Where to Find Game-Changing Restaurant Data (and What to Do With It!)

Running a restaurant can be complicated enough. But now more than ever, restaurant managers and operators need to become data analysts, too—sifting through a plethora of different systems to find any information that could help run their restaurants better. And with a different system managing each individual piece of store operations, delving through all of this data isn’t getting any easier.

Luckily, data from just a few of your systems can have a significant impact on your operations—if you know where to look. Here are the most important sources of actionable data, as well as ways to string that data together to make real decisions.

Your POS System

It’s no surprise that the system your employees interact with most is the largest source of data for you to use. Some POS systems maintain information directly, while others interface with adjacent systems; in either case, your POS system is the primary intake source for many types of data, which makes it a goldmine of information.

Financials

Start with financial information. You probably already ask yourself some of these questions: What are my average hourly sales? What was my revenue last quarter? How am I doing year-over-year? But here are some questions you might not be asking but should be: What are my average sales during rushes vs. my average sales during lulls? What events are happening locally that might affect my sales? What has changed in the last year to account for the YOY differences? Your financial data is more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. Ask yourself new questions and explore what the numbers are telling you.

Menu

Next, look at your menu reports. What are your go-to items that have sold the most consistently over the last year? What are the hot items that have sold the most over the last month? What’s not selling at all? While much of your store’s menu usage depends on marketing, there are other things you can do to push certain items. Run specials on items that you think should be more popular. Try a happy hour special to drive pre-dinner sales. Even something as simple as rearranging your menu can help shine a spotlight on different items.

Inventory

Lastly, take a closer look at your inventory reports. Inventory reports are a great way to identify process improvement opportunities. From identifying employees who are under- or over-using ingredients to eliminating food and item waste, don’t dismiss inventory discrepancies (even minor ones) as “acceptable losses”—always try to identify what happened, and what can be done to prevent it next time.

Diving deeper into your POS system reports and asking yourself questions that may not seem obvious can make a big difference. Transform your POS reports from simple sales figures into actionable insights. Here are some more ways your POS system may not be cutting it.

Your Security System

Speaking of inventory reports and reducing loss, your security system is another great source of actionable data. From loss due to waste, or overuse, to outright theft, using data for loss prevention is critical. The biggest sources of loss are inventory mistakes, overuse of food, and employee theft. Here’s how you can use data to reduce or eliminate these losses.

Inventory Mistakes

Counting out 496 disposable cups is, let’s face it, tedious. And doing it a few dozen times with different items over the course of a single evening—while also doing all your other job functions—takes either a very special mind or a lot of practice. Inventory mistakes are understandable and unavoidable. Your security system can help identify the big offenders (like if your employee missed an entire unopened box of napkins, even though it was sitting right there on the shelf). Policies and procedures can make a big difference, too. Here’s a checklist of 19 processes you can use to reduce inventory mistakes.

Overuse of Food

Overuse is one of those insidious things that is notoriously difficult to track down. Using 2.5 ounces of beef in a taco instead of the required 2 ounces doesn’t sound like much—but that extra 25% adds up quickly, especially when that employee might be making dozens of tacos in a single shift. Your inventory reports can show you which items might be vulnerable to overuse, and your security system can help identify employees who could use some coaching.

Employee Theft

Nobody likes to admit it, but employee theft is another inevitable source of loss in the restaurant industry. From exceeding meal allowances to literally taking money from the till, employee theft is consistently a major source of loss, and your security system can help reduce it. Limit the cash in your drawers, make safe drops frequently, and watch for manual adjustments. And remember: don’t treat your employees like bad guys waiting to strike. Most employee theft comes from inadequate security procedures providing someone with an opportunity to take advantage of. Frankly, a lot of employee theft can be reduced simply by the presence of security cameras! Here are some precautionary tactics you can use.

Your Scheduling Software

Scheduling software is something you need to make sure you have adequate coverage for each shift, but it’s hardly a “game-changer,” right? Wrong. You can learn a lot from your scheduling software, especially when you use it in conjunction with your other systems.

Identify top performers

You might know who your best-performing employees are from seeing them in action firsthand, or through word-of-mouth from your shift runners. But if you don’t (or even if you do), your scheduling software—paired with your sales reports—can tell you which employees correspond with the biggest sales. Maybe these employees work faster or have fewer errors. Maybe they have an inspirational presence that drives other employees to perform better when they’re around. In any case, once you know who your best employees are, you can use that information to schedule them during the most critical shifts or to train your newer employees.

Look for synergy

Ok, so you know who your top-performing employees are. Take it a step further. Let’s say you know who your top employee is: Alvin. Alvin works great on his own, but he works even better when he’s scheduled with another of your employees, Simon. Schedule Alvin and Simon together more often. But you can also see that Alvin doesn’t work well with a third employee, Theodore. Don’t schedule Alvin and Theodore together, if you can help it. These kinds of relationships can be hard to identify without help, so use your scheduling software to find insights.

Assemble the strongest teams

Speaking of how to use your top-performing employees, your scheduling software can help you create the perfect team for every situation. Is there a big football game next week, which always causes a big rush? Make sure your best employees are working that shift. Is the opposite true—does a football game mean no one is interested in going out to eat? Schedule your newer employees, as well as one of your all-stars, so the newbies can learn by example during a slow shift.

With an ever-increasing set of tools at your disposal, managing restaurant data can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, some of your biggest opportunities come from these three systems—if you know where to look, and what to do with the information.

Use your POS system to identify what’s working and what isn’t. Use your security system to find process opportunities to reduce loss. And use your scheduling software to optimize your workforce. Restaurant data doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Use the tools at your disposal to find new insights and make game-changing decisions in your restaurant today.