Welcome to The Caterer's guide to the hospitality technology that will help drive your business into 2021.
James Stagg, editor, The Caterer
It has been a year in which technology has played a vital part in allowing hospitality operations to continue to trade, and may even have been a turning point for some.
Few of us would have booked a pub table through a mobile before this year, but now everything from purchasing pints to checking shifts is facilitated by technology. Technological solutions will be at the forefront of the industry's recovery as hoteliers search for the right price to tempt in trade and the industry looks to software to solve staffing issues, food safety and traceability, and enable diversification into areas such as online retail and takeaway.
With that in mind, this guide details the solutions, be they in people engagement, payment or revenue management, that are likely to make the most impact on productivity and profitability.
Staffing has come into ever-sharper focus as the industry attempts to engage a workforce that has been furloughed and is operating on extremely tight rotas. We unpick how to remain competitive and attractive to the best talent through improved processes and systems, and how it's possible to create a better working environment with smart scheduling and digital engagement.
We explore the payment and EPoS systems that allow guests to book, order and pay through their mobiles, and analyse the technology that enables operators to diversify. And we examine the systems with the capacity to feed into marketing and loyalty programmes, as well as facilitating click and collect to expand your business beyond bricks and mortar.
Meanwhile, in terms of pricing, hoteliers have had to throw everything they knew about booking and rates out of the window this year, making revenue management an essential piece of kit when taking on the online travel agents.
Through insight, opinions, case studies and supplier showcases, we cover all the elements of an enterprise. Consider this your comprehensive guide to technology for the year ahead.
Jane Pendlebury, chief executive, Hospa
The furlough was a life saver for most hospitality businesses across the UK. Without the funding from the government, the face of hospitality in this country would be entirely different.
Initially, the tech team might have believed this was the perfect opportunity to complete unfinished projects and to write how-to guides, but no. It quickly became a demanding time for those non-furloughed workers. Often they operated with a reduced team and an increased workload. Strategy papers were screwed up and thrown away.
It was time for a clean sheet. Systems still had to run, websites were still live, building management systems were crucial and day-to-day operational software solutions had to be managed. In many establishments there were no kitchen staff to monitor temperatures of freezers, no room attendants to check in-room technology, and no office staff to run daily routines.
On top of that, there were staff galore working remotely for the first time with no technology to access servers. Laptops were purchased, configured and dispatched. Old laptops were reconfigured, and others limped on with ancient technology.
Plus, of course, the operations team were still using software solutions daily to manage communications, to issue refunds, and to support trade from key workers and new enterprises. Systems to manage pop-up coffee shops, takeaways, home delivery – all potentially required new technology.
The sale of gift vouchers, incentives and other initiatives generating much-needed income were introduced – and again, IT were called upon to manage it. Property management systems and points of sale had to be adapted, and finance departments continued to run payroll, pay invoices and negotiate with suppliers. IT had to support these functions.
In addition, IT directors had to consider the new guest expectations. Would it still be acceptable to have a TV remote control and a guest directory in the bedroom? What about telephone handsets, coffee machines and other gadgets? How would room attendants let the front desk know a room was ready without using the freshly sanitised phone?
How would keys be distributed to guests? Could the food menus be used? How would diners place their orders and pay their bills? What tools could be used to monitor the temperature of guests and staff? How could businesses maintain guest engagement with such reduced contact?
The hospitality industry was delighted with the government support, and Eat Out to Help Out and the VAT reduction were warmly welcomed. But yes, you've guessed it, they were a demand on our tireless technology experts. And the industry continues to hope for more recognition to help with the devastating impact of social distancing, controls on group sizes, next to no demand for meetings and events, and handfuls rather than plane-loads of business travellers. Each lifeline is grasped and welcomed by everyone, while the IT team diligently deliver the tech to support new business models.
And that is just skimming the surface. I can hear people shouting at me already! What about ever-changing goal posts, local influences versus national directives? What about delivering all of this with reduced budgets? The list is never-ending, and the ever-present demands on the IT teams to document processes, highlight potential savings and develop new solutions didn't disappear.
We must also not forget that many in IT were not lucky enough to keep their jobs, adding to the workload of those left holding the fort. Still the pressure is on. Reduce costs! Increase margins! Reimagine the offering! Be creative! Don't spend any money! Technology is essential and will need to be resourced appropriately.
Hospitality's heads of technology have seen their roles change in recent years, mostly for the better. Recognition of their contribution to the smooth running of operations and commercial advantage is not new. However, now – more than ever – may be the time to take a moment to value their positive influence on the overall success of our businesses.