By Larry Steinberg, Sr. Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, Agilysys
Consumers want more options. For every practiced chef, there is a collective of guests eager to spend their hard-earned dollars on something exotic and different. They want to experience a bit of culture by way of their next meal, and they want to find it using the latest technology. How do businesses prioritize which technologies to embrace? How do they stay in business in such a saturated, competitive marketplace? How do they keep up with the constantly-expanding demands of consumers? This highly competitive landscape, combined with changing guest expectations, has created a handful of new challenges for many operations. And the answers all begin with the guest.
From the guest's point of view, an excellent experience is one that is simply frictionless. No one wants a struggle to meet a basic need. Guests want their experience without the friction of having to repeat what's already been communicated, spending time trying to resolve issues that shouldn't exist in the first place, or worse yet, feeling restricted because the technology to select specific preferences hasn't yet been adopted, all of which can be sources of frustration.
Integrating Convenience with Self-Serve Technologies
When it comes to technology, younger generations are in the driver's seat. With self-service order placement alternatives, guests can meet their needs effortlessly, without standing in a long queue to place an order and without interfacing with a "human" order-taker, which is sometimes perceived as interference or friction. Interactive kiosks in foodservice environments give guests more control over their browsing and purchasing decisions. They not only connect guests to more menu items, but guest-facing, self-service kiosks also contribute to the overall brand experience. Today, self-serve technology is appreciated but not completely deployed or demanded, resulting in a window of opportunity for operators to capitalize on their ability to offer brand differentiation. With the recent shifts in shopping behavior that have resulted from a do-it-yourself mindset, users are all too happy to manage their own shopping and spending experience.
In this environment, digital kiosks are steadily taking the place of a person, who might otherwise judge what the guest orders or make a mistake by touching the wrong key on the POS (point-of-sale) terminal. Kiosks are ideal alternatives that allow users to place orders and send them straight to the kitchen – no intermediary necessary. While cafeteria settings are a natural fit for self-serve hungry consumers, fast-food restaurants and grab-and-go establishments are also benefiting from the limited staff required to support this convenient technology.
As self-service kiosks play an ever-increasing role in guests' lives, the functions those kiosks perform are also expanding. Combined with advancements that include smartphone apps and cloud-based information storage, kiosks can provide services which were previously unheard of and are now available virtually anywhere your guests prefer to gather.
Integrating Efficiency with Touchscreen Technologies
A restaurant reservation, table management and floor management app has the flexibility to operate on a touch screen, and many POS solutions are available with mobile and touchscreen technologies built-in. Technology that enables guests to interact directly through touch can be powerful enough on its own to help re-imagine the guest experience. These formats can give guests the experience they're looking for – as well as the freedom to spend more – whenever and wherever it's convenient for them. Indeed, younger populations have come to expect some form of technology interface at many venues, offering the advantage of being simple to use with unparalleled accuracy. Order data is transmitted directly to back of the house and kitchen operations, where the order is managed by the kitchen to dispatch orders, rather than using kitchen printers and manual paper chits.
Touchscreen kiosks are also being used to promote new products, even suggesting additional items that might accompany the guest's intended purchase. Upselling the old, manual way relies heavily on the individual who is taking the order. During the busiest periods, upselling offers greater opportunity to increase average sales, but it often becomes the lowest priority for the individual order-taker who is working frantically to bust the line and get orders correct. That's where the power of touchscreen technology helps reduce friction. Operators should look for technology solutions that promote additional items using algorithms that monitor and promote some of the most commonly purchased items by other, like-minded purchasers. This suggestive sell or upsell enhances the guest shopping experience with an opportunity to increase the businesses' bottom line. Studies show that this self-serve shopping experience leads to guests making larger purchases, boosting overall sales.
As automation tools and kiosks continue to advance in functionality, security and reliability, operators should expect to see significant ROI soon after deployment. Building guest loyalty, reducing labor costs, saving time, maximizing sales and building brand exposure are all compelling reasons operators should consider expanding their workflows to support touchscreen and self-serve technologies.
Kiosks are inevitable – they are expected to have an increasing presence across venues as an affordable way to streamline food and beverage purchasing experiences, bringing enormous benefits, including:
- Labor cost savings
- Reduced line-ups
- Fewer order errors
- Streamlined data entry and management
- Greater analytics accuracy
- Mobile integration with reduced technical complexity
- Extended reach to target more guests
Through touchscreen interactions, guests are building a relationship with the property's products and services, augmenting the brand exposure and more than likely increasing revenue for the business.
Integrating Convenience with E-Commerce
E-commerce has been steadily growing for the past several decades. Businesses in many industries have capitalized on consumers' desire for online shopping, but foodservice has lagged in its adoption of e-commerce as compared to these others. That could soon change as many consumers have demonstrated a strong preference for online purchasing as a matter of convenience. If traditional foodservice companies don't soon ramp up their e-commerce capabilities, they could face strong competition from direct and indirect competitors who may begin to venture into the e-commerce food and beverage market. To stay top-of-mind among guests, many companies will need to pivot to e-commerce technology investments to merely maintain their positions in the marketplace.
Guests may use different platforms to place orders, be it a mobile app, an on-site guest-facing kiosk, or the web. In all cases, the ordering experience needs to be consistent and familiar. We all encounter different technology modalities in our everyday lives. By creating uniformity in digital ordering across a variety of guest facing platforms, brands ensure they are providing a frictionless guest purchasing experience. This consistency generates user confidence.
Building a strong brand is an undisputed key to success, and robust differentiation is an absolute must to build a powerful and compelling brand reputation. Established brands have certain things in common – they share the traits of a focused vision accompanies by a strong message that appropriately reflects the company's personality and values. Successful messaging ideally delivers a promise that speaks volumes to the desires of next-generation consumers. Leveraging the technology options described earlier, provides a range of opportunities to extend awareness and create differentiation while providing more convenient access to the brand.
The brand characteristics outlined above are also critical to developing product or menu differentiation. Some of the most successful foodservice operators are those that add value to their menu choices in ways that adhere to changing guest demands, without incurring exorbitant costs. Value-added foods, including offerings for guests with dietary preferences or restrictions – such as dairy free, wheat free, or organic and farm-to-table items are all currently popular choices for those who are looking for more than just flavor and price when making purchase decisions.
Controlling and managing food inventories can be much more difficult in restaurants and foodservice than it is in other industries due to the perishable nature of the products. These short shelf lives mean that food and beverage businesses must have excellent inventory management abilities to avoid wasting large sums of money from food spoilage. Inventory management software and the use of an integrated POS systems has proven to be valuable for companies to better manage their inventories.
Better Efficiencies with Integration
A kiosk solution, for example, that integrates with POS reporting, analytics, payments, inventories or other solutions is a very sound investment. Tracking guest orders through an integrated POS provides data that offer actionable insights about the busiest times and days, the most popular menu items, items that aren't selling, volume of guests who that prefer touchscreen or kiosk technology versus others. All this important transactional data is captured and available for reporting, thus eliminating the inefficiencies often associated with manual operations. Additionally, some kiosks feature an integrated payment system that processes transactions without the assistance of a cashier. An all-inclusive, integrated solution provides accuracy, efficiency, cost savings and overall peace of mind for tech-savvy operators. For these reasons, integration should be highly prioritized.
In today's environment, the ability to report on KPIs is more important than ever, and as food service processes become more digital, operators gain access to more of the critical performance data they need. Ensuring the order lifecycle is managed well is often a multi-faceted challenge: confirming orders are routed to the kitchen with precision, providing a more accurate expeditor display and enabling the next level of tracking order management while relating it to business performance, such as order delivery times, staff order preparation durations and more. Because an integrated solution provides the benefit of tracking the order lifecycle from start to finish, these important metrics are captured at every stage of the process. Operators then use this data to adjust guest and kitchen flow activity and make decisions to about whether to open more service lanes, or to add a line in the kitchen. By monitoring the lifecycle, and adjusting based on the data already captured, kitchens can operate more efficiently and continually improve their guest service.
As one of the most ubiquitous service industries, food and beverage establishments must leverage technology to differentiate their brand and menus, and to meet the latest consumer demands. Evolving technology that's available today is commonly centered around the guest and their expectations. Its driven by what the guest continues to seek in their food and beverage experiences.
Creating a seamless, efficient technology experience not only offers a competitive business advantage, it ensures guests continue to come back again and again. The answers to today's foodservice challenges all begin with meeting the demands of technologically-evolved, more modern guest population.
Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.HotelExecutive.com.