The big F&B businesses want their Epos systems to enable mobile ordering and payment, while smaller players are more interested in reliable support. But for operators at every level, integration, flexibility and a strong roadmap for the future are the priorities, as Elly Earls explains
Physical tills may be unlikely to be scrapped in favour of virtual technologies any time soon, but what the software that controls the till absolutely must have is the ability to run on a web-based platform. Clunky legacy systems are accordingly on their way out, and any investment in a new electronic point of sale (Epos) system will probably be looking to the cloud.
"Cloud-based operations are easier to set up, easier to monitor and easier for the operator to use," says Deri Green, director of Newbridge Software. "Even some historic software platforms have now had big upgrades to make them cleaner and easier to use.
And operators aren't asking just for more flexibility in monitoring business performance. With various forms of cashless payment gaining ground and consumers demanding ever more convenience and control, Epos systems also need to be able to support a growing array of payment methods and offer a variety of till options for processing them.
One area that has really started to take off is the use of tablets and smartphones as hand-held POS systems to speed up customer service by reducing queue times. "The tendency even within QSR [quick-service restaurant] environments is to go to consumers as opposed to waiting until they're there. Speed is of the essence," says Daniel Spinath, founder and managing director of crÁªpe franchise chain CrÁªpeaffaire. "We want to get to them with a tablet as opposed to a legacy system that sits static on the counter."
Self-service is also in the ascendancy, according to Omnico chief executive Mel Taylor. "Until very recently the innovation in point-of-sale technology was all about relationships between businesses, but now we are moving to focusing on direct engagement with customers, enabling them to interact directly with the brand through a simple, attractive app or kiosk [a terminal that provides public internet access]," he explains. "Self-service is what caterers must embrace - handing back control to the customer through technology that ensures their experience is easier than ever."
Know your customer through mobile
Mobile ordering and payment apps, in particular, have become incredibly popular with customers over the past year, leading to impressive growth in sales for businesses that have integrated them with their Epossystems. In some cases, order and pay apps are accounting for a double-digit percentage of sales within a few months. Even in the small, independent sector, Green has seen mobile trickling - albeit not hammering - through.
Overall, according to research carried out by Zonal and CGA, pre-order is now mainstream, with 40% of 25- to 34-year-olds preferring to order via smartphone and have items brought to their table. Crucially for operators, 67% of the age group say they would spend more if they could order from their mobile device.
Recent research by Omnico has shown that F&B businesses are responding accordingly. For example, 48% see that allowing customers to pay via a mobile app or iPad improves efficiency. Its research also found that operators view engagement through a mobile app as the key method of boosting revenues by 10%-20%.
Indeed, the benefits of embracing mobile extend far beyond reducing queue times. Shifting to a mobile-first approach can reduce waste by giving operators more accurate predictions of demand (because customers start using apps for advance ordering), and enhance loyalty as the customer data gathered by these technologies can allow businesses to engage more effectively with their clientele and offer personalised promotions and rewards.
Zonal marketing director Clive Consterdine says: "If a customer has downloaded the app and they order and pay through it, you know who they are and can therefore ask them questions about their experience and send something to them as an offer or a thank you. If somebody walks into your outlet and isn't a member of a loyalty scheme or doesn't book a table, you don't have any method of collecting data about them.
"When big groups are looking to make a technology change now, they almost assume that the Epos system does what it says on the tin. They're more interested in how to link it all together to improve customer engagement."
Crucial to the success of mobile apps is bringing them in as part of a holistic technology strategy. "A joined-up solution will bring every aspect of a customer's interaction together, allowing for advance ordering, payment with mobile devices and the instant distribution of loyalty rewards," Taylor says. "A piecemeal approach, on the other hand, where an operator relies on a mixed grill of old and new technologies, will mean customers enjoy only some benefits, with operators unable to achieve all the potential gains in efficiency, improved cashflow or increased customer loyalty and engagement."
Integration needs to extend not only to the till, but also to the stock system, which, with the most advanced technologies, will in turn be linked to procurement. So if an outlet has run out of a pasta dish, then it will no longer appear on the app. Similarly, time-sensitive promotions should also marry up with the prices that are displayed on the app.
"Integration is absolutely key," Consterdine says. "You should not invest in any system that cannot integrate with all the elements of the total solution you need to run your outlet - and that includes how you run your loyalty programmes, how you take your bookings, your stock system, procurement, payments - and if you have an app, that needs to be integrated as well."
Even for smaller independent businesses, technology integration is without doubt the most important Epos trend of the past 12 months, according to Green, largely because of how much more complicated hospitality operations have become.
"An independent hotel 10 years ago wouldn't have been much more than a glorified bed and breakfast, but people's drinking and recreational behaviours have changed significantly," he explains. "Today, a hotel not only has to offers rooms, but also have a decent restaurant and probably some kind of leisure facility. With all these different revenue streams, businesses are then faced with deciding whether to take on four, five, six, even 10 extra staff, or invest in a piece of software that is affordable, supported properly and can do it all for them."
An integrated system that links to a hotel's property management software (PMS) as well as online booking platforms like OpenTable and loyalty programmes can pull all the information into a single place, making it easier to run the business.
Green says that these systems must be backed up with excellent support: "Larger Epos providers have always looked after their customers very well, but you also pay a lot of money for it. The software as a service model - the model Newbridge uses - is becoming more prominent and desirable in the independent market too. People want a piece of software that won't break down often, but when it does go wrong or they do need extra staff training, all it takes is a phone call."
Picking the right option
The range of Epos systems available on the market is commensurate with the variety of hospitality businesses operating across the UK. The big change that Green anticipates for 2018 will be that the providers of those systems start to become much more targeted, identifying themselves with a particular market segment, whether that is independent, national or multinational operators.
"Traditionally, operators have either overspent on Epos systems they don't need or gone for the cheap option when they've needed something a bit more complicated," he says. "What you will start to see happening is that as the different markets in the sector become more identifiable, companies will select what the right option is for themselves a lot more."
An independent countryside hotel is likely to sign up with Newbridge, for example, while a national café chain might be more suited to a Zonal system.
Along with the universal Epos must-haves of integration, cloud functionality and flexibility, all hospitality operators, regardless of their market segment, should be looking for providers that offer scalability (an Epos system should be able to keep up when you open a second, third or fourth location) and a robust roadmap for future development.
This was one of the key reasons for Spinath to choose Lightspeed as CrÁªpeaffaire's Epos provider. "It shouldn't be a case of 'this is the package you've got, so deal with it,'" he believes. "It's about thinking creatively about applications that can be added onto the technical platform and working together on interesting functionalities but also about some gadgets that consumers will like. We're working together on creating new ideas that we can test in one or more of our outlets, refine them, make them work better, and then roll that out across our branches."
Consterdine adds: "If you are not with an Epos provider that's got a robust roadmap and can prove that it's investing in its software product, then your investment could be wasted within two years."
Everything at the touch of a button
Further down the line, technology integration is likely to extend beyond hospitality-focused apps and other systems, as the worlds of retail and leisure continue to converge, Taylor believes.
"Consumers and their families will increasingly see bricks-and-mortar shopping as part of a continuum that focuses heavily on eating, drinking and visiting attractions in a large mixed retail and leisure complex," he predicts. "They certainly don't want a lot of payment, discount or loyalty point complexities to get in the way of their enjoyment."
More than half (51%) of under-35s polled in Omnico's research, for instance, say they want a single loyalty programme for retail, leisure and hospitality.
To meet this demand, operators' Epos systems will - eventually - need to be integrated with those of other retail and leisure operators so that visitors have a hassle-free experience as they move between shopping, hospitality, rides and attractions. While this level of interoperability is unlikely to filter through to small independents for quite some time- "Independent customers in the deepest part of west Wales will probably want to talk about mobile in 30 years' time," Green jokes - Newbridge intends to be ready. "People want everything at the touch of a button," Green says. "And businesses and the platforms they use need to be able to cope with that."
Kingsbridge rings up the savings
Since the Kingsbridge Inn in Swansea switched to a Newbridge system 12 months ago, it has saved more than double its investment. The new system has also paid dividends in peace of mind.
The pub's owner Cameron Buckley had been paying £400 a year for a different system, but had to wait two to three days to hear back from the provider if something went wrong, which sometimes left the team relying on pen and paper.
"It was adding ridiculous amounts of time onto things that should have been simple, like printing a bill," he recalls. "With Newbridge, I call them and within five minutes everything is sorted."
Buckley has also been impressed with the training Newbridge gave him on the back-end of the system, which displays key information about business performance - from what's selling to which times of day are busiest and staff rotas - all on one screen. "I couldn't be without it now," he grins. "It's so easy to use and helpful to the business."
For example, he has recently changed employees' start times and removed two of the items from the menu after looking at last quarter's data. "It's saving us money at the end of the day," Buckley says. "We're paying £130 a month, but it has saved
us double that."
CrÁªpeaffaire gains speed and upsell, with self-service and training to come
For Daniel Spinath, managing director of crÁªpe franchise chain CrÁªpeaffaire, his Epos must-haves are user-friendliness for both staff and customers, plus flexibility and analytics. He's also finding that operators increasingly need to
be able to anticipate what customers might want before their order has been taken.
"In quick-service restaurants, we're going away from having customers standing at the counter to a system where they need to be guided through the process of what the options are," he explains. "You go to a consumer and propose things. For example, if there is a family, we can anticipate already that this family may want multiple products, they may want customised products, and we'll be able to estimate what they may want just by looking at them.
"The objective is to get speedily to an order the consumer actually wants and to guide them through the decision process. As a result, we can also increase average transaction values through upsell."
At present CrÁªpeaffaire uses a Lightspeed cloud system with tablets. Over the next year, Spinath plans to look at using the tablets as self-service terminals, as well as how the system can become a tool to train team members. For example, an order might come through on a tablet and get sent to a kitchen display, which shows how it should be prepared for training purposes.
"The whole idea is using the technology not just as an order-taking system but also as something that can be used to make your operation run more smoothly," Spinath says.
When your business has multiple points of purchase, your systems need to join up. Whether it's booking a table online, reserving a beauty treatment via an app or buying gift vouchers over the phone, your systems must integrate to capture the sale at every point - and more importantly, the data.
Captured customer data forms a huge part of repeat marketing. If you can segment your data - by age, gender, topic, booking platform (the list goes on) - your campaigns become more targeted and conversion rates grow.
With multiple routes to market, it makes sense to partner with a company like Newbridge Software, which has the experience and willingness to integrate all these sources and put them under the control of individuals in your business.