FOX19 Investigates: Restaurants know a lot about you - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

FOX19 Investigates: Restaurants know a lot about you

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(FOX19) -

When you walk into a restaurant, you may no longer have to tell the hostess you prefer a booth by the window. These days, all kinds of information about you may be on the computer right at her desk.

"There was a time when it was all in the mind of a maitre de or an owner and they knew what you wanted to eat, what you wanted to drink, all by memory," said restaurant consultant Clark Wolf. "Now it can be in the computer."    

Many restaurants around the country are starting to keep detailed records of their customers in computer databases, ready to pull-up and use the moment you walk through the door. The idea is simple --- the more they know about you, the better they can serve you.

"Who doesn't like to go into a restaurant and be recognized, greeted by name, and maybe shown to their favorite table?" asked Anne Shepherd, senior vice president of marketing at Open Table.

It's a company a lot of Cincinnati-area restaurants use to take reservations.

Some restaurants also store information about customers that's gathered by sites like Open Table. And that information they collect runs the gamut.

"They might contain dates like birthdays or anniversaries," said Shepherd. "They could contain notations about allergies or dietary restrictions. Or things like favorite cocktail, favorite bottle of wine."

But it doesn't always stop there. Experts say these records can also contain information about how much you tipped --- or how long you stayed at your table. Not every diner wants their details documented.

"That makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable," one person told us. "Like, they know too much about me."

Even restaurant consultants acknowledge there are privacy issues to consider.

"There's a fine line between knowing all about you for the benefit of giving you good service and being a stalker," Wolf said.

But the industry insists the intent isn't to be intrusive. It's about using knowledge about customers to keep them returning.

"You can also get people to never come back again without them even knowing it," Wolf said. "What you do is you make a decisive mistake. If you know they're coming with their girlfriend instead of their wife, you mention the name of the wife. And that person will never come again."

But most of the time, restaurateurs tell us, the data is used to enhance the dining experience.

"Is it a quiet table? Is it a booth? Do they want to be seen in the center of everybody?" Umberto Gibin, owner of Perbacco, said of the things he wants to know about his restaurant's clientele.

"The best way to use data is to make it basically seamless and invisible," according to Union Square Hospitality Group's Richard Coraine.

And if members of the restaurant's staff are doing their jobs correctly, you may never know to what extent they're keeping tabs on you.

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