Round table: what technologies do operators think are really working?

19 January 2019 by

Technology may smooth the path in hospitality, speeding up transactions and orders and spreading word about a business online, but what do operators really want for their businesses? Or does technology actually make more work by creating more choice? The Caterer partnered with Barclaycard at Kitchen W8 in Kensington, London, to find out.


How do you see the role of technology in the hospitality environment? Is it a help or a hindrance?

Thom Elliot (TE): Obviously, different people want different things, but we've just opened in the City and speed is the number one thing people care about at lunchtime. They want to get in and out quickly and if technology can help you with that, they'll be all over it. But you have to think about the little things, such as credit card machines and the tip. Contactless is obviously faster, but it doesn't allow you the opportunity to leave a tip, so every waiter in the world will take your card off you and put it in, therefore circumventing the entire invention of contactless in a restaurant. How do you solve that?

Oisin Rogers (OR): I think tech slows things down, rather than speeds it up. I'm sick of going into bars and the barman is looking at the till and not looking at me. It drives me absolutely daft. I will say that contactless has been mostly a boon for bars. A real game-changer.

It creates a problem when you miss the occasional transaction because it didn't go through and the barman was too busy to look. You end up having to trace it through massive spreadsheets to find out where it is. It might be only one in 200 or 300 transactions, but if it's £30 every time it starts to add up. The authorisation can take anything from a second to 10 seconds.

Paul Manktelow (PM): All contactless transactions used to be effectively offline, which means that they didn't need to go through to the issuer to obtain authorisation. That's since changed for most trade classes for which all contactless transactions are now online. This means you will see latency between tapping and the customer leaving that wasn't there previously. Do you think an integrated solution would solve those problems?


OR: A technical guy would say it does solve the problem, but it also creates more work, with another spreadsheet and another application. If I need to authorise invoices, I've got to go through a particular portal. If I need to do my payroll, I go through a different one. If I need to order cleaning materials, I go through a different one again. I've got 28 different portals that I need to use to keep things going. That's now turned into a job in its own right, to be honest. So I employ somebody to do that now.

Simone Moroni (SM): I agree, it's a huge problem. There are so many different platforms you need to update and it takes so much time going from one to another that you find managers are spending all their time in the office now. They don't spend time on the floor any more and they can't be hands-on. Take how complicated it is just to update the menu. Changing one item on the menu can be two hours' work. You need to log the new recipe, update the old menu, update the electronic point of sale, the online booking systems, the menus online…


Emma Underwood (EU): …and send out newsletters if there's a big change. It's hard. I don't have an office, so it's all done on my laptop, which I have open at the bar when I have a split shift. Is that because there isn't enough integration of the platforms speaking to each other?


For smaller businesses that turnover less than £30,000 a week and have a general manager with all that responsibility, I don't know how they do the job. Because of the amount of stuff that's been integrated, any small thing that goes wrong can screw you up.


Our research found that chip and pin was the most popular technology. Do you think that's because the spending limit on contactless is £30?

PM: In the UK, that's the case where the form factor is plastic. But there's effectively no limit with a digital form factor such as Apple Pay or Google Pay. The people sat around this table work in fast-paced environments where they probably see a lot of contactless transactions, but there was some surprise to learn you could actually do more than £30 on contactless through a phone. So maybe the education still hasn't been done very well in the market to make people aware. Wearables didn't even register on our research, with very few respondents saying they were paid that way.

Why do you think that is?

TE: They're still really quite niche. I met someone from Apple Pay about a year ago who said the main reason people don't use their phone to pay is that they don't trust it. If I get my Apple watch out, I instantly feel 10 times more sensitive, just in case it doesn't go through, because I'll look like the guy with all the gear and no idea. That is a genuine phenomenon.


How can technology enable operators to spend more time on customer service?PM: We're running a pilot with Prezzo at the moment on invisible payments. Amazon opened its first checkout-free grocery store to the public in January 2018 and we've taken that to the restaurant sector with a device called a Totem that sits in the middle of the table. Diners use an app on their phone to activate it on arrival so it knows they're there, their order goes onto the device, and at the end of the meal they tap their card on it and walk out. A colour-coded light display lets front of house staff know they've paid.

It's working really well at Prezzo, enabling the company to refocus on customer service rather than running around for the PDQ machine. I'm not saying it will set the restaurant sector alight, but it's another option for some restaurants to be able to offer.

OR: I'm still having huge difficulty working out what the upside of this is for the customer. When you go into a place to get a coffee, you don't want to have to download an app and work out where the coffee is and why you can't interact normally in a way they've got used to.

There's always pressure from technology people to push it away from what it's all about, which is us bringing over the coffee, saying good morning, making sure our customers have a nice time and taking their money.

EU: What I found interesting in the research was that people were more impatient when they wait for the bill, which is definitely true. The guests in my restaurant get efficient service, but I feel a lack of patience in the room regularly. I think that's because people are used to getting things so instantly.


TE: McDonald's has found a way for technology to put service back into hospitality with their ordering screens. I went with my family to McDonald's and my four-year-old son was able to press the buttons faster than me. I'd never seen it before, but we were offered table service. We sat down, they brought the food over and it was the most seamless, brilliant experience. And it cost £13.

What they've done is put the money they've saved on labour into customer service. That is where you should be thinking about technology as helpful. I went to a talk by the McDonald's chief technology officer a couple of months ago and he said the company processes 70 million transactions a day.

EU: I heard that customers using the touchscreens were spending on average 30% more, because people felt less shame ordering two cheeseburgers for themselves on a screen than they do to a real person.

How much as a business do you use social media?

Henry Ayers (HA): For us, it's mostly images and people that sell. It seems pretty pictures of coffee are great, but posting pictures of one person is better. We've got one guy in Borough Market, Abdullah, and he's the face of our Instagram. As soon as we put him on we get 500 likes. As soon as we started using Instagram our food sales increased massively. It's huge for us. But it has to come from the heart. The consumer is savvy enough to know when it's done by a PR company or done in-house.

PM: I've seen some social media platforms commercialised. You could have a picture of a coffee and if someone is in the vicinity they can click buy now and have that coffee delivered. Your US counterparts are using SnapChat and Instagram for payments. When someone hashtags a location, operators reply with the offer of a free beer to drive footfall.

When your customers share photos of your food and drink, what do you do in return to bring them back through the door?

OR: The zenith of what we're really trying to do in hospitality is to create emotional connections between us and our clients. The stronger those emotional connections are, the stronger your brand is going to be. If you can get people to really think about and love you while they're not there, you're really winning. If someone is going home and taking the time to edit and post their photo of your food or drink, it's a really important statement they're making.

As businesses we need to realise that. It's not a digital transaction, it's a very emotional, human and complicated thing. So you really want to find out, who is this person, why did they do that, when are they coming back, are they on my database, can we make sure they get a free latte or pint the next time they're in. It will send out the message to them - and others - that you're trying to foster that emotional connection.


EU: Social media provides an amazing way to build a community around what you're doing. Hospitality now doesn't start at the restaurant door.

SM: You need to be more impeccable than you used to be. Before the customer gets to you they've probably already been on the website, looked at the menu, checked your Instagram, your reviews… They know your signature dish, they know everything. So your front of house staff need to be prepared, because if they're not, the customer will know more than them.

And word of mouth is much quicker now. Before someone had to talk to other people to share the positive or negatives about their experience. Now they just take a picture and share it immediately. What challenges are you facing now, with or without technology?

EU: Maintaining the personalisation of the experience. At my last restaurant, which had only 10 tables, we would look up the public social media profiles of our guests. That meant we could provide more detail about the terroirs of a wine if a guest was in a wine society at university, for example.

So for me now, the most valuable thing is making sure we're still keeping that personal element of our service, such as our booking system showing photos of our faces and our messages to customers being personalised.

There's been a lot of talk about loyalty schemes, which honestly frightens me. The homogenisation of loyalty schemes is revolting. In my eyes, it would be more valuable for guests that I know they have visited us for the fifth time and to have their order remembered than to have a standardised glass of fizz thrown at them. We've still got to keep that human element to it.

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