Data / Food and drink / Marketing

Fishbowl serves up big data for restaurant companies

The Alexandria-based company just got acquired by Symphony Technology Group.

Not this kind of fishbowl. (Photo by Flickr user Benson Kua, used under a Creative Commons license)

The capacities of big data are incredible — but some are using this tool with more precision than others.

Among those who stand to benefit from a little data know-how but traditionally struggle to use it are restaurants, according to Dev Ganesan, CEO of Alexandria, Va.-based Fishbowl. Particularly, he says, multi-location brick and mortar restaurants.

The industry “just doesn’t know who the guests are,” he told in a recent conversation. And yet “this is not rocket science … it’s been done in other industries.” And now, players like Fishbowl, are bringing it to the restaurant world.

Fishbowl was founded in 2000 by restauranteur Scott Shaw. It was, initially, focused on email marketing. Around 2010 it became a software-as-a-service company, “leveraging rich guest insights” to “acquire new customers and retain existing ones” with a customer relations platform (according to the company’s website). Two years ago Ganesan was brought on as CEO as the company moved more toward mobile. In January, Fishbowl was acquired by Silicon Valley private equity firm Symphony Technology Group.

So what does all this mean?

In its essence Fishbowl helps restaurants understand their customers so that the restaurants can make sure that those customers have a good time (and hopefully come back). Traditionally the kind of big chain restaurants Fishbowl works with (Jamba Juice, Einstein Bagels, Burger King, etc.) have relied on traditional media advertising like radio commercials or TV spots. But marketing like this is expensive and inefficient — it’s far better to target customers in a more personal way.

Gathering data on customers, on what they do and don’t like, on what their interests are even beyond your restaurant, allows restaurants to deliver the right message at the right time. Haven’t been in to your local Corner Bakery for a while? Maybe they’ll send you a coupon. But say you’re a high-net-worth individual — a 50-cent coupon probably isn’t going to be a huge incentive for you. If Corner Bakery knows this about you, though, they can act accordingly.

Fishbowl — the name is a throwback to the days when you’d put business cards in glass bowls in restaurants to win freebees and more — employs around 250, “primarily” in Virginia, Ganesan said. The company does have offices in Silicon Valley, but will stay headquartered locally despite the recent acquisition.

“This is a great area,” Ganesan said. “Believe it or not, you find more data science talent here than in other locations.”

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