Smartphone apps, whether used to order drinks or keep track of a table reservation, are giving the power back to the customer, as well as giving operators a valuable glimpse into their likes and dislikes. Elly Earls rounds up the latest offerings
In recent months there's been an explosion of apps allowing customers to order and pay for drinks and food with their smartphone, thereby eliminating queues and increasing ordering efficiency. And these systems aren't only going down a treat with today's tech-savvy customers - operators are now able to increase average order values and get a valuable glimpse into their punters' buying habits.
According to Dan Rodgers, founder of mobile technology provider Qikserve, hospitality businesses that don't adopt these technologies are going to be left behind. "The mobile transaction/wallets space is estimated to be worth around $1.7tn by 2020 and mobile transactions are growing at a phenomenal rate. Those not thinking about it now will become the HMVs and Blockbusters of the future," he says.
Eliminating queues can both improve the customer experience and increase staff efficiencies, says Dennis Collet, chief executive of online ordering app Orderella. "If customers order via their smartphone they can spend more time with their friends, which in turn gives them a more positive impression of the establishment and makes them more likely to return," he says. "Furthermore, Orderella speeds up transaction time by approximately 90 seconds compared with a card transaction, enabling staff to serve even more customers."
Q App chief executive Serge Taborin adds: "Many orders can be completed without the need to invest in staff or equipment and, in some contexts, apps like ours can mean the difference between a customer placing â¨an order or choosing not to as they don't â¨wish to queue."
Easy ordering Operators have also found that the use of pre-order apps has increased many customers' average spend as they are much more likely to explore the whole menu when at their table than while waiting in a queue.
"The platform allows us to showcase the entire menu to our customers, which is difficult to do at busy times," says Ed Martin, â¨co-owner of pub and restaurant operator ETM Group and an investor in Q App. "This also has the benefit of enabling us to create customised promotions and drive average order value."
Similarly, Qikserve has found that at bars, stadia and events, operators have seen increases of around 50% in average transaction value over traditional ordering methods, while electronic point of sale provider TISSL, which also offers ordering and paymentâ¨by smartphone app, has found that roughly 20% of app orders contain an additional â¨beverage and an additional dessert. "This is largely because when a customer is contemplating a second drink, if waiting staff are not nearby, the moment often just passes," explains Stuart Coetzee, business development manager at TISSL.
The extra orders these apps encourage mean that the money spent on the app can â¨easily be made back. Indeed, for Coetzee,â¨a rule of thumb is that if you can sell an additional cappuccino per service, you'll be making enough to cover the cost of the app.
And many operators have seen far bigger returns. "The feedback we've received from our operators so far has been incredibly positive, with many seeing excellent results through the app. At one of our trial events, the total takings over a four-hour period were up 60%," says Collet. Orderella charges operators 3.3% of the total order amount.
Moreover, the upheaval operators have to go through to implement these systems tendsâ¨to be minimal: depending on the app developer, apps can either be integrated into existing point of sale systems and merchant services or venues are provided with tablets through which orders can be processed.
Martin adds: "One of the key reasons we selected Q App was that it did not require any changes to our existing infrastructure. â¨The system works alongside our existing tills and our staff can use it with ease."
Targeted marketing Less directly, online ordering apps allow businesses to capture previously hard-to-get data on customers' buying habits, which they can use to send them targeted marketing. For Mika-John Southworth, marketing director of UK technology firm Preoday and developer â¨of 'my order app', this is arguably the most valuable thing a pre-order app can offer.
"The app's strengths vary across the sectors. In theatres, it is the app's potential to offer cross-sells that makes it appealing, whileâ¨stadiums are more interested in the app's â¨ability to enable quicker queuing, and for restaurants and cafés the ability to build loyalty is key. And the one feature that is key across â¨segments is the ability for businesses to get â¨to know their customers better."
Martin agrees. "Q App provides us with a seamless method of gaining valuable insights into our customers' purchasing habits, which feeds into our wider marketing activities."
Interestingly, one of the other selling points app developers mention is that these systems can actually increase the amount of face-to-face interaction between staff and their â¨non-smartphone-using customers.
"Apps save a huge amount of staff time as ordering, payment and data entry are in the hands of the customer," Coetzee says. "This means that staff on the floor can spend more time enhancing the experience of those â¨customers who prefer traditional service."
Indeed, while apps may be the 'in thing' for many, it's important for operators to remember that not everyone will be comfortable using a smartphone to order and pay.
"Some customers still don't trust technology and some will always prefer to make their orders directly with the bar staff," says Martin. "We have always seen Q App as being complementary to our traditional operations andâ¨it offers another option to those customers who are comfortable using it."
At Southbank Centre, which also uses Q App, membership manager Paul O'Sullivan agrees. "Some of our visitors will always prefer to speak to a real person, while others are quite happy to make their orders remotely and save time. We will continue to offer both facilities."
For Brigid Simmons, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, it's also essential to ensure that there is at least some face-to-face interaction, even with those using the apps. "This is important so bar staff can consider any underage issues or the sobriety of customers," she says.
"While these apps will have a place, taking a trip to the bar, seeing what's on offer and â¨having face-to-face contact with bar staff isâ¨all part of the British pub experience and â¨will remain so."
But for how long? According to Ben Levick, director of operations at managed pub and bar group TCG, which introduced the Qikserve self-service ordering system in Februaryâ¨at Henry's Café Bar in Covent Garden in â¨London, the short-term benefits of the pre-order system are only the tip of the iceberg. "We see it as a long-term investment in understanding the way technology is changing â¨customer behaviour," he says.
"While we've seen an improvement in â¨service at the very busiest times, mobile payment is potentially a game changer for the â¨hospitality sector and we are focused on that longer-term perspective."
MY ORDER APP: HERE'S ONE I MADE EARLIER
UK technology firm Preoday's online service allows businesses to create a 'my order app' in half an hour, which can then be sold on the App Store or Google Play. For operators who want to be in complete control of their mobile ordering system, it's ideal. "They can set it up, brand it and update it all by themselves. In fact, they can make their business mobile in less than 30 minutes," says the company's marketing director Mika-John Southworth.
"We do not charge either the customer or the venue for placing or receiving orders on the app - after all, you don't pay to receive orders on the phone." For Southworth, the benefits for hospitality businesses are clear. "Improving customer experience is paramount for any hospitality business, so offering customers a way to order that means no queuing, no cash handling and no hassle is an obvious solution," he says.
"The app also provides exciting new opportunities for increased revenue, with options for crossselling, up-selling and loyalty schemes. It also provides information on customers, allowing them to improve relationships and create bespoke services and offers."
MOBILE WAITING LISTS: WHY WAIT?
Online waiting list app WhyQ, developed by industry veterans Mike Pearson and Amit Joshi, aims to save time, expense and hassle for restaurant operators. But for Jack Ross, the owner of the Pig & Butcher in London, Why Q's pilot site, it's done much more than that.
"It's revolutionised the way I deal with my walk-in customers and they love it," he says.
"I can't imagine being without WhyQ now - it's an integral part of how the Pig & Butcher does business."
According to Pearson, the benefits of WhyQ are threefold: "First, the app allows restaurants to capture every step of the waiting process, giving the operators access to performance data and customer data pertaining to their walk-in customers, which has traditionally been expensive and difficult to track."
Second, the customer experience is improved. "WhyQ allows customers to wait for their table in comfort - either in the restaurant's bar or elsewhere - and a confirmation text gives them confidence that their position in the waiting list is secure."
Finally, WhyQ simplifies the job of the restaurant host, allowing them to concentrate on each customer individually as they approach. "Once a customer's table is almost ready, a simple one-touch notification sends a text and in-app message to the customer, asking them to come back to their table."
Ross says he finds it liberating to wander round the bar area with his tablet, meeting customers and managing the waiting list on the go. He's also seen a huge growth in Twitter followers since using WhyQ as the venue's Twitter handle is included on every customer text.
"Our customers are happier, our social media following is growing, as is our revenue," he says.
CATERER DIGITAL SUMMIT: MAKING SENSE OF MOBILE APPS
Mobile apps will play a major part in the agenda at our Digital Summit, which will take place at the Grange St Paul's hotel in London on 12 May.
Gerry Samuels, founder and CEO at Mobile Travel Technologies, will explore how hospitality can harness mobile technology and what operators should be doing to attract guests.
Operators who have implemented payment and booking apps, including pubco Drake and Morgan and a leading hotelier, will share their practical tips on implementing the apps and explain what effect they've had on the guest experience and the bottom line.
Other topics to be discussed include:
•Journalist and technology expert Paul Mason will discuss advances in the hospitality industry in his keynote speech, with insights driven by his experience in economics and technological background.
•Google will explain how best to market your business online.
•Our expert panel will explore what is expected of modern hotel rooms and consider what the hotel room of the future might look like.
•Operators and revenue management experts explain best practice in pricing and dealing with online travel agents.
For full speaker details, and to book your place, visit www.catererdigitalsummit.com