Xconomy Bookclub: Big Data Meets Fine Dining in CEO’s “Culinary Tour”

Xconomy Texas — 

Software, it has been said, is eating the world. Now the food world is looking to use technology and analytics as a main ingredient in running more profitable organizations.

So says Damian Mogavero, who along with Joseph D’Agnese, wrote The Underground Culinary Tour: How the New Metrics of Today’s Top Restaurants Are Transforming How America Eats.

To be sure, Mogavero has a stake in the game. He’s the founder and CEO of New York-based Avero, a restaurant-focused software company with five-star clients such as Caesar’s Entertainment, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, and Union Square Hospitality Group. In the risky world of restaurants, Mogavero writes, “Numbers are a balm, a warm blanket you could throw around yourself and say, ‘OK, I got this.’ ”

Owning and operating a restaurant can be difficult because of minuscule margins, high and volatile food and labor costs, and fickle consumer palates. The culinary world often considers its work to be more in the realm of art than science, but Mogavero insists that restaurateurs should “deconstruct the guest experience” by gathering and analyzing data.

Instead of performing back-office functions like inventory management, ordering, and employee productivity by “feel,” Mogavero says smart restaurateurs (he calls them the “New Guard”) are using software to make better decisions that enhance both the bottom line and the customer experience.

“Data drove the insight, and their creativity addressed the insight,” he writes.

Mogavero’s connection to restaurants started in his youth, working as a busboy in a New Jersey restaurant called Ginsberg & Wong (think Jewish deli meets Chinese restaurant). He ended up going to Harvard Business School and Wall Street, underwriting junk bonds. Still, even in the world of high finance, Mogavero writes that he insisted on picking the restaurant, menu, and drinks for the dinners that celebrated the closing of deals.

After business school, he became the CFO for a restaurant group, a job he said frustrated him. They “couldn’t answer basic questions such as: ‘Who are your top and bottom performers?’ and ‘What are your most profitable menu items?’ ”

That was in 1999—the infancy of software-as-a-service taking over Main Street businesses—but Mogavero decided to start Avero. At first, he says he faced skepticism even from within the ranks of his own staff with programmers and foodies casting a wary eye on the other. “The funny thing that happened is that the restaurateurs became computer savvy, and my techies started eating foie gras and drinking nice wine,” he writes. “And that became the culture of the company.”

In some ways, Underground Culinary Tour comes across as a book-sized advertorial for Mogavero’s company. The “New Guard” restaurateurs, after all, happen to all be his clients, and he offers case studies with some of them, including Fogo de Chao, Hakkasan, and Brennan’s. (Also, I found the writing style a bit over the top: it seems that nearly everything is “legendary.”)

Though Mogavero does mention the impact of apps such as Vivino and Delectable–which collect data from user-uploaded wine reviews—and food delivery startups such as Ando and Maple, he doesn’t elaborate … Next Page »

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