The most advanced EPoS systems on the market are geared towards automating all customer interaction, reducing mistakes and speeding up service, but the key to success is not to forget the human touch, as Elly Earls reports
The bigger a part technology plays in our daily lives, the fewer of our experiences involve interaction with real life human beings. From online food shopping to planning, buying and checking in to fly off on our holidays, the holy grail is to make it through as much of a process as possible without human help.
Yet while technology is inevitably going to play a bigger and bigger part in the hospitality experience, with control of transactions increasingly shifting from the hands of the restaurant employee to the diner, the operators that will see the greatest benefits from the newest systems are those that use them alongside good old-fashioned human hospitality, rather than seeking to replace it.
Jerome Laredo, vice president EMEA at EPoS provider Lightspeed says: "The main question for business owners is simple: how can you make the customer journey even more memorable?"
TAKE IT TABLESIDE
Bringing technology to the table in the form of tablets - a trend that's fast taking hold in the hospitality sector - is a great example. As staff don't have to run back and forth from the table to the kitchen, orders are likely to be more accurate and reach the customer faster, allowing operators to turn more tables more quickly.
As the latest GO Technology report from Zonal and CGA found, 41% of diners say tablet orders enhance their overall experience, 54% believe it makes the ordering process quicker and 33% think their orders arrive faster. A further 35% say it improves accuracy as they see less room for error on technology than the traditional handwritten order pad.
Macdonald Hotels & Resorts' Berystede Hotel & Spa in Ascot, Berkshire, is a case in point. Before it installed Zonal's Aztec EPoS system, including mobile ordering through iPads, race days required runners to keep orders flowing from the outside seating area to the tills and kitchens, a process that was open to human error. Now, orders can be taken quickly at the table, which feeds into the EPoS, which in turn directly sends the order to the kitchen, helping staff take more orders, reducing mistakes and speeding up service.
Tableside tablet ordering is also something Sam Harrison is planning to implement at his soon to open concept Sam's Riverside, which will be linked to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London.
"We'll have a big outside terrace with 40 to 50 covers and we'll definitely use a tablet out there," he says. "Given the distance the waiter or waitress would have to travel, it makes sense from a pure efficiency standpoint. As we're hoping diners will come in for theatre menus, people will be on a time restriction, so
efficiency of service will be vital."
Key to the success of the system will be ensuring that technology doesn't replace human interaction. Indeed, the GO Technology report found that, of those who didn't believe tableside ordering enhanced their experience, 41% thought it impersonal or that servers with tablets don't interact as much as they would like.
As Zonal's sales and marketing director Clive Consterdine explains: "GO Technology supports the fact that it will never be a replacement for human interaction, but consumers do expect the benefits that mobile technology can deliver in terms of convenience, speed, accuracy and reward."
Adds Laredo: "The system should be easy to use, secure and customisable. This will ensure that your staff are fully trained, maintain good communication across teams and, more importantly, spend the majority of their time engaging with customers."
Placing control into the hands of the diner by allowing them to pay through their mobiles is another area that's seen significant growth over the last couple of years. In fact, in under two years, the number of consumers who use mobile devices to speed up payment has increased from 2.4 million to 3.1 million, according to GO Technology.
Alex Barrotti, chief executive and founder of iPad point of sale solution TouchBistro, believes that this is only set to increase. "People shopping or paying with mobile devices will become the preferred way to interact with hospitality and retailers," he predicts.
"Mobile apps will continue to become more sophisticated. The days of a closed point of sale running on proprietary hardware will be long gone. The norm will be open, connected apps that work in concert as the restaurant operating system."
For André Mannini, operations director at award-winning steak chain M Restaurants, that time can't come too soon. "There is a lot of demand for mobile payment, but in our industry we haven't fulfilled it - we're not quite there yet," he says. "In the rest of their lives, people pay seamlessly for shopping. We need to make changes to use technology as much as possible, to enhance the experience and make it more seamless, taking away all those unnecessary steps that could be handled in a much easier and quicker way and focusing on the guest experience and delivering hospitality."
ONE BUSINESS, ONE SYSTEM
Operators need to consider more than hardware when it comes to choosing an EPoS system.
"It's all about the integrations," Laredo advises. "Stock managements, payments,
accounting, ordering, deliveries. Find a system that can integrate with all areas of your restaurant to respond to the needs of your business."
Not only will this mean staff no longer have to re-key information into the till manually, saving time and reducing errors,but it's also the only way to make mobile ordering apps worth the investment.
"The ability to integrate app technology with EPoS is seen by many operators as vital. Stock availability, pricing, offers and order processing are all managed within the EPoS universe, and this information must be shared seamlessly with apps to make them operationally viable," Consterdine explains.
For Harrison, it's this ability for the newersystems to talk to each other that really sets them apart from what was available three years ago, when he was last running a restaurant "The ability to take payment at the table and for that to be linked directly into the EPoS is really brilliant," he says. "There is also clever software that enables staff to go into the EPoS system and check their hours or bring up information on a dish - how it's prepared, the allergen information, or which wines you can recommend guests to have with it.
"I'll always be an advocate of an old-fashioned briefing, but if people are starting shifts at different times, the ability to have all that information to hand is a real game-changer."
Through integrated technology, operators can also learn more about their customers, their behaviour and purchasing preferences, allowing them to target promotions to individual diners or groups of diners.
"Loyalty is no longer about getting a stamp on a loyalty card, it's about understanding the needs of your customers, engaging with them through their preferred methods of communication, at the right time, speaking their language, and offering personalised and relevant promotions that encourage them to keep coming back," Laredo says. "In such a competitive market, loyalty becomes even more important to the success of any business."
Plus, if integrations with stock, accounting, reservations, payroll and payment systems are combined with excellent reporting capabilities, managers can see exactly what's going on in all areas of their business, giving them the ability to make better business decisions on everything from rotas to purchasing.
Another big question operators need to ask is whether to go for a traditional system, which uses local servers, or a cloud-based system. For Laredo, although the benefits of cloud systems are not always initially obvious, they can be significant. "Servers cost a lot of money to purchase and can be hard to maintain. Plus, storing data in the cloud has the added benefit of being accessible no matter where you are, so you can stay connected to your business when you are off-site," he says.
In the event of downtime, operators can also sync data when the system is back up and running so nothing is lost. Plus, cloud systems run on subscription models, avoiding the upfront costs of installing a traditional system.
For Barrotti, the choice will depend on the system that's already in use. "If an operator is coming from a legacy solution, they should make sure the EPoS has integrated payments. If they are coming from an existing EPoS tablet, they would want a system that reuses the investment they already have in their hardware," he explains. "In either case, whatever they pick, they want it to be a hybrid solution with onsite resilience in case the internet is down. That will give them 100% uptime and reliability, while at the same time providing the convenience
of cloud reporting and management."
With cyber-crime a growing issue, it's also crucial to invest in a system that is robust and payment card industry compliant.
TALK THE TALK
While voice technology is still far from becoming commonplace in hospitality, it's a trend operators should keep in mind.
"Within the past year we have seen such items as Amazon's Echo, Google's Assistant, and Apple's Siri really gathering momentum," says Jonathan Lee, solutions business analyst at hospitality software provider Guestline.
"Customer-focused technologies must keep pace with all of these changes and adapt their systems to work with these new devices.
"It will not be too long before we can simply ask one of the devices to book a hotel room or order our food. We have to understand what our customers want and how they wish to interact with our business to ensure that we are investing in the right places."
Indeed, 22% of consumers believe voice-based ordering is likely to take off and become more commonplace, according to GO Technology.
"Operators can no longer ignore the role technology plays in the eating and drinking out experience," Consterdine concludes. "But it will be about serving up a perfect balance of customer service, interaction and technology."
Saving beans through waste control
Bar, café and restaurant group Loungers operates more than 130 venues nationwide under its Lounge and Cosy Club brands.
The biggest benefit the group has seen since implementing Zonal's integrated Aztec EPoS system is a reduction in food wastage that has added up to thousands of pounds a week.
Loungers uses Acquire, a purchasing management system that fully integrates
with Zonal's real-time stock information at the point of order. And although it was a painstaking process to input all the data into the system - from yield to recipes - the effort ultimately paid off.
"We quickly discovered that high-value ingredients such as steak were respected
and not wasted, but basics such as baked beans were costing us thousands of pounds in terms of waste," says central operations manager Alex Marsh. "We were literally throwing the equivalent of 500 tins of beans away each week, giving just a 60% yield."
Marsh pointed out the problem to the relevant teams, offered retraining and
redesigned the product sheets for every outlet, giving detailed instructions on how to manage waste through operational controls.
"At first the chefs were a little defensive, but when we highlighted the cumulative effect, they were taken aback," he recalls. "Now our baked beans - in fact, all our ingredients - are treated with the same care as our most expensive.
"And the results speak for themselves - we have seen a 0.6% improvement in actual GP across the group since the introduction of integrated food stocks, which is the equivalent of £60,000 in savings for every four-week period."
Lightspeed leads to rapid ordering
Country pub the Shepherd and Dog serves locally sourced produce and a wide range of local beers in a picturesque setting in Fulking, West Sussex.
And while its sprawling setting is undeniably an asset, staff used to find it difficult to maintain a constant presence as customers were hidden away in the many nooks and crannies spread across the gardens.
Since installing Lightspeed, waiters have been able to take orders via an iPad,
which are then sent back to the kitchen and bar in seconds, allowing them to spend more time canvassing the gardens, rather than running back and forth.
The system also allows them to take payment at the table which, as owner David Pearse explains, has directly affected revenue. "Lightspeed means that we can pay at the table, bills are instant and online, and food comes out faster, so I turn my tables quicker. This means I make more money."
Meanwhile, bar manager George Wilson has been most impressed with the system's reporting capabilities: "I can look there and then, at the pub or at home, to see what's not selling quickly and what's selling really quickly; it really helps me with my ordering," he explains.
"Revenue has doubled since we put in Lightspeed - it's been really, really
helpful," Pearse says.
Sponsor's comment: Lightspeed
We are now entering a time in the hospitality industry which is shaped by the use of technology in driving operations and providing a service that puts the
customer in the driving seat.
From social media and loyalty programmes to bookings, staff, menu and floorplan management - it's impossible these days to compete and stay
up-to-date on industry trends without technology.
Electronic point of sale (EPoS) technology is unquestionably the largest
obstacle to overcome for any pub. On the surface, it's costly, risky and unnecessary, but the direction of the industry suggests otherwise.
Restaurants typically require staff to think and work under pressure at an exceptionally fast pace to meet the modern customers' expectations.
EPoS technology enables staff to meet and surpass those expectations without burning out. It is proven to optimise staff productivity, organisational
efficiency and profits.