Restaurateurs are Googling customers before they dine, and a surprising number of people don't mind

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If there’s one lesson you need to learn in the hospitality industry, it’s that knowing your customers can pay off.

When Brett Michael, founding editor-in-chief of Uproxx and contributing writer at the New York Times, rocked up to the Old Clare Hotel in Chippendale, Sydney, he didn’t expect to be greeted with a framed tweet in his hotel room.

Before his stay, Michael was asking on Twitter for suggestions to watch an NBA game in Sydney.

Not only did the hotel immortalise his tweet but they also gave him a list of pubs to check out along with a written note saying: “We’re also crazy about NBA and can totally feel for you!”

Many Twitter users responded saying they looked forward staying at the hotel because of the premium service, and others pointed out that it was the little things that made the difference.

But it’s not just hotels that are creating a more personalised service for their VIP customer.

Some restaurant owners are also Googling their patrons when they book to find out if they’re important.

This may seem like an excessive service, however a surprising number of Australians don’t seem to mind.

A study by OpenTable found that nearly three quarters of Australians were OK with the idea of restaurant owners Googling them after making their reservation.

69% of respondents said they they didn’t mind being searched for if it meant a more personal dining experience and better service for special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries, while others said that Googling was normal and everyone does it anyway.

Sunny Lusted, the co-owner of Sydney’s Bridge Room and wife of chef Ross Lusted, says that doing research beforehand and the occasional “Googling” — especially if someone’s name sounds familiar — is something they definitely do.

She says that if the restaurant recognises the name, they try to find out more about the person so they can look after them in a bespoke way such as a better seat for more privacy.

On one occasion, they knew that one of their patrons, who was a big fan of burgundy, was celebrating their birthday so the restaurant’s sommelier bought a $2000 bottle that coincided with the year they were born in.

Recently, the Queen’s Birthday honours list was released with Lusted noting that it’s helpful to know who is on that list so that if people do come in, they are congratulated.

It’s little touches such as these that has helped Lusted give her customers a warm and inviting experience without being overly intrusive.

“We really use our discretion and would never bring up something not appropriate for the circumstance,” says Lusted. “There’s sometimes a lot of things you may know about an individual but it may not be as important so it’s good to know when to bring something up as much as when not to bring something up.”

With so much information publicly available and accessible these days, Lusted says it’s important to use this positively and not to cross any lines.

“The real key is respect, discretion and evaluating the situation.”

Photo: Kristy Leibowitz/Getty Images.

But it’s not for everyone

While it’s common practice for some restaurant owners, others still say they prefer to avoid prying.

“We find that a lot of our guests will tell us if they want to celebrate something. Some like the discretion,” says Vicki Wild, owner of Sepia Restaurant in Sydney.

“I wouldn’t Google my customers, find out their favourite colour is red then make all the dishes on the table red.”

She also said that restaurants are where people want to be discrete but those that choose to research their customers “do it beautifully”.

“We’re just not that type of restaurant.”

Judy McMahon, who owns Catalina restaurant with her husband, says they don’t do prior research on their customer, and instead use an online booking diary to keep a record of existing customers as well as notes on their clients’ favourite seats or wines.

If there is someone who is a VIP, McMahon says that the perks might include better seating but they wouldn’t do additional research to find out more about them.

“I think think that any restaurant that does that has far too much time on their hands,” she says. “I cannot even begin to think how much time would be wasted.

“In my point, it is far better to get a feel of what your customer wants in the restaurant.”

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