By Mehab Qureshi
Twenty-five-year-old Prathamesh Rakshe, a Pune-based DJ, was surprised when a restaurant chain asked him to complete a survey if he wanted a free meal. “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 says, adding, “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 given a form to fill out your personal information. In recent years, customer data has become increasingly valuable to hospitality businesses — everything from your date of birth to how you liked a particular appetiser to 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 was travelling?” she wonders.
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 about our customers and their dining habits,” says Sandeepraj Salian, owner of Farmaaish Bar and Restaurant, Pune.
Mumbai-based restaurants Juliette and Yazu regularly collect customer information to make the dining experience grand. “Imagine walking 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. Maai, a fine dining restaurant in Goa, even records the names of its customers’ preferred waiter to ensure a great dining experience.
Collecting and analysing such information allows restaurants to understand what their customers want and also helps them in targeted marketing. “By recording critical customer information, we can build a better connect with customers, which in turn drives sales. 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
Restaurateurs believe that Covid had a large role to play in making data so important. Ranbir Nagpal, co-owner of Juliette and Yazu restaurants, admits that the pandemic has made collection of customer data a must for restaurants. “Customers are not at all reluctant to provide their data, unlike in pre-Covid times,” he says.
But the pandemic led to a drastic drop in footfalls for the industry. “That 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 SMSes,” 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 can sell it to other companies.”
Possibility of misuse
Sourajeet Majumder, an independent cybersecurity researcher, says that while promotional messages from a restaurant can be tolerated, things become problematic if restaurants get into data broking 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 Wi-Fi sign-ins at restaurants are not all free. “What you trade for using Wi-Fi for half an hour is your personal information.” Often restaurants collect such data through surveys and feedback forms which diners voluntarily fill out in exchange for discount coupons. “You need to decide whether a paltry Rs 50 discount on your next transaction is worth sharing of personal data with a restaurant,” he says.