to ensure that the dining experience is unforgettable for them.
Collecting and analysing such information allows restaurants to understand exactly what their customers want and also helps them in targeted marketing, with the ultimate goal of boosting their sales.
“By recording critical customer information such as contact details, personal information, order preferences, etc, we can build a better connection with customers, which in turn drives sales and helps the restaurant to grow. With the customer data in hand, we can generate insights and segregate customers into various categories, which helps us make data-driven decisions and create better marketing strategies,” says Pawan Shahri, owner of Chrome Hospitality.
The pandemic shift
Restaurant owners believe that Covid had a lot to play in transforming the data collection behaviour. Ranbir Nagpal, co-owner of Juliette and Yazu restaurants admits that after the pandemic all restaurants have made it mandatory to collect guest data for safety reasons. “Customers are not at all reluctant to provide their data, unlike pre-Covid times,” he says.
However, with the pandemic, footfall has drastically reduced. “..this is why we have switched from the CRM software to registers on counters. We convert the information into an excel sheet and send promotional or marketing offers to our regular customers through WhatsApp or via text SMS,” adds Salian, owner of Farmaaish Bar and Restaurant. He believes that restaurants are “at least better than online food aggregators that collect huge amounts of data and have the potential to sell it to other companies.”
Sourajeet Majumder, an independent cyber security researcher says that promotional messages from a restaurant can still be tolerated, but things become complicated when restaurants get involved in the shady business of data brokers or become a victim of data breaches. “Diner data, if sold to third parties such as telemarketing companies, can be misused by them to harass people into purchasing their goods/services.”
He points out that free wifi sign-ins at restaurants are not all free, “what you trade for using wifi for half an hour is your personal information.”
Often restaurants collect such data through surveys and feedback forms which diners voluntarily fill in exchange for mere discount coupons. “This is where you need to decide on whether a Rs 50 off on your next purchase is worth sharing your personal data with a restaurant,” he notes.