Embracing Data: A Glimpse into the Future of Hospitality

Opinion article by Mark Bentley, Business Development Director at HDI.

As I recently strolled through the bustling trade shows of Lunch! and the Casual Dining Show, engaging with industry leaders and absorbing their insights, one overarching theme became crystal clear: the future of hospitality is destined to be data-led.

Reflecting on the journey of Pizza Pilgrims co-founders Thom & James Elliott, I couldn’t help but appreciate their perspective on their early days as street food vendors. They experienced an immediate feedback loop, witnessing the direct impact of their product offerings on customer preferences through sales numbers—a form of raw, tangible data. It was a vital tool during their humble beginnings.

Yet, as hospitality businesses expand and evolve, a new kind of data becomes essential. Beyond immediate feedback, they require insights that guide them to make informed decisions, whether it’s pinpointing optimal locations for new sites, formulating precise pricing strategies, or assessing their performance within the broader market context. Quality data is the compass that guides these critical decisions, and it’s a resource that’s been in short supply in the UK hospitality sector for years. However, the winds of change are blowing.

Advancements in technology, such as the availability of card spending insights and market pricing data, are finally bridging the data gap in the hospitality sector. This newfound access to valuable information is a game-changer, but it’s crucial to understand that data alone cannot solve every challenge in this industry. Hospitality remains, at its core, a people-centric business.

James Elliott’s story of building a life-size pink flamingo with soft-serve ice cream on its back for their Leeds opening serves as a delightful reminder of this fact. Entrepreneurialism and creativity remain the heart and soul of hospitality, guiding it to create memorable experiences that data alone could never suggest.

However, in the pursuit of excellence, data becomes a powerful ally. It’s the silent partner, providing insights and information to those who possess the critical thinking skills needed to decipher its meaning. In the fast-paced world of hospitality, where operational teams juggle a multitude of tasks, having the ability to extract meaningful insights from data is a prized skill.

Marta Pogroszewska, Managing Director of Gail’s Bakery, epitomises the winning mindset that’s essential for success in the hospitality sector. Her reflections during her talk at Lunch! on the power of a winning mindset, even in the face of rising costs and economic challenges, really resonated with me. She highlighted the need for continuous learning and improvement—a trait that aligns with the power of data.

Data isn’t just a tool; it’s a mindset. Just as Marta strives to unlock leadership capabilities in her managers, data empowers operators and suppliers to unlock insights hidden within their vast datasets. However, this requires not just data, but also the ability to interpret and act upon it effectively.

As someone who has transitioned from the data-rich world of retail to the data-scarce realm of hospitality, I can attest to the transformative potential of data in this sector. While the two worlds may seem worlds apart, they share more similarities than one might think.

Consider a restaurant or bar operator with multiple brands. Their decisions, whether about site selection, menu development, pricing strategies, or performance assessment, are akin to those made by the retail sector. The challenges they face—choosing the right locations, optimising offerings, understanding local market dynamics—are often parallel.

The question arises: to what extent should hospitality lean into data? A well-known adage in retail, “Retail is detail,” underscores the industry’s data-centric nature. Almost everything is measurable, from product & category performance to an in-depth understanding of customer repertories and behaviour. Data is the lifeblood that informs decisions. It’s an integral part of retail’s DNA.

In the hospitality sector, the purpose is to provide a service based on hospitality itself, not just selling food and drink. Statistical information isn’t ingrained in its DNA. However, the times are changing. The availability of quality data is growing, driven by technological advancements.

The future holds promise and challenges. By 2030, Millennials and Generation Z will dominate the workforce, and these digital natives are fluent in the language of data. In the world of hospitality, it’s not a choice between gut-feel and data-driven decisions; both have their place, and finding the right balance is the key.

In this ever-evolving landscape, one thing is abundantly clear: the future of hospitality is undeniably data-led. As we embrace this future, we’ll discover new horizons, insights, and opportunities that will shape the industry for years to come. The time to embark on this data-driven journey is now.

Mark Bentley is the business development director of Hospitality Data Insights (HDI), provider of card spending insight and pricing data to the UK hospitality sector. He is a former category management controller at Molson Coors Beverage Company and a qualified beer sommelier.