Damian Mogavero is the founder of Avero, a software company that empowers restaurant operators to make decisions about serving their customers and running their businesses. His book The Underground Culinary Tour: How the New Metrics of Today’s Top Restaurants Are Transforming How America Eats introduces readers to the “new guard” of restaurateurs and a unique tour of innovative restaurants in NYC.
What are the greatest challenges to restaurants today?
It’s a dangerous time to be a restaurateur because there’s never been more competition. You’re seeing “urban disloyalty” because of social media; foodies are trying new places all the time. There’s greater competition but also prime cost challenges: food, labor, real estate, etc. For the first time 19 states have increased minimum wage. It’s more important than ever to optimize using data. The best restaurateurs are students of the industry. That’s what the new guard is doing—innovating and adapting.
What metrics are important but generally being overlooked by restaurants?
One example is the equivalent of a baseball card for servers. In Moneyball they were misevaluating the data. It’s the on-base percentage that makes a difference. It’s the same thing in the restaurant business: restaurateurs look at qualitative data, but not quantitative data. Data used to be buried in the POS and spreadsheets. One of the things Avero does is metrics like how often a server sold appetizers or bottles of wine, so it shows where servers need to be trained and what they need to focus on. It helps to see the nuances. In one example a server was selling wines by the glass, not by the bottle, and it turned out she was afraid to open the bottle at the table so she sold glasses instead of bottles.
What restaurant trends are you seeing?
One huge trend is the highest-quality ingredients. Foodies expect it everywhere. In addition to fast casual there are food halls, which are taking advantage of the urban revitalization in neighborhoods. I believe food will be the next real estate anchor, not retailers like Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s. It’s a trend not just in major cities. It’s happening all over.
What can restaurants do to adapt to the changing demands of the customers and the industry?
The old days of opening up a restaurant and just letting it run are gone. For example, in the past you’d call up the beverage provider to put together a list, now beverage is at the forefront, not an afterthought. It’s a differentiator. Look at the beverage program at any restaurant, and if it’s innovative, the food will be great. The opposite is not always true.
What technologies do you think will help restaurants to grow and succeed?
There’s a new startup every week, and restaurateurs are getting bombarded and can’t keep up. The bigger challenge isn’t technologies—today there are too many technology options and the technologies don’t talk to one another. Technology needs to integrate.
What are some creative ways restaurateurs should be using reservations data?
Restaurants should be repeat visitation engines. One big thing is understanding the customer better. How are you able to understand your customer better? How do you understand them and how do you encourage loyalty? If they’re not coming back, why? Reservations provide a critical piece. It should be leveraged. Restaurants need to know who their best customers are.
What and how can restaurateurs learn from customer reviews?
You need to know what people are saying about you. If you don’t know what people are saying about you, you can’t respond and deliver a great experience.
How important is PR for restaurants?
The role of PR is important. There’s so much competition, and especially with new guard restauranteurs they have to get the message out. It’s all about repeat visitation. Leveraging social media and PR is critical because it helps you reach a whole new audience. Foodies are obsessed with reading reviews. Social media is just as important.
For restaurateurs not taking the “underground culinary tour” how would you recommend that they replicate this experience on their own outside of NYC?
You just have to do your homework! Read blogs, look at the nominations for James Beard Awards—there are more winners in outlying regions. It’s not just New York or San Francisco, Los Angeles or Chicago. There’s a secondary market awakening. Minneapolis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit all have amazing food.