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Washing Dishes

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Norman Brinker's strategy for obtaining customer insights - anonymously approaching guests outside of his restaurants and asking if it was good place to eat. For this post, we want to revisit that idea but in the context of something Richard Gonzmart told us in Episode 1, Est. 1903.


Richard believes that the most important job in a restaurant is that of a dishwasher. While this is driven by the importance of having clean tableware and preventing losses from broken glass, the dishwasher can also gain valuable insights - what's being thrown away? Or, what are people ordering but not eating?


"A restauranteur can learn where he has a problem. Maybe he's selling it, but are they eating it?"
-Richard Gonzmart

Richard then shared a story about a time they noticed consumers weren't eating the gravy that came with the red snapper, something observed while clearing plates. So, they tasted the gravy. It needed work.

This, as well as Norman's customer engagement, are interesting considerations as the industry shifts more and more to off-premise, particularly delivery. As in-person interactions fade away, especially during the coronavirus, restaurants may lose some ability to see what's not being eaten, or to casually engage guests and ask about their visit.


And its not just a concern for restaurant operators. Many investment bankers have made it a practice to camp out at restaurants with spreadsheets in hand to analyze concepts in a highly detailed way. How many customers can be served in an hour? What are overall traffic patterns like? How large are dining parties? What's the attachment rate for Chipotle's new queso?


This is, after all, how Luckin Coffee - the latest example of fraud in the restaurant space - got called out. It was a herculean effort featuring over 1,000 investigators and 25,000 receipts, made particularly difficult by Luckin's emphasis on digital orders made through its app.


Such an analysis becomes harder when we start thinking about shared kitchens, virtual brands and other delivery-forward trends.


Of course, new data sources have emerged, and third-party delivery companies can share some information previously inaccessible to operators. Some even allow guests to rate individual items they order.


But the broader point is that guests dining in restaurants was and will continue to be its own gold mine of information for operators, so long as they're observant and ask the right questions. And this data isn't just free - it's from paying customers.