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    New York Times: What Restaurants Know (About You)

    The New York Times reports that “hundreds of restaurants are now carefully tracking [diners’] individual tastes, tics, habits and even foibles.” It’s a new era of collection and use of consumer by restaurants, ostensibly to improve service for diners.

    [W]hen Arnie Tannen, a health care consultant in Brooklyn, sits down for his regular Friday-night dinner at Gramercy Tavern, his server always knows that he prefers a black napkin (less lint) and wants only the ends of a loaf in his breadbasket.

    Those details are carefully logged in the restaurant’s computer, and Mr. Tannen suspects that the tavern has also noted his love of French fries, even though it does not serve them. For his 68th birthday in 2011, his waiter surprised him with hot fries hurried in from a nearby spot. […]

    Part of the attention paid to his preferences can be chalked up to the owner, Danny Meyer, and his well-known obsession with highly personalized hospitality. But what most customers don’t know is that hundreds of restaurants are now carefully tracking their individual tastes, tics, habits and even foibles.

    Increasingly, restaurants are recording whether you are a regular, a first-timer, someone who lives close by or a friend of the owner or manager. They archive where you like to sit, when you will celebrate a special occasion and whether you prefer your butter soft or hard, Pepsi over Coca-Cola or sparkling over still water. In many cases, they can trace your past performance as a diner; how much you ordered, tipped and whether you were a “camper” who lingered at the table long after dessert. […]

    Even a single visit can prompt the creation of a computer file that includes diners’ allergies, favorite foods and whether they are “wine whales,” likely to spend hundreds of dollars on a bottle. That’s valuable information, considering that upward of 30 percent of a restaurant’s revenue comes from alcohol. Some places even log data on potential customers so that the restaurant is prepared if the newcomer shows up.

    That a waiter you have never met knows your tendency to dawdle or your love of crushed ice may strike some diners as creepy or intrusive. But restaurant managers say their main goal is to pamper the customer, to recreate the comfort of a local corner spot where everybody knows your name. […]

    Much of this information is discreetly embedded in an alphabet soup of acronyms that pops up on the computer screen when a restaurant employee checks you in, managers and employees at a number of high-end New York restaurants said in interviews. The wine whale may show up as WW. If a free appetizer lands on your table at Osteria Morini in SoHo, chances are your file says SFN — something for nothing. […]

    Still, Per Se’s general manager, Antonio Begonja, said collecting data on potential customers smacked of overreach. “At some point you have to draw the line,” he said.

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