Data Intelligence

Restaurants and Your Privacy

For those of you that remember calling restaurants in order to make your reservation, you probably also remember that little bell on the pass whose ring prompted every server to rush to the BOH to see if their order was up. As any of you in the restaurant industry know, times, they are a changin’. No more bells, and no more chatting on the phone. Our world is awash in cloud-based POS systems and mobile apps.

While many consider these technological advances beneficial to both customers and operators, there are those that have begun questioning sharing their information with every business they do business with. Wait, you say, we always gave our phone number and name when making a reservation. The difference? An article in Cnet that quoted Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, said it all: “The cellphone number is quickly becoming the new Social Security number in the digital age.” Yikes.

Waiting List Apps

Between Waiting List Apps and Kiosks, we share our names, phone numbers, and often our email addresses in the name of speed and quick service. But just what are we giving up? Our privacy. Businesses, including restaurants, are using this information to keep track of us, determine our taste preferences, favorite time for dining, who we dine with, and where we’d like to sit.

In the extreme, third-party delivery apps can share or sell personal data to other businesses. Operators and customers alike need to take the time to read the small print in the massive user agreements and privacy policies of any app or business that collects personal data.

In restaurateur’s defense, many opt to embrace waitlist management tools in order to streamline the process, keep guests from waiting in crowded entrances, and make the guest experience more enjoyable. Their primary goal is customer satisfaction, not obtaining data on every guest that could then turn into a marketing tool. 

Waiting List Apps currently in use include Table’s Ready, NoWait, OpenTable, DineTime, Host Me, QLess, and Waitlist Me, to name a few. OpenTable was one of the first on the scene some 20 years ago. Since then, it has gone global, seating 23 million diners a month in 43,000 restaurants around the world. Wow. In 2014, Priceline paid $2.6 billion for this restaurant waitlist technology. In 2016, Priceline wrote off $941 million of OpenTable’s value—the price of an increasingly competitive market.


Collecting our data is the current marketing strategy that has risen from the internet of things and artificial intelligence. While most of these apps do not sell your data, they do share it for predictive analytical purposes, determine consumer behavior, and develop personalized marketing strategies. They use it to improve the customer’s experience—a worthy goal, but one that comes at a price some consumers are not willing to pay.

Some restaurants are taking it to the extreme. Shiru Café, a coffee shop in Providence, Rhode Island, is offering up a free cup of coffee in exchange for your data. This includes your name, birthday, phone number, email address, and interests. TGI Fridays reported doubling its to-go business in one year by collecting customer data and combining it with artificial intelligence.

Customers Reactions

Besides being slightly annoyed by the challenges inherent in these types of waitlist apps which includes difficulty obtaining tables during peak dining hours and the inability to book tables for larger parties, consumers are starting to feel a little like they are being stalked. According to a recent survey conducted by InMoment, 75 percent of consumers find most forms of “personalization” somewhat creepy.

Another way restaurants are mining data is through loyalty programs. There seems to be a theme here. When you’re being offered a discount or free product, you are, more than likely, doing so by exchanging your data.

Government Crackdown

On September 26, Senate hearings began regarding consumer privacy and data security. Internet companies and service providers such as Twitter and Charter Communications presented testimony. The question is, are corporations selling our data to advertisers or third parties, or are they using the information to improve our experience as consumers. Losers in this new regulatory era will be the former.


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