From online check-in to table reservations, mobile ordering solutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated and popular. Elly Earls reports
There's no doubt that mobile is starting to play a much bigger role in hospitality. According to a survey by mobile ordering solution provider Wi-Q and The Caterer, 92% of hotels see mobile technology playing a role in their business in the future, with multi-language options, upselling capability and allergy- specific menus all scoring high in what hoteliers are looking to technology to provide.
Peter Agel, global market segment manager at Oracle Hospitality, has seen a similar trend. "There is an increasing willingness to allow mobile devices to become the centre point of guest interaction, in particular during certain parts of the guest journey (searching, booking, rating and sharing)," he notes.
"And we also see that hospitality customers are adapting guest interaction during the hotel stay or for their restaurants to allow interaction with guest mobile devices (online check-in/out, searching things nearby, online ordering and table reservations)."
Guest expectations are only going to get higher. Not only are customers increasingly looking for solutions that are quick and easy, they're also getting sick of apps clogging up their smartphones. As Patience Tagborlo, head of partnership solutions at Wi-Q, which offers cloud-based mobile ordering solutions that can be used on any device, explains: "Customers don't want to wait to order and pay, so they absolutely want to use a solution that makes the process quick and simple. They also don't want to download and update a different app at every venue they visit. Wi-Q's HTML5 technology overcomes these limitations."
David Taylor, chief commercial officer at GLH Hotels, agrees that customers are much less impressed by apps now than they were in the early days of smartphones. "Back then, everybody everywhere wanted to download as many apps as they could because it was novel, but today people are much more ambivalent about apps because of what I call 'app clog', where you have so many apps on your phone that you end up running out of memory."
Guests also want to be treated as individuals, says Agel. "Increasingly, they expect no standard offerings, no standard distribution channels, but interaction recognising their location, time, expectation, context and so on, so that the offering becomes unique, personalised and differentiated," he says.
And while hotels are not yet able to offer all of this in a coherent way, Alastair Campbell, former customer markets and strategy director at GLH Hotels, thinks it won't be long before they'll have to. "As soon as it comes in, people will find it hard to remember when they didn't have it," he predicts.
When it comes to F&B, the ultimate solution for hotels would be to pull all related revenue streams together into one mobile-enabled online ordering solution, something that up until now hasn't been possible.
"Hoteliers haven't had much choice up until now and have been limited either by the technology available or the prohibitive development costs," notes Tagborlo.
Indeed, at London's Eccleston Square hotel, which has a comprehensive app - enabling guests to order room service, request housekeeping and discover the surrounding neighbourhood - it's simply too expensive to integrate the F&B ordering solution with the hotel's other systems. And it certainly isn't alone. "Guest recognition in hotels is still a challenge in many hotel properties as property management systems and restaurant point of sale systems are not connected," notes Agel.
Yet, it's a problem that's being recognised by hoteliers, many of whom are only too aware of the benefits of an integrated ordering system. "It would make the assembly and gathering of data much easier and make everything much more transparent," says Taylor. "My view is that any hotel is going to be interested in a solution that allows them to pull everything together through one system, see very transparently what is happening in their business and what they need to deliver in future to give that stunning guest satisfaction."
Agel adds: "Pulling together more F&B revenue streams (mini bar, hotel bar, hotel restaurant) will help the hotelier provide a more unified guest experience, increase revenue and integrate F&B processes with hotel operations," he says.
Tagborlo adds that she has been surprised at how reticent hospitality businesses have been to invest in this sort of technology up until now. "It's interesting that the industry still sees technology as a capital expense when it's potentially the biggest revenue booster hospitality has ever had access to," she says.
Wi-Q hopes to change the paradigm. "In January 2017 we will be launching a product that has been developed specifically for the hotel industry," says Tagborlo. "It's a world-first cloud technology solution that will enable any size hotel to exceed customer demand, integrate departments and access new revenue streams."
Among these will be room service, which, when digitised, offers big benefits to both operators and guests. From the guest perspective, it meets expectations, as the customers of today are used to ordering online while at home, and is quicker and more accurate than a phone-based system. "A digital solution allows customers to order whenever they like without having to rely on busy staff to pick up the phone," explains Jacyn Heavens, founder and chief executive of POS company Epos Now. "Additionally, you can keep your guest informed about the progress of the order."
Meanwhile, the operational benefits are immense in adding upsell and revenue streams, automating processes and building valuable consumer data. "Plus, we know that when consumers have access to easy ordering and payment facilities, they are likely to order more and more often," Tagborlo adds.
Yet, there are things that need to be got right. "In-room is a very particular service in that guests are essentially ordering from their bedroom so the transaction needs to be a personal experience," Tagborlo says. "Overcoming barriers by allowing customers to choose their language at the start of the transaction is key, and understanding their particular needs, especially with allergy concerns, shows that you want to create an experience unique to them. Overall, by removing human error and engagement barriers, the right technology can enable the perfect guest experience."
That said, Taylor believes it shouldn't be the only option for guests. "It's our responsibility to give the best available choice to guests and it's my view that rather than trying to force your audience to adopt a technology in a certain way, we should provide people with a free flow choice. If someone is comfortable ordering room service via telephone, great, and if they prefer to do it on mobile, fantastic. We should be able to do both," he stresses.
The future's integrated
Although the majority of operators know they can work without integration between systems, as they haven't had much choice until now, integration will be critical moving forward, not only to provide the joined-up experience that guests are increasingly going to expect, but also to enable business evolution.
"Self-service ordering and payment needs to be integrated fully into hotels' existing point-of-sale systems to guarantee the best guest experience," says Dan Rodgers, chief executive of QikServe.
"In addition, by ensuring that management systems, point-of-sale, loyalty and self-service channel platforms are integrated, customers are able to experience a complete end-to-end journey, whereby they can tailor their own hotel experience through whatever channel they want to use at the time they want to use it."
QikServe offers an app called the Waiter in your Pocket, which allows customers to order and pay directly from their phone and can be integrated seamlessly into existing apps and back office systems.
"For example, a customer might want to book a table at the hotel restaurant on their laptop, pre-order their meal via mobile closer to the time of visit, add items to their meal during dinner, and finally receive a mobile spa voucher as a reward for their loyalty after their stay," adds Rodgers.
Taylor also thinks hoteliers will place much more emphasis on integration moving forward. "Our levels of tolerance for putting up with things that aren't right are getting ever lower these days, and this is creating quite an exciting phase for the hospitality industry because it gives us so many more options than we've been able to enjoy in the past," he says.
"These options make businesses more efficient, significantly enhance the customer experience and open up the communication between our guests and ourselves. If we can get a single picture, it makes the whole thing so much more manageable and understandable."
We need a room service revolution
By Dan Rodgers, chief executive, QikServe
Room service revenues have dropped in recent years, prompting some hotels to ditch the service altogether. But diamond-rated hotels don't have the option to scrap it, so they need to listen to their millennial market and let smartphones drive a room service revolution.
As the fastest-growing travel segment, millennials and the generations to follow them are more technologically oriented, more connected and less tolerant of brands that don't enable them to socialise, make plans, transact and share their experiences.
So the millennials' coming of spending age couldn't have happened at a better time for hotels that are keen to keep their sparkle. Room service doesn't need to be a terminal case. Instead of depriving guests of this once beloved service, hotels can give it a 21st century facelift and make it profitable once again.
There is a large, affluent demographic hungry for mobile interaction and expecting lightning fast service and convenience, meaning a digital dining experience is ripe for the picking.
In-room ordering provides accessible options
Although global hotel company GLH Hotels has seen huge growth in mobile bookings for accommodation over recent years, it hasn't yet seen guests fully embrace their smartphones within the hotel environment.
"Usually if they want anything from us in terms of engagement, they'll ask," chief commercial officer David Taylor says. This is despite the fact the group has developed advanced apps, such as the one available at Amba Hotel Charing Cross.
It allows guests to 'discover London', check out the hotel's meetings and events offerings, look up weather and flight information, browse the in-room dining options and review the hotel's restaurants and bars.
"Typically, when you check in, you can link through a sign-in process to the app, so that when you're in your room, you can go into the in-room dining menu on the app and order food," Taylor explains. "That will then go through the hotel system and to the kitchen, the food will be prepared and delivered to your room and it automatically gets charged to your account."
Initially, the team had expected millennials in particular to embrace the option to order food via their smartphones. "We thought it would become second nature," Taylor says. "In some cases it has, but in most cases, not yet."
That said, Taylor does think in-room ordering will take off and become commonplace in the months and years to come. "Technology is part of the present and the future; people just get used to it and see it as an easy and accessible option," he notes.
"Currently, we're just going through the early stages of exploration and learning, but once it becomes the norm, it will be readily adopted by most."
That's why GLH Hotels will continue to keep up with technology trends. "If you're with the programme, you've got a chance to be part of the future; if you're not, you don't," Taylor concludes.
Sponsor's comment: Wi-Q
By Patience Tagborlo, head of partnership solutions, Wi-Q
There is no doubt that technology, in particular app technology, has transformed the customer experience in F&B over the last five years - but what about the next five years?
Two years ago, Wi-Q predicted that apps wouldn't deliver what consumers would demand, and we're already starting to see a shift. A Kantar/ITR survey showed a global app uninstall rate of 38% in the first day and 89% over 12 months. Why? Complex registration processes, battery consumption, freezing and just pure app overload. From a venue's point of view, capital costs in implementing an app can be huge, updates can be costly and resource-heavy and integration opportunities are limited.
In five years' time, consumers will expect their mobile ordering and payment experience to be as simple as connecting to Wi-Fi. They'll expect the technology to come to them as soon as they arrive at a venue, and provide a seamless, user-centric experience. Those expectations will include language, dietary and allergy-specific menus, bill-splitting and a choice of payment options. Expectations from the hospitality industry are growing too, with venues asking for all of the above for their guests and technology that will integrate and evolve with their business.
It's our belief that only an HTML solution can shape around the industry, easily evolve with customer demand, seamlessly integrate and deliver as a SaaS model without large cap-ex costs.