We’re in the “Golden Age of Restaurants.” That’s the paradox The Atlantic explored last year. To summarize: Americans want to go out to eat, but they’re choosy about where they go. Although food is at the center of our cultural conversation and the heart of where we want most of our experiences to come from, the competition is fierce for where we put our food dollars.

As a restaurant owner, how can you consistently be the top dining option in a world that's overwhelmed with more than one million options and short on time? Two words: big data. Thanks to the systems already in your restaurant, it really isn’t that big and scary anymore.

Imagine this: Every time your employees enter a guest order into the point-of-sale system, you collect data. Any time they swipe a credit card, that’s data. Those Yelp reviews, love them or hate them, are more data. By 2020, there will be 5,200 GB of data for every person on Earth, and most restaurateurs are just sitting on that data. To stay ahead of the competition, you’ve got to leverage restaurant industry data.

What can big data tell a restaurant?

Today, you will make at least 10 decisions about how to run your restaurant. You’ll decide who to staff during your busiest shifts, what the specials should be, and maybe whether live music would be a worthwhile investment for Saturday night. Done correctly, restaurant industry data can tell operators not only what has happened in the past, but what’s likely to happen tomorrow, next week and in the years to come.

Data-led businesses are making decisions in a way that is most profitable. When you use big data, you can ensure you’re the restaurant winning in the competitive restaurant landscape.

Your goals are simple, you want to:

• Increase new customers.

• Increase repeats.

• Increase revenue.

• Find cost-saving opportunities.

• Increase guest satisfaction.

Here are two critical examples of how data can help you do that:

What’s on the menu: Thirty to 40 percent of food is wasted. Imagine if you could predict what your guests wanted based on sales trends from the previous week, night or year? With real-time data, you can review your menu performance, the cost of your ingredients, and make cost-saving decisions.

Staffed perfectly: Insight into labor costs is critical. Employee turnover is a top priority in this industry. Your POS and guest books are sources of data into when the busiest and slowest times are. Bonus: You can identify your top performing staff, such as who does the most upselling and who most impacts your bottom line.

The Hospitality Technology 2018 Software Trends Report notes that 35 percent of restaurateurs said they used big data to understand and predict guest behavior to drive for POS upgrades in 2018. Will you be in that 35 percent, now that you know what big data can tell you?

This post is sponsored by Heartland, a Global Payments company that delivers fast, secure omnichannel payment processing and business solutions to more than 400,000 business locations nationwide. Product offerings include payments, payroll, point of sale, customer engagement and lending. Heartland is an endorsed partner of the Association.