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How to turn data into action in commercial kitchens

(Image credit: Image Credit: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens)

Efficiency is to hospitality as what salt is to pepper. Without the first, the second is nowhere near as powerful. Professionals in the hospitality industry have little time on their hands, and the sector is one of the fastest-moving, with a revolving door of customers and tables to set, people to keep happy and jobs to get done. The number of restaurants has been increasing in recent years, with 88,846 businesses operating in the restaurant and mobile food service industry in the UK. In tandem with this is Dark Kitchens, large scale industrialised meal facilities designed specifically for a high-efficiency delivery model. Customer satisfaction is more important than ever before, and is one which can never be truly achieved without constant nurture.

On top of all this, there are decisions to be made and maintenance to be done. Technology has changed customer needs and demands too, so there’s also the factor of keeping on top of innovations, and making the call on whether or not to advance them.

Every kitchen can be improved, and the hospitality industry takes in swarms of data every minute, hour, and day. If analysed well, it can provide meaningful and actionable insights, that can transform a company - you no longer have to look back in hindsight, but big data allows you to act based on real-time data and metrics.

There are millions of customers, hundreds of menu choices, room service call times, several locations, and more which can all provide valuable data assets. Businesses are sitting on a goldmine of data. 

The Boston Consulting Group’s 2018 digital maturity survey found that four in five restaurant brands can access a wealth of data from multiple sources, but only one in five has a comprehensive data strategy. To add further validity, it also found that those utilising big data and analytics programmes had seen five to 10 per cent increases in revenue, 10 to 15 per cent reductions in store-level operating costs, and 10 to 20 per cent improvement in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation.

Once you start to connect the data dots, you’ll start seeing patterns that turn into business opportunity at the click of a mouse. Read on for tips on how to turn data into actionable insights.

Software that suits you

Finding the software for your business, objectives and needs is incredibly important in providing the optimum experience to guests.

Of course, when it comes to software service providers, you’re making your supply chain more complex. As a result, business risk factors increase. While the majority of us rely on other businesses to provide our own top tier service, nobody wants to be at the bottom end of a domino effect if a crucial supplier falls through. Utilise supplier relationships well, and make use of online reviews in the buying process. Reliable service providers, whether it’s management, catering, product providers of consultancy, are crucial.

Consolidate your assets

One of the biggest challenges that IT teams face is connecting individual systems to each other to break silos and deliver an ultimate guest experience. When possible, combining suppliers across business is good practice. If you’re currently buying two products from separate businesses when one provides both services or products, there's a good reason to consolidate your suppliers. This also decreases the factor of communication being lost or muddled. You can continue to drive incremental business directly to your restaurant or hotel, but increase efficiency by reducing your time and resources, and increasing profit.

Analyse the current income that is driven by your service provider - is it providing value? Can you consolidate the offering and take your business elsewhere? Ensure they are helping you, not taking more time out of your busy schedule. Always choose to work with companies that offer a high-quality, personalised approach no matter how sophisticated their technology is, and care about your business and your unique, bespoke needs. You’ll also find this makes it easier to analyse data.

Intelligence starts with strategy

Data driven insights can also be used for business-critical kitchen decisions, such as where to invest your money in, and how to speed up service times, whether it’s a multi-national franchise or a small family-run operation. 

It all starts with strategy, before you can use your data, to avoid getting overwhelmed or data that gets lost in the noise. Start by working out your business goals and what you’re trying to achieve, and you’ll then be able to connect the dots better, and use data to achieve goals. Acknowledge which business areas have the biggest spotlight or importance for improvement.

Do you have any unanswered business questions? Do you find it difficult to answer open-ended questions such as “how well is the business doing?”. Establish the questions you need answering, and this will help you to identify the data that you really need to help with your strategy and improvements. Just like you need software that suits your needs, you also need to take advantage of data that suits your needs. All data is valuable to someone, but only specific data sets are valuable to you.

Connecting your data dots

Take a look at the information you currently have on your systems, to see if you’re already sitting on the information that you need to make your operation more of a success and more efficient. It’s likely that you’ll have far more information than you realise - you might just need consultative help analysing it.

If you don’t have the data already, consider investing in data collection systems, or data-led solutions or consultants that help you to spot patterns which you wouldn’t usually have found in your assets or ways of working. There are many specific kitchen metrics you can measure, but increments of time are arguably the most important, especially in terms of efficiency.

Cook times relate to how long it takes a food item to go from order to service, for example. By focusing on this, you can identify the choke points in your kitchen operations.

Data should be segmented by station, so you can make targeted improvements in certain areas which won’t throw the entire workflow into disarray.

Analyse decisive data

To make these quick decisions, there are decisive data-led solutions which can help you to spot patterns and see where the revenue is coming from, which will allow you to better answer open questions such as how the business is going, or what area is driving or preventing business growth.

The past few years have seen an explosion of platforms available for analysis. Solutions like analytics can give you better insight into the areas where you need to take further action in and make better decisions, where incentives could be made, and areas where you may need more data.

You can use it to predict patterns of demand - something which even airlines now use to plan delivery times for inflight meals. Analytics tools can also understand customer preferences and ensure you have the right assets in at the right time.

You can also use it to implement an asset management strategy using asset data. Prioritise obsolescence, plan for maintenance and servicing, optimise hours of use and more. Strategizing in this way gives estate and catering managers the confidence to sort the pressing issues from the ‘nice-to-haves’, the critical equipment from the quickly replaced.            

Data-driven decisions are business critical decisions which will become increasingly influenced by data, analytics, business intelligence insights, underpinned by high technology connected equipment.

Turn data into action

Once you have insights into areas you can improve on, you’ll have actionable data which will help you in your goal to set initiatives to boost efficiency. Apply the insights, and you’ll find it far easier to make decisions to transform your business for the better.

This will give actionable data which will help you in your goal to set initiatives to boost efficiency. Ensure that the insights can be understood by the people who will need to use them, such as kitchen managers. If insights aren’t clear or there aren;’t simple ways to use them, it can be forgotten. Consider asking a consultant to help deliver a process that gives simple, actionable ways to use the insights.

Intelligence should be at the heart of your kitchen performance in 2020. For the business-critical kitchen in hospitality environments, we need to look at big-picture problem solving.

Every kitchen can be improved in the hospitality industry, and software solutions combined with your own data can help to achieve this.

David Khanna, director of operations, Arolite