Monday, June 21, 2010

Science of the Churrascaria

If you’ve visited Chicago recently, you may have bumped into the burgeoning churrascaria movement—where at last count four of these Brazilian-style steakhouses manage to thrive within a five-block radius. They’ve splashed themselves over cities and suburbs alike, beckoning diners with an all-you-can-eat concept far removed from the buffet chains and those sometimes frightening strip mall Chinese joints. If you haven’t been, the different churrascarias are remarkably similar. $50 gets you dinner, which includes an over-the-top salad bar (think prosciutto, hearts of palm, smoked salmon, and artichoke hearts—not cottage cheese with pineapple chunks) and at least a dozen varieties of steak, chicken, lamb and pork—all brought to your table on giant skewers and sliced to order by servers dressed in gaucho garb. Cheese bread is brought to your table first (irresistible, but the centerpiece of a fill-you-up-early-fast-and-often consumption strategy on the part of the house). Dinners are accompanied by equally rich whipped potatoes and plantains. Patrons can select the salad-bar only, generally about half the price. But nobody goes for this option (it’s less than two percent of all diners, which may seem low, but since the show is all about the meat, not a complete surprise).

For what are higher-end restaurants, it’s an amazing formula to behold, and works on a broad volume of business. Where you might think the table of 10 college-aged guys would eat the place out of house and home since there is no end to the high-cost food offerings as long as you continue to want more, such a table doesn’t cause a ripple. In fact, restaurant managers and chain executives of these places never look at the behavior of individual tables—they’re looking at the 2,000-odd covers per week per store. They want to make sure 32.5% of guests order dessert (who are these people?), that the average tab per head stays constant at $67.50, and that there’s no variability across days and weeks when it comes to per capita meat consumption (2.25 pounds per). In fact, they’re quite happy to seat “we’re-going-to- stuff-our-faces-and-get-our-money’s-worth” revelers since, in the end, they’re outweighed by lots of customers (especially women) with dramatically less robust appetites—especially after a few helpings of cheese bread and mashed potatoes.

Volumetric understanding of real customer behaviors in situ is the secret to any business. Much can come from the hands-on experience of retailers, store operators and restaurant execs who discern important patterns and lessons over time. One way we’ve been able to help them drive business to greater success is to be their eyes and ears across multiple locations, days, day parts, and weeks, with video and audio enabled behavioral analytics—giving them deeper looks and insights into the bricks-and-mortar realities of their stores. There’s no doubt a reality-driven behavioral segmentation study of customers on premise is a meaty treat—no matter what business you’re in.
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