How Big Data Helps the Cheesecake Factory Create Happier Customers

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It may not make your salad taste better, reduce your wait for a table or remove any calories from the creme brulee, but American restaurant patrons can rest assured that Big Data is on the way to make their experience of eating away from home a better one.

With alliances like IBM with the Cheesecake Factory, the providers and purveyors of overwhelming numbers are helping restaurant operators marry their traditional huge volumes of transactional data—such as sales receipts from customers and information about purchase orders to suppliers—with “unstructured” data to help them automate decisions that will improve food safety and quality, labor productivity and other aspects of their operations. The end result is supposed to be more-satisfied customers, greater revenues and fatter profit margins.

“It’s about enriching the more structured data with unstructured data in order to gain business insight,” Paul Chang, global leader for consumer-products strategy for IBM, told brandchannel. “If you can do that then you can automate these processes.”[more]

For example, Cheesecake Factory has been working with IBM to enrich its regular data trove with new information about the characteristics of shipments of food supplies when they reach individual restaurants in the 177-outlet chain. Headquartered in California, Cheesecake Factory keeps expanding as with its announcement about opening in the Detroit area, where CEO David Overton’s family began their cheesecake business.

“If you’ve got a shipment of mustard coming to the restaurant, for instance, the Cheesecake Factory now will record ‘unstructured’ data such as its temperature, color, smell, taste … and enter that into a data platform,” Chang explained. “If there are issues — if it doesn’t taste quite right, for example — that information can be collected and disseminated quickly via automated processes, and other restaurants would know quickly that there might be a problem with that particular supplier.”

Previously, Chang explained, such a concern “might be written down somewhere and make it to corporate headquarters a week later.”

Similarly, Big Data can take a comment that comes to a restaurant from a social network, such as a complaint about an entree at one of the restaurants and be traced quickly to a “structured” event such as a sales transaction, allowing the outlet operator to stem the damage.

Other applications include analyzing the performance of individuals on restaurant shifts and forecasting business to make more precise orders of supplies. Chang said the possibilities for other applications of Big Data for improving restaurant performance are innumerable. “We’re just at the beginning stages.”

John Kennedy, vice president of corporate marketing for IBM, said that in addition to achieving more transparency in its own operations with Big Data, Cheesecake Factory is finding that such transparency “can work both ways.” Leveraging such two-way transparency is a sort of next frontier for restaurant companies in utilizing big data, Kennedy told brandchannel.

“In the same way marketers have better visibility to customers, customers have much better visibility behind the firewall and into how a company actually operates,” Kennedy said. “And social media has given customers their own channels for communicating with one another and about their experiences with a restaurant company, good or bad, and whether generated by marketing or not.”

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