With app-wielding customers expecting hospitality to be as receptive to technology as every other service industry, operators need EPoS systems that can handle the growing multitude of customer-facing systems flexibly and efficiently. Elly Earls reports
The challenge for operators is to resist the temptation to jump on the latest bandwagon and focus instead on first building a holistic, digital approach that will ultimately offer a convenient and consistent brand experience, regardless of the channel the customer chooses to use to communicate with them.
Fortunately, thanks to the development of software platforms that enable the integration of back-end systems with a wide range of customer-facing applications, it's never been easier to do just that.
Daniel Rodgers, chief executive of self-service technology provider Qikserve, says: "Gone are the days of an operator exporting information from one system and moving it to another manually, and gone are the days when the operator needs to reconcile many different systems every day manually to confirm sales and orders. Today, platforms talk to platforms, providing the ability to implement and integrate new services and innovations seamlessly to deliver the best possible customer experience.
"Operators who focus first on underpinning the platforms and associated databases that power their business will drive the success of customer-facing channels like mobile apps."
The benefits of joined-up systems At the heart of any digital strategy is the business's electronic point of sale (EPoS) system.
The most advanced of these plug into both back-of-house databases and multiple customer touchpoints, bringing benefits that extend far beyond the short-term boost in sales you might get from rushing to introduce the latest flashy technology as a standalone solution.
As Mark Kuperman, chief operating officer of Revenue Management Solutions (RMS), explains: "If new technologies are not cohesive with existing systems, there will be a negative impact on consistency, service, operations and tracking the return on investment."
Already, this is very much the direction of travel for the hospitality industry, according to John Trueman, managing director of guest management software company Quadranet Systems. He says: "Operators want an integrated system across as much of their operations as they conceivably can, whether it's bookings coming in from websites, apps, Facebook and Twitter, integrated card
payments and contactless at the end of a meal, or customer loyalty retention and targeted promotions afterwards."
Behind the scenes, benefits range from a reduction in human error (disconnected payments systems don't need to be manually consolidated) to easier access to crucial business information. With modern cloud-based systems, reports are also available in real time, which helps to bolster operators' decision-making and future planning in areas such as stock and inventory, staff management and margin control.
"Without an integrated EPoS system that keeps the back office informed of front-of-house activity, a catering manager may only learn crucial information regarding business performance well after it has happened. This could put them at a competitive disadvantage, as the best businesses play to their successes quickly and correct their mistakes immediately," says Nigel Hyslop, president and UK managing director of Global Payments.
Even more beneficial, according to Newbridge Software director Deri Green, is the ability of integrated systems to capture important customer data at every point of purchase - from fixed terminals to mobile apps.
"This then forms a huge part of repeat marketing, whether via email, mailshot, social media or traditional press," Green explains. "If you can segment your data by age, gender, topic, booking platform - the list goes on - your campaigns become more targeted and your conversion rates can grow."
This is becoming even more important with the rise of delivery aggregators such as Just Eat. While an aggregator can generate more business for a restaurant, it's often the aggregator's brand that gains greater customer awareness. In this situation, the challenge for restaurants is how to win the customer back, says Richard Goodall, vice-president for hospitality EMEA at consumer transaction technology company NCR. "Digital engagement and differentiation for direct customers are key," he says. "That's specific promotions, loyalty and experiences that you don't get through coming via an aggregator."
Nor can an aggregator build the level of trust required of customers, says Olivia FitzGerald, managing director of marketing technologies at Zonal Retail Data Systems. "Trust is a big consideration for consumers, who are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to sharing data. Almost a quarter of 18- to 34-year-olds cite lack of trust as their biggest barrier to engaging with a brand, but where trust is gained, 72% are ready to engage with and share their data in return for instant offers."
But in the end it comes down to ease of use for both customers and guests, says Jerome Laredo, vice-president for EMEA and Asia at EPoS and e-commerce company Lightspeed.
"The most important aspect of any digital strategy is that all pieces work together to make your life easier and improve the experience for your customers. Operators should always think of their business as one complete enterprise, and that's also how your customer should see it. Every touchpoint, whether it be an app, an ordering kiosk or an email, is a way for you to make an impression on your guests, give them something and get something in return."
Questions to ask
The key question operators need to ask of any potential EPoS partner is whether they have open APIs - publicly available application programming interfaces. APIs are the sets of requirements that govern how applications can communicate and interact with others; they are the glue that connect software together and allow emerging technologies to be bolted onto existing IT platforms without costly entire system upgrades.
Goodall stresses: "Being able to easily and cost-effectively add on new technologies and customer touchpoints as they become mainstream is extremely important. Consumer uptake of new channels is becoming faster than ever before, and they expect the restaurants they visit to be early adopters too."
Kevin Greene, international product manager at EPoS provider CBE, warns that it is crucial to remember that technological advances within the sector are moving at a pace that is almost impossible to match. He says: "In the time it takes an operator to adopt a new solution, there is already an update in motion or new entrants to the market. To remain a step ahead, operators should look to work on a collective, open platform with a point of sale partner that is willing to adapt to change, adopt new technologies and ultimately grow with your business as times inevitably change."
Questions also need to be asked of any new technology you are thinking of trying to integrate with your EPoS system, according to Kuperman. Will the technology company provider support during and after roll-out? What is the ultimate return on your investment?
Greene says: "It is important for operators to understand whether the technology provider has worked with their EPoS system previously and has experience in implementing their solution for other operators in the hospitality industry. If possible, the technologies should be piloted first to determine if the customer is receptive, that the front and back-of-house teams can understand and maintain it, and finally that the operator is able to track the resulting sales correctly."
Wi-Q's cloud-based mobile ordering system is one solution that's had great feedback from operators in this regard, according to the company's managing director Graham Cornhill.
"Operators are looking to the future, and are excited about the possibilities of cloud-based applications," he says. "The ease of integration and the scalability of our solution enables them to futureproof their business model as technology and consumer behaviour evolves."
The future is integrated
Although many leading hospitality tech providers already integrate with each other's software and bolting new technologies onto existing EPoS systems has never been easier, the future could see this process become even more straightforward. That's the view of Tom Weaver, chief executive at mobile payment app Flypay, which is in the process of establishing Flyt, a platform designed to link technologies from different players.
The early stages of Flyt are to consolidate and simplify how different tech players can talk to a restaurant through its EPoS and other integrations. But Flypay is also working to ensure that offers, loyalty, vouchers, bookings, in-store payments and other parts of the customer journey can link up and communicate key bits of information, even when those solutions are powered by different providers.
Managing this integration and configuration is like laying digital railway tracks to the operator, says Weaver. "There are various types of trains that can run over the rails, for example, to deliver new orders directly into the PoS. We have been collaborating with delivery and ordering companies to enable this, removing the need to rely on tablets. Other trains want to extract data from the PoS for use in other areas of the business, such as table management systems, insight and analytic tools, CRM and a number of apps and consumer-facing services.
"Rather than all parties carrying out the same integrations, company by company, which slows down the provider and the tech company, this can be achieved through one platform to speed up the process. Already the major PoS systems are starting to work with us to pre-install Flyt across their estates to make it even more frictionless for operators to tap into new integrated services."
From augmented reality to new types of devices, messaging bots and voice assistants, new technologies will undoubtedly keep on capturing customers' imaginations. The question operators need to ask is: is the system underpinning their business flexible enough to adapt as quickly as it will inevitably need to?
How to choose an EPoS partner for your business
Kevin Greene, international product manager at EPoS provider CBE, sets out five factors to consider when choosing an EPoS partner
Ensure the EPoS platform is scalable to grow with your business
Customer needs will naturally change, which means that an operator's business requirements will need to evolve in line with them. The chosen EPoS system must be scalable, not only to meet today's requirements but also to adapt to possible future trends.
Select a modular platform so you can choose the parts you need
A one-size-fits-all approach is not the best solution for an operator. An EPoS system should let you choose the modules you require and ignore the ones you don't. This flexibility ensures that the EPoS solution is suitable for the specific needs of the business.
Beware of the headline grabbers
When it comes to the choice of an EPoS partner, it is crucial that operators select one that has a history of proven systems integration and is not just a headline grabber - like some that promote their integration capability but have only delivered on one or two concepts.
Don't ignore the basics
While integration is the key to success, operators must not ignore the fundamentals when selecting a new EPoS system. A system that has evolved over many years will have all the fundamentals required for the complex hospitality sector, plus the ability to add innovations if required.
Look for industry experience
You should partner with a company that has experience in the industry and therefore understands the needs of your business and your customers. Using the expertise of your EPoS provider to maximise the effectiveness of the system could prove hugely beneficial.
Chai lattes and croissants without the queue
For Mel Taylor, chief executive of cloud-based point of sale provider Omnico, one of the biggest benefits of advanced omnichannel EPoS software is that it is able to recognise the customer wherever they are and whichever technology they are using to make contact.
"It means that restaurant managers are always able to react immediately, taking and preparing advanced orders and reserving tables where required," Taylor says. "Customers can then enjoy their meal or pick up their order without queueing, in a hassle-free, enjoyable experience that includes cashless payment and instant visible loyalty reward updates. Wherever they are, customers receive the same high level of service and personalisation."
Taylor cites Harris + Hoole as a good example of omnichannel EPoS implementation. The coffee house company has pioneered the use of technology that recognises customers and their usual order by connecting the mobile app with its CRM, payment and PoS. "The payment app (which the customer has already downloaded) triggers the display of a photograph on the PoS terminal informing the barista of the usual order and confirming to the cashier who the customer is," Taylor explains.
"If it is only the favourite drink that is required, then the amount is deducted from the app. If the customer wants something different, the technology joins everything up and lets the PoS add items without hassle. Customers can also enable automatic topups, using their existing payment cards. Using a well- designed app backed by advanced omnichannel software, customers can enjoy their visit without the delays or points of friction that can bedevil any visit to a coffee shop."
For Taylor, the days of ripout- and-replace have long gone. "The most effective solutions plug into existing databases, kitchen management and customer engagement technologies, enabling full functionality while interacting with a single transaction and engagement engine," he says. "Cloud-based solutions let operators easily scale up and down according to requirements, coping with sudden fluctuations without problem, vastly increasing efficiency. Deployments are up and running in weeks, with a reassuringly quick return on the investment."
Flyt gives M&B mobile payments a lift Since it announced a partnership with Flypay's Flyt platform in May, Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has been rolling out frictionless payments across its estate of 1,700 pubs, bars and restaurants. The partnership has enabled M&B to access a range of solutions, including Flypay's Pay at Table and Bar Tabs technologies. In several M&B brands, guests will also be able to redeem Eagle Eye vouchers directly from their phones without physically going to the bar, thanks to Flyt's APIs. All technologies are fully integrated with the Zonal Aztec EPoS system and together create a frictionless and waiterless payment process, giving front-of-house teams the chance to spend more time being attentive to customers. M&B has now become the biggest single operator of mobile payments in the UK after Starbucks and Domino's.
Chris Hopkins, M&B's commercial and marketing director, says: "Digital innovation opens up many possibilities to enhance the customer experience and improve the efficiency of our operations. The Flyt platform offers a breadth of services and, crucially, provides real flexibility for each of our brands across our estate."