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It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your customer’s data.

Why Restaurants are Having a Data Wake-Up Call

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Think you know who owns the data? Think again.
By Mary Fabro April 2019 Expert Insights

With over 25 years on the Internet creating an industry full of innovative technology tools and platforms, restaurants are now faced with a very important question: Who is entitled to their customer data? The recent discovery that a major online reservation provider is blocking data sharing to other vendors has proved to be a wake-up call for restaurant executives, owners, and operators everywhere. Restaurants, not vendors, need to decide when data sharing makes sense and when it doesn’t—so before you sign on the dotted line, consider the following smart data tips in vendor relationships as you move your technology forward:

Read the fine print about who owns the data. Think you know? Think again. Make sure contracts with your vendors clearly state that you, and only you, own the data collected on your customers. They may be reluctant to go along with your “only me” attitude because data holds so much value. In theory, an online reservation app could inadvertently collect and keep ownership of diners’ data by requiring they create an account with them in order to make a reservation at a particular restaurant. By doing that, the vendor would have enough customer data to set up its own advertising program for competitor restaurants to reach those diners. Don’t let that happen. Read the fine print and if they won’t agree to your terms … walk.

Make sure you have control over your data. Since owning doesn’t always mean controlling, it’s important for restaurant owners to have clarity on this in your contracts. Some vendors will want to prevent you from sharing data with other vendors and require “approval” by them before you can share anything. Don’t agree to that because you will be limited in the way you can use other tools. For instance, what if you want to export your guest list from your reservation platform and use the list to launch an email campaign using a separate email marketing platform. If you don’t have control over that data, some vendors will prevent you from “sharing” that data for your own marketing efforts. Review all of the nuts and bolts in your contract and if you don’t see it; don’t presume it. Ask questions and always insist on a program that puts you in charge.

Do your homework when choosing a vendor. It may go without saying that you should never sign a contract unless you know what you’re getting—but that must extend beyond the technology and include philosophy. Research the vendor’s corporate mission and values and be sure to ask about current and past customer hits and misses. Some technology vendors may feel threatened and won’t give you the support and freedom you require. That could mean they will build legacy systems with walls to make sure restaurant owners are not tempted to go elsewhere. Visionary restaurant technology vendors will respect and appreciate your forward-thinking approach and will be flexible and supportive of how you want to operate your business.

Learn about vendor history and new directions. Do homework on your vendors the same way diners learn about you…through online reviews and customer comments. And, if during negotiations, they are acquired by a larger corporation, it is time to carefully research both brands. Be sure to have an exit strategy with zero or limited penalties if you feel the need to disengage. While M&As can prove beneficial, they can also lead to price hikes, products being retired or ignored, and non-existent customer support.

It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your customer’s data. Diners are loyal to you—make sure you're loyal to them. Stick to these tips to save yourself future headaches.

Mary Fabro is Chief Marketing Officer of Hostme, the online reservation platform with innovative features helping restaurant owners and operators with fast, intuitive, and flexible front-of-the-house systems for restaurants at a sensible price point. She can be reached at: mary.fabro@hostmeapp.com