Restaurant Googles its patrons

A restaurant is using Google to gather information about its customers before they arrive. They are doing this in order to provide better service by customizing patrons’ experiences. They will wish someone a happy birthday, match servers with patrons with certain similar interests, etc.

While I can understand trying to provide better service, it’s sort of creepy having someone snoop on you personally. They aren’t necessarily looking at your professional life (although they could use information regarding your career to connect with a patron on a more personal level). They gather and use any information that they can find on the internet about you.

Imagine you sit down to eat, and a server comes up and unexpectedly wishes you a happy birthday. Would you say thank you and feel good that someone took the time to wish you a happy birthday? Or would you wonder, or possibly ask how he/she knew it was your birthday? My reaction would be surprise (not the good kind) and a feeling of violation, possibly disgust (after I confirmed with everyone at my table that they said nothing about it being my birthday).

At what point to we say it’s ok for anyone to know certain information about you and when it’s not ok? I thought a quote from this article stated it pretty well: “most people aren’t too hesitant to give up their personal information, but when it’s used for stuff they aren’t expecting, it feels like a violation.”

8 Responses to Restaurant Googles its patrons

  1. The quote you included in your post is pretty spot on how I bet a lot of people feel. The fact that the information they gather is to make my own experience better though is where I feel they are in the right. If the only reason they gather that information is to make my own experience better, then its no different than when google provides ads on the internet that are akin to what I may actually want to view/buy/interact with. If someone really feels like its a violation, then they need to go ahead and make the information about themselves not public; It’s no different than if someone scouts someone for a job, they are only trying to make sure everyone benefits from the situation. I think if a server came up to you and wished you a happy birthday, the feeling you would get wouldn’t be disgust, it would be more of the “what just happened and how did it happen” feeling. You aren’t being harmed in any way, nor is anyone trying to deliberately make you feel unwelcome, they are only trying to help you. I think it would be a violation if you specifically didn’t want them knowing the information, but that would only be applicable if you hid that information from the public, and at that point, they wouldn’t be able to find it anyways.

    I think the moral of this story is that in the weirdest ways, people can make any experience you may have better, and if you feel like that violates your privacy, or anything like that, you should make your information not available to the public.

  2. Before I click in the link you put there, I held the same idea as you and nickgol thought. This is way too creepy that someone comes to you and wish you a happy birthday after you just sit in the restaurant. Sometimes this might be surprising and interesting, but most of the time it will exactly be “what just happened and how did it happen” as nickgol pointed out.

    However, when I clicked the hyperlink and started reading the article, “three Mechelin stars” right comes to my eyes. I have heard of this from some friends and it seems to be a high standard of restaurants in world. Because of uncertainty, I googled the mechelin star concept and it turns to be a hallmark of fine dining quality . Specifically, threee Michelin stars is described as “Exceptional cuisine and worth a special journey. Often extremely expensive, and with an extensive wine list”.

    So now we have more understanding of this restaurant: a high standard expensive restaurant with EXCEPTIONAL cuisine and worth a SPECIAL journey. And the point I want to make here is that since it has an exceptional cuisine, it can also have a unique way to serve its customers, a distinguishing feature to attract future clients.

    Another important detail I want to talk about is in the article you mentioned, there is a reference to the original report researching this restaurant . And in the report, it is described as “maître d’ Justin Roller is Googling the names of every guest who will come in that night”. So actually the restaurant doesn’t offer service to random customs , but only to those who are planned and prepared to experience an extraordinary dinner night. In this case, the whole creepy happy birthday event may not be that creepy any more. In contrary, those consumers may instead think they are valued and respected. And the restaurant offer them a unexpected surprise for the night, which is definitely good.

    Furthermore, in the report the owner explained this as a “level of care and attention “, and they clearly have a rule of surprising guest as “the training manual is 97 pages long”. And at then end of the report, it is said as “He makes his customers feel good. Really good. So good that they wanted to experience the exact same kind of care again and again”. So maybe this is really a good idea as long as it is only for those who want a special experience.

  3. Personally, I don’t think I would like it if I went to a restaurant and they knew it was my birthday, especially if it was a restaurant that gathered at your table and sung happy birthday. That being said, some free cake would be kind of nice, but that’s a different point. I can see how it might make your experience better with having a waiter or waitress that has common interests for you to talk about. It would make your dining experience better because your waiter or waitress would probably seem much friendlier if you have stuff to talk about. There are also people who would love it because they walk in and the restaurant knows their names and some of their interests and they feel like some sort of celebrity and a very important guest. That makes sense to me.

    However, I think this would work best if the restaurant allowed patrons to choose not to be looked up on Google before they came because many patrons, I’m sure, would feel like it’s an invasion of their privacy, even if the information about them is on a public site. The option to do so should be available without having to make sure all of your information was private, that’s not always possible online. I feel like the option to opt out of the information check would make the greatest number of patron happy. But I suppose if you were super paranoid about it you could always make reservations using some sort of fake name to avoid an information check. Make sure to call from a payphone though.

  4. This honestly just sounds like another form or variation of advertising. We already know about email providers using people’s emails to make advertisements that might pertain to them. People willingly give up information online, and restaurants have the goal of providing the best service possible. I wouldn’t blame them for trying to use every resource possible. While it may seem “creepy” at first, you would grow used to it. It would be like going to a local restaurant where the owners know you well. I think it’s silly that in today’s society, people still expect the information they put out in the public should be completely left alone. Society is becoming more and more technology oriented so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it is finding relevance in the service industry, especially since its already being used in sales industry. The last quote in the original post is very accurate in saying that publicized information is only a problem when it is used unexpectedly. If this becomes used by more restaurants, the complaints will probably begin to die out.
    Regarding being able to opt out of being “looked up”, that would take away from the overall experience. There is a major difference between going to a restaurant and expecting a certain form of service or being pleasantly surprised by creative and personalized service. This improves especially if the patrons don’t know about their information being looked at and if the service provided is not too personal. A good balance could be like a server having similar interests as the patron since this could as easily be a lucky coincidence rather than the result of gathering personal information.

  5. I think this a genuinely intelligent and unique idea. Although it may come off as “creepy” and its an unusual way to entertain your customers, it is all in the best interests of the customer. The restaurant is in no way harming its customers, but they are simply trying to provide them with the best possible experience, and by knowing your customer better they are able to do that. Also, what they are doing is not illegal. They are only getting information about someone that is already available to everyone else.

    I honestly think it would be an interesting experience and would personally love to go there to see how it differs from a typical restaurant. In some cases I could see people enjoying it because it would make them feel more important and something more than just another customer. However, I do appreciate where the other side is coming from and could easily see how that it could be construed as creepy or an invasion of privacy, especially if you didn’t know that they were doing this in the first place. If this does bother some people then they could simply choose not to go there; this is most likely something that the restaurant originally considered due to fear of losing customers. I believe it will have an overall positive effect on their customer numbers as well as their customer reviews. Also, if people who wanted to go their but no longer would because of the research that would be done on them, this type of restaurant, one who has three Mechelin stars, could most likely get away with it. The positives of the excellent food and service would most likely outweigh the negatives of someone performing a Google search on them.

  6. In my opinion this particular practice of a restaurant gathering information from its customers could potentially cause some issues and therefore should not be done. My argument stems from the fact that I completely agree with the quote you mentioned, “most people aren’t too hesitant to give up their personal information, but when it’s used for stuff they aren’t expecting, it feels like a violation.” It is common knowledge that most people post their birth dates and other information on social media platforms. However, how many people would honestly have no problem if their Facebook or Google+ profiles was skimmed through for information? I imagine not very many people would feel good about it.

    I personally set the privacy settings of my Facebook account to the “friends only” option. This means that if I do not know you personally, I would not give you access to my information. However, not everybody understands how to set privacy settings, and most people are too lazy to care, until their information is taken and used by others. This is why in my opinion restaurants cannot assume they have access to people’s information just because it is available to them.

  7. Ok, first off, what an interesting concept. With the restaurant business being so competitive I’m not surprised that companies are taking the extra step by personalizing dining experience for their customers. And as kimlym pointed out, this isn’t just for your standard run-of-the-mill establishments, but more so 5-star dining restaurants. So restaurants where you probably have to make a reservation a week in advance or something. With that being said, I don’t think it’s that huge of a issue, besides of course the privacy issue.

    Personally, I’m torn. First of all, I’ve never had a Facebook account, or a Twitter, or any other social networking site, so I’m fairly inconspicuous on the world wide web. However, if I were on any of those sites, and a restaurant were to google me, they’d probably find out that I’m a vegetarian, I eat a mostly lactose-free diet, and I’m very particular about how I like my food cooked. For someone like me, a restaurant catering to my specific diet needs in advance would be pretty impressive! When I do go out, it is sometimes difficult and uncomfortable for me to ask for something in particular. Sometimes the restaurant is unable to fulfill my wishes, or they say my wait might be longer, which is all fine, but maybe if they knew in advanced it’d save me the discomfort of asking, and them, the time and bustling it takes to complete my order. Sometimes if the restaurant seems to be really busy, I hold my tongue, and just order something close enough, and shift my fork around my plate the whole evening. Which isn’t fair for me, the restaurant, or the person(s) I’m with.

    So with all that being said, I totally understand why something like this would be useful. But we all know some establishments have ulterior motives, and as Akhil said, it’s all a part of marketing, which is pretty ingenious, in my opinion. But the biggest problem is the issue of privacy. Do we really want restaurants getting all this data on us, information they can sell to certain “buyers”? Next thing you know, you’ll be receiving a catalog in the mail from Omaha Steaks, or something.

  8. This is a very interesting topic to talk bout when it comes to computing and ethics. There has to be an abundance of reactions and responses that result from getting a waiter that doesn’t know a lot about you, but just enough to start a conversation and keep it going. Specifically, a waiter knowing your birthday and starting a song can seem kind of weird and normal. If it was your birthday and the waiter sang it to you, most people would assume that a family member at the table hinted it to them and requested it as a surprise for you. Well, thats how it usually goes right?

    I think it is a pretty invasive was of getting information to be more compatible with the customer. Waiters should have the people skills to start a conversation with the customer without getting it from the answer key anyway. The big question at hand is simply is it okay to have your information googled by a restaurant so that you’ll have a better experience? Everyone has their own opinion, but I’m sure the majority of people that are asked this question is happy with the outcome of great service and a waiter being tipped.