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How diners are using location-based technology

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Paul Barron is a restaurant-industry veteran and has been involved in Web-based technologies, publishing and consulting for almost 20 years.  As the founder of several industry websites such as and, he has helped innovate much of how technology and the Web are used in the restaurant business.  He blogs at and you can also see his Web video series Rethink at  Barron is also the founder of, a digital brand development and social media analysis firm in South Florida.  The full report is available from DigitalCoCo. We chatted with him about location-based transactions during the recent holiday season.

How many check-ins were tracked over the period?

We tracked more than 80,000 check-ins per day on four location-based services over 29 days in more than 100 restaurant concepts.  Not only did we look into the transaction data, but [we] also took a look at the consumers that were doing all this iPhone and Android smartphone wielding.

How do you see location-based interactions playing a role in the restaurant and retail industry over the next two years?

Location-based has such an upside as the technology and partnerships of the current power players get more integrated to our everyday actions with our mobile handsets.  Additionally, the growth of mobile in terms of smartphones will only drive more innovation. Restaurants especially have the most to gain, as integration with loyalty programs to track real ROI is just now becoming a reality.

How will location-based services help restaurants grow sales?

We all know the power of word of mouth; the problem is we really don’t know who in our guest list who has that power to affect us in a good way or a bad way. Expect more video and photo integration into location-based technology.  Also, ratings and even power influence rankings could play a big role in development for 2011-12.  What that means is one could take a look at who is in the restaurant and see their influence score to help you understand who are your top-tier guests. We all appreciate all guests, but we have that special place in our business for the VIP.  We should see this technology helping us learn who they are and how we can better our chances to keep them with great service, special offers and best of all ways that can help them spread the word.

What concepts were the winners in the holiday check-in data?

There were clear expected winners like Starbucks and some that were not expected, like Jimmie Johns and Qdoba, who outpaced Chipotle.  Others that hit the top 10 were Genghis Grill, Camille’s Sidewalk Café, Five Guys, California Pizza Kitchen and Rubio’s.

Did you learn anything about the consumers that were checking in?

Our technology dives deep into the social Web to establish demographic and interest behavior as well as understanding the age groups that are leading the pack in location-based activity. The leading demographic were the power players in Gen X (born 1960 to 1980), with Generation Y (born 1980 to 2000) not far behind, and the Boomers were surprisingly close to the leading two categories.

What does this tell you about today’s consumer?

It tells us that the landscape of marketing and promotion along with guest service and interaction is about to be turned upside down. Recent data shows the older demographics are getting highly involved in social behavior.  We think this is the tipping point to vast expendable incomes. The real winners in hospitality, restaurant and retail will be companies that build digital frameworks in which these new techno-savvy consumers can flourish.

Were there certain areas of the country or platforms that fared better?

Yes, as expected Foursquare was the leader in most of the regions that we broke down, with Facebook, Gowalla and Yelp all showing up to the check-in game. The most powerful regions of the U.S. were the Northeast and the Northwest — not surprising, as one is dense in population and the other rich with technology-driven citizens.  What was interesting, though, was that the Southwestern U.S. was the most balanced region of “influencers” and “super influencers,” meaning more bang for the buck. Cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix [and] Denver all had very interesting demographics on these users.

What does “super influencer” and “influencer mean?”

We base each influence level on a few factors.  The level of people they reach on the social Web and the influence level of those that they reach. We then add in a variety of algorithms that essentially give you an overall influence ranking, the highest being a score of 300 based on our data and indexed social profiles — meaning we look at a variety of third-party sources [and] add in our own technology for an overall score so the actual influence ranking is much more detailed and balanced.

Does your restaurant use Foursquare or other location-based technology?

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