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Data: One Name, Many Flavors


Data comes in many forms. Knowing the difference between each should matter to business owners.

What pops into your mind when you hear the word “data?” For many, it’s an image of spreadsheets filled with numbers or huge windowless rooms stuffed with massive servers. Neither image is wrong. As we will explain, data comes in many forms. Knowing the difference between each should matter to business owners who are interested in harnessing the power of data to improve their operations and their bottom line. Indeed, understanding the many varieties of data – perhaps including things you didn’t even imagine qualified – can help you run a more sophisticated and efficient restaurant.

Direct versus implied data

While you may not be familiar with the term, chances are you already know and are utilizing direct data. The classic example is a customer survey, where your patrons provide a numeric rating of your restaurant’s service, atmosphere and food. As the name implies, the basic idea behind direct data is that it is directly solicited feedback.

Implied data is fundamentally different in that it is a record of how people behave. In a restaurant, the number of ways implied data can be recorded are many, everything from POS systems that track ticket numbers to table tracking technology that records how long it takes to get food on the table or where customers prefer to sit. Implied data can be helpful because it reduces what’s known as the expectancy effect that inevitably occurs with direct data gleaned from tools like customer surveys. In short, the expectancy effect can unconsciously impact results because participants are aware of the study, leading servers to be extra solicitous towards diners and customers to be more apt to give a positive review. Gathering both direct and implied data is always best, allowing restaurant owners to analyze common themes between the data in a way that allows them to more confidently address problems and encourage good practices.

Quantitative versus qualitative data

Those of you who immediately thought about spreadsheets and servers upon reading the word data were really thinking about what’s more specifically known as quantitative data. Put simply, quantitative data is numeric, such as the ratings customers give on surveys; it is data that defines.

In contrast, qualitative data is about description, not numbers. Think about qualitative data this way: The end of a customer survey, where there is room for diners to leave comments about their experience, is qualitative data. There can be great value in qualitative data because it can provide a window into what customers are actually thinking. In contrast to a numeric rating, qualitative data provides a level of specificity that can be easy to act upon and improve. There is one caution about qualitative data, however: Happy customers rarely leave comments, so understand that the feedback you receive can be inherently biased towards the negative.

Understanding that data can be more than just numbers – which are, of course, absolutely essential – is a step towards using data’s great power to improve your restaurant and create a legion of happy, loyal customers.


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Jason Barge is a marketing manager at LRS and an expert in communications for the hospitality industry. 



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