Emerging Technology

BEST OF THE WEB: Lessons from the web-savvy restaurants keeping an eye on you

Patrick Stafford /

Last month TechCompany profiled a story about a restaurant chain in the United States that is using key data metrics to improve its ratings.

Those metrics – and there are hundreds of them – dictate continuity across the company’s entire range of procedures including the time it takes for a meal to reach a table, and what temperature the dishwashing machine should be set at.

This trend is now going even further. And more restaurants are catching on.

This piece in The New York Times profiles how restaurants are not only collecting masses of information from their customers – but they’re actually using that data to customise customer experiences to the smallest detail.

For instance, in Gramercy Tavern, customers have their preferences detailed in a computer. They never have to speak them out loud ever again.

However, the system can go both ways.

“We will write if the person is kosher or can’t eat shellfish,” said Ed Schoenfeld, who owns RedFarm in the West Village. “And we take note of the people who sat for six-and-a-half hours last time, so next time we are sure to give them an uncomfortable seat.”

These restaurants record the simplest details, such as whether you like your butter hard or soft, or whether you prefer Pepsi or Coke. Some are even tracking how much people tip.

Even a single visit can prompt the creation of a computer file that includes diners’ allergies, favorite foods and whether they are “wine whales,” likely to spend hundreds of dollars on a bottle.

That’s valuable information, considering that upward of 30% of a restaurant’s revenue comes from alcohol. Some places even log data on potential customers so that the restaurant is prepared if the newcomer shows up.

All of this comes as part of the massive data revolution occurring in all sorts of businesses. The growth of portable technology allows businesses to record huge lumps of data, using that to in turn create more personalised customer experiences.

It also has the effect of saving money, and creating business opportunities – like OpenTable.

The website allows users to book restaurants online, and picks up huge amounts of data in the process.

So much so that even disagreements between customers have been input into computers.

At Marea, Michael White’s Italian restaurant on Central Park South, for instance, the hedge fund manager William A. Ackman is a regular and one of many customers who rates an NR, never refuse.

What the computer does not say (but the general manager, Rocky Cirino, knows) is that servers can never seat Mr Ackman next to Carl C. Icahn, another big Wall Street name. The two have sued each other.

The piece also investigates why too much data can be a bad thing, and how it should be used appropriately. But to be sure, restaurants are getting in first on a data revolution that will only become more important as technology improves.

Why the Apple-FBI leak is actually a really big deal

You may have read this week that a hacking group leaked one million UDID numbers it claims to have obtained from an FBI computer.

These UDID numbers come from Apple devices, and were also found alongside a whole bunch of data including names and addresses.

Now, there’s no proof that these were leaked from an FBI computer. And the FBI has certainly denied any involvement. But at TechCrunch, Sarah Perez breaks down why this is quite a big deal – and has been for a while.

As it turns out, Apple has been trying to phase out UDID numbers for a while. The developer community has been concerned about UDID security, which makes this leak all the more serious.

“In general, UDIDs in and of themselves are not very valuable. It’s only when they’re tied to other information that there’s risk to end users. But it’s irresponsible to store them in a spreadsheet accompanied by user names, addresses and phone numbers,” [Crashlytics founder Wayne] Chang points out.

In short, if your UDID has been leaked then it could mean any number of things – and especially highlights why Apple is moving to a new system.

The FBI might not be involved. But this is still a serious leak and demands any Apple user’s attention.

Why Twitter loves free speech – and why it’s good for business

Twitter has been in a lot of trouble with international governments over the past few years. Those suffering criticism from its citizens – or even outright revolution – have attempted to stop them from using the micro blogging service and other internet businesses as well.

It’s a lot for the company’s chief lawyer, Alexander Macgillivray, to handle. But in this piece in The New York Times, he explains why so much of the company’s time is spent protecting that free speech – it’s just good business.

“We value the reputation we have for defending and respecting the user’s voice,” Mr Macgillivray said in an interview.

“We think it’s important to our company and the way users think about whether to use Twitter, as compared to other services.”

The company has run into trouble with this, however, when it recently suspended the account of a journalist who used his Twitter feed to criticise NBC’s handling of the Olympics coverage in America.

The incident led to massive backlash.

In a statement, Macgillivray said the incident was unacceptable, and has repeated the sentiment.

“You don’t want business interests affecting judgment about content,” he argued.

“That is against corporate interests. It’s against the trust your users have in your service.”

Twitter’s growth and scale means it will be embroiled in these legal problems for a while. This story is a good insight into why it will continue to maintain its stance of freedom for all users – even as it attempts to create a sustainable business model that could lead to conflict.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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