Australia is in the early stages of a restaurant technology boom. Since 2014, venture capital investors have deployed $11.2 billion across 944 deals in the restaurant tech space. From reservation and delivery platforms to mobile payments and point-of-sale systems, technology is starting to influence every restaurant function. There are efficiency dividends, such as making staffing and inventory more manageable and less time-consuming, as well as customer benefits, such as reducing waiting times or improving guest experiences.
My co-founder Mark Calabro and I have seen almost two decades of change through our hospitality tech business OrderMate, and there’s more to come. We recently launched our second hospitality tech business, HungryHungry, which comes as a direct result of listening to our customers describe some of the challenges they’re experiencing with rising overheads, competition and eroding margins, and building a customised tech solution that will support merchants and chefs while providing customers with a better dining experience.
Here are four other technologies that we believe hospitality businesses will need to consider to survive the coming year of great change.
Consumer-led ordering systems arrive
Australia and plenty of its western counterparts have long offered a low-tech, high-service dining experience in its cafes and restaurants. With operational costs on the rise and profit margins already south of 10%, however, there are gains to be made in giving consumers more autonomy when ordering food at a venue.
Consumer-led ordering systems are not new, but they are less common here than in other countries such as Japan. This is the year venues will look to this technology to bridge the gap between staff costs and reduced service.
Venues need to decide if they will focus on ‘convenience’ or ‘experience’ in their offering, and consumer-led ordering systems can be tailored to both, clarifying and speeding up the ordering process to increase convenience and/or freeing up service staff to enhance the dining experience in other ways.
With HungryHungry, we offer customers the ease of ordering at their table via a mobile device and have built the technology so that it allows customers to filter their preferences easily – for example vegan, gluten free, low GI. This ensures customers can order what they want, when they want and if they’re planning to split the bill with friends they can pay as they go to avoid that awkwardness at the end of the meal.
Loyalty goes digital
No one has really cracked loyalty systems yet, and food and beverage operators struggle with so many options in a very noisy space. Rewardle has done its best but its app is largely confined to replacing the old café stamp card where each takeaway coffee brings you closer to a free one. This is fine in a setting where it’s assumed customers regularly buy coffee and the question is largely about where, but it is less effective at encouraging customers to increase the frequency of dining out as well as attracting them to return to your venue or suite of venues.
Loyalty is incredibly hard to build in a highly competitive space like hospitality. Big players in the consumer loyalty space include FlyBuys, Qantas Points and AMEX Rewards but there are none with the same reach and popularity in the food and beverage sector because venues are all on different POS platforms so it’s hard to implement. There’s a gap venues need to fill where technology can help personalise the dining experience and identify what flexible, valuable and relevant rewards will appeal to customers to keep them coming back.
Technology improves staff management
Many in the food and beverage industry point to wage costs as the most difficult to manage, and we say the more efficiently you can manage your staff – from recruiting, onboarding and training to rostering and payroll – the better your profit margins will be.
Look out for more solutions that will help you save time and manage people better. Think automation, data analysis for smarter shift rostering and improved payment systems to ensure your staff are paid accurately and on time. TANDA has been great for automating tasks for service businesses, particularly at the larger end of the scale. Software such as Deputy assists with payroll accuracy; employees can only clock on for their shift when they’re on the premises. It also alerts the shift manager if a staff member is late.
Introducing workforce management software is the key to reducing administration so you can spend more time with staff and customers. It can improve communication to, and the accountability of, staff through task assignment and completion notification and gives employees the ability to manage their availability to make rostering a smoother process.
Digital marketing becomes more cost effective
Whereas industries such as retail have invested heavily in understanding the digital space to improve their marketing, the hospitality industry has sadly lagged behind. Unfortunately, it can be expensive to outsource this function and most food and beverage businesses lack the in-house skills and experience to run effective campaigns. We’ve noticed that even some of the larger food businesses don’t spend enough to do digital marketing properly and therefore don’t realise the full potential of returns from their campaigns.
We developed HungryHungry as a business toolbox for restaurant and café owners where there’s a central platform for them to manage everything from photography and design to customise their website to functions like managing pick-up and delivery. This means businesses can analyse customer behaviour from the moment they browse the menu through to receiving their order. Features such as being able to offer specialised promo codes and SMS marketing can help eateries track which campaigns are effective.
What technology will you invest in to ensure your hospitality business survives the dynamic environment of the coming year?
Shannon Hautot is a software developer with a penchant for good food. Shannon started off building technology solutions for restaurants and cafes in his garage while at University which led to the launch of his first business, Ordermate in 2003. This experience more recently led to the launch of his new business, HungryHungry, a technology platform designed to help restaurants and cafes operate more effectively to increase profitability and enhance the customer experience.