May 23, 2018

Part 2: Is Technology the Secret Ingredient to Success in the Hospitality Industry?

Welcome to the sequel! If you haven’t already, take a look at our first blog- which looked at customer-facing technology (CFT) and how it’s likely to influence consumer experiences’ and the work lives of hospitality staff. Who knows, there may even be some valuable nuggets of information regarding how to successfully implement a tech solution in your business…

This article, however, provides a more general, employee-focused perspective of what hospitality workforces could be in for as technology inevitably becomes a more integral component of their everyday work lives. And what this could mean for hospitality businesses going forward.

The hospitality sector and its relationship with technology

Ashighlighted in Part 1, despite the rise of the digital workforce the hospitality sector is undeniably people-intensive. If you consider technology’s long-term role within the sector however, you may see it as a menacing threat that will gradually take over the tasks, responsibilities and roles of people.

Can you imagine… a year on year drop in hospitality workforce numbers until the point where being served by a human is something of a novelty? Unlikely, especially when you consider the painfully slow rate of technological adoption within the sector…

What is a definite however is that technology will change how employees work within the realms of hospitality; the most likely scenario being that tech will continue to free-up time for employees to do what they do best: focus on creating amazing food & drink, providing service and engaging customers.

In essence, technology will assist servers so that they can serve customers more effectively.

One technology doing just that is the Trail app, which has proven to significantly improve the time it takes employees to complete important, but repetitive tasks such as conducting routine checks or reporting problems. It may seem basic, but these productivity gains can really add up if you are an operator with multiple units and/ or many employees.

There are technologies that can deliver fruitful outcomes to smaller operators also, as tech products can do the heavy lifting for hospitality operators in a many ways. The list of specific examples goes on and on and it is therefore critical for hospitality businesses to ensure that they choose their tech solutions appropriately- especially when you consider the human implications of converting your team to new working processes/ job roles.

If assessed and implemented well however, tech has the potential to innovatively support operators in almost all areas of the operation and improve both employee and business performance.

How technology can influence the recruitment process of hospitality businesses

Even when people enter a hospitality business in the recruitment phase technologies such as Harri- the talent sourcing and hiring platform have been making the lives of hospitality managers that bit more convenient.

At a glance, the benefits are many: the applicant management system makes screening and scheduling applicants effortless, managers can ensure standardised interview questions are used across locations- contributing towards a fair and consistent recruitment process, Harri enables managers to keep in contact with applicants via the mobile phone app and even aids businesses in being compliant with local labour laws and regulations All pretty valuable features although there is one recurring theme: each show that Harri is simply an evolution of the ways that hospitality operators have been recruiting for years.

Some features are unique though, such as the option for applicants to stand out by sharing video content on their profile, but the extent to which Harri is a revolutionary offering is questionable. Nevertheless, we think the extensive hospitality experience of Harri’s founder Luke Fryer is a massive bonus and that Harri would be a great addition to many hospitality businesses.

Unlike Harri, there are many tech companies within the hospitality sector that make unsubstantiated claims about what they will do for your business. For that reason, we at Hospitality mavericks have a simple set of screening questions for those deciding whether to purchase/ subscribe to a new tech product:

  1. Will the product save time or money?
  2. Will the product generate new revenues?
  3. Will the product improve the employee and/ or guest experience? And how much will the benefits be translated into business profitability?
  4. How easy is it to ‘opt-out’ if the tech product does not work?
  5. How mature is the tech provider? And was the product developed by people with hospitality experience?

Address these questions accurately when making a judgement and it’ll be difficult to make a bad investment in tech. With reference to the employee/ guest experience, finding the perfect balance is key to creating a sustainable hospitality business.

The way Honeygrow integrated Virtual Reality (VR) into their business showed consideration of both their employees and customers and led to a transformation in the way that the American restaurant approach their recruitment process. The benefit of VR, in this case, is that it enables candidates to immerse themselves in the environment that they will be working in- giving them an almost real feel for what’s in store.

Honeygrow has also found VR onboarding valuable for both front and back of house staff, whereby employees can learn how to go about their jobs without the costly mistakes that may occur whilst learning on the job. Despite the initial costs of paying a company such as Klip to get the application up and running, VR has the long-term potential to slash the cost associated with having a trainer demonstrate everything to a new employee; giving management peace of mind that trainees can receive consistent, cost-effective training whilst practicing customer-facing roles without facing a single customer.

Technology, employees and customers: a love triangle?

Honeygrow may be a little ahead of their time in the use of this new VR technology and the current price is probably out of the question for the majority of operators. It is very likely, however, that similar technologies will be much more accessible in the future and you can bet that operators will continue to look for technologies that alleviate the heavy-lifting from their employees, managers and ultimately improve the guest experience. A more contemporary technology that does just that is restaurant payment apps, which have gained considerable traction in recent months with the likes of Wagamama, Wahaca and Pizza Express all establishing themselves as early adopters in the UK.

In fact, research by Pizza Express recently revealed that 69% of their customers in Britain found waiting for the bill the most frustrating part of eating out.

It was therefore a move in the right direction for Pizza Express to introduce the Flyt app, which enables customers to save over three hours per year just from being able to pay via their mobile phones. There is no doubt that by minimising the customer pain associated with waiting for the bill, Pizza Express employees and managers will reap the benefits of a much more enjoyable, smooth operation that involves happier customers; makingPizza Express a more appealing place to work for all employees.

You can usually bet that when a technology provides a more seamless journey for both customers and employees to experience, it can be accredited to leaning-out the businesses operational process. Meaning Pizza Express are utilising their capacity much more effectively. This is particularly appealing to businesses who are regularly operating at full capacity, especially in markets with soaring rent prices.

Employee-customer interactions and the reassessment of rewards

With that in mind, we at Hospitality Mavericks hope that the benefits associated with implementing such technologies are shared amongst those working within the business. As there is no doubt that many employees will perceive payment apps, amongst other technologies a threat to their tips. This is an industry-specific issue particularly relevant to those working on an hourly wage and/ or living in places with high rent prices.

If hospitality businesses fail to share the pot, the perfect storm will not be a kind environment to compete in for quality employees, especially with the evident labour shortage we are seeing in the sector.

Times are hard for many in the UK, so people will be looking to work for hospitality businesses where the employees are remunerated well for their work- tip earnings could therefore be a deciding factor.

There is the possibility, however, that removing the bill process may enhance customers’ experiences’ and therefore encourage them to tip more generously. Especially if waiting for the bill is the greatest source of dissatisfaction for customers similarly to those dining in Pizza Express.

Our view is that there must be some correlation between employee-customer interactions and earnings from tips: fewer interactions likely leading to less tips.

As a result, hospitality leaders and managers need to be aware of the ways that technologies can influence this customer perception, and be willing to reassess employee reward schemes and pay incentives. If they fail to do so, they may lose the very thing that makes them special in the first place.

Tech solutions that enhance the employee experience

A technology that we see alleviating some of the strain off hospitality businesses whilst freeing-up more time for employee-customer relations is predictive management ordering software. For managers, forecasting the correct quantities of stock to order can be a challenging task and human error can be costly- under order and businesses cannot provide their customers with what they want, losing immediate sales and potentially damaging the integrity of the brand. Over order and there will be a surplus of stock (much of which perishable and wasted as a result).

Here is a list of predictive management ordering technologies that are thought to make hospitality staff’s lives easier, reduce food waste and increase revenues. It is also worth noting that waste reducing tech can help organisations keep their brand safe from stakeholder perceptions’ of poor resourcefulness- something that will become increasingly important from a marketing perspective in an era of conscious Millennials and Generation Z’sapplying for jobs and taking over dining decisions within the sector.

Anon-financial way of ensuring your good staff stay in a sector that has this growing labour shortage is investing in tech that makes the work lives’ of your team more convenient and less intrusive to their personal lives.

Internal comms apps like Ziik are a great way to keep and engage staff through providing them with an intuitive, simplistic way of accessing vital documents, communicating amongst the team and updating and sharing information. Everything is contained within the mobile application, making it GDPR compliant and less infringing than past methods of managing internal comms. The fact that apps like Ziik aren’t already a standard within the hospitality sector amazes us at Hospitality Mavericks and shows just how far the sector has to come from an employee’s perspective. Business leaders stand a lot to gain also, as success often comes down to effective communication and delegation from the top.

Afinal type of employee-focused technology that we wish to highlight is shift scheduling software, which ensures that shift plans are delivered effectively, on time and in a way that meets the needs of both the organisation and employees.

Smart scheduling software such as Quinyx can keep employees engaged and motivated by automatically creating rotas, optimising time management and even controlling budgets. It takes the stress off managers who have had to stay on top of who is working and when whilst managing operations and customer service responsibilities. It is also a win for hospitality employees as they are more likely to get the shifts they want when they want.

Final recommendations for operators

When purchasing/ choosing a technology, it is vital that hospitality operators assess where their business is currently positioned in the organisational life cycle. If in the growth phase, for example, it may be worth considering which technologies will be best suited for the future state of the organisation, of which may be starkly different to current needs due to the new complexities involved.

Making sure that tech products that are easy to integrate with pre-existing or future tech solutions is a good way of ensuring flexibility in the future.

We at Hospitality Mavericks also advise signing non-binding contracts so that you are not stuck with a technology that is ill-suited to the future needs of your organisation. As discussed in our podcast with restaurant profitability expert Ivan Brewer, monthly subscriptions are typically much more sustainable and in the words of Ivan himself:

“It either needs to make you money or save you money”

Here are our top pieces of advice to those buying/ signing up to a hospitality tech solution:

  • Look for tech products that either save you time or money
  • Look for tech products that will generate new revenue streams
  • Look for tech products that improve the employee and/ or guest experience but pay close attention to how the experiences of these two stakeholders interact (think employee & customer journey)
  • Ensure that you sign non-binding contracts and can opt-out if the tech product is not for your organisation
  • Find tech products that empower you through data, not steal it from you
  • Seek out testimonials from other organisations that use the tech product but don’t assume that because it works for them that it will for your organisation

Click here to listen to our podcasts featuring inspiring talks with great hospitality entrepreneurs, leaders and thinkers.

Ollie is a Business and Management graduate from the University of Sussex and currently participating in a Project Management internship at Hospitality Mavericks. Ollie shares a deep passion for the industry and has worked in hospitality for over five years.