Tech that makes a difference


Technology has come to the fore front over the last four years like never before. Pre-pandemic the most common discussion was around Epos, although some tech orientated licensed trade entrepreneurs were clearly early adopters.

I remember a number of years ago talking to Jonathan McDonald the man behind Scoop Restaurants who is responsible for Ka Pao and Ox and Finch. He was the first person to demonstrate to me how his company utilised QSR Automation in the kitchen – which allowed his chefs to work on a just in time basis, thus reducing stress, and which also allowed him to operate at maximise capacity. Today it is becoming more more common place. Athough he admits, “We’ve been using much the same tech for the last couple of years for bookings, labour and scheduling, procurement and kitchen order automation.”No doubt that is because it works!

Stuart Lapsley, MD of Lapsley tells me, “Kitchen screens are becoming more popular than paper. Customers who have put the technology in can’t believe how quiet and calm the kitchen is. People aren’t shouting when orders come in, chefs know what is ahead and how long they have to do the order.”

EB8A597C-A16E-40C9-A150-69DF66A35527Today good tech, and there is plenty of it, certainly offers licensees the opportunity to maximise revenue through efficiencies – which save time and money. However technology also has has the added effect of improving working conditions as kitchen teams will tell you.

Part of the issue today is keeping abreast of all the new tech on offer, the apps, what they can do for your business and are they worth the investment? That is almost a full-time job. And there is always the latest app to check out. You can end up going down a rabbit hole which is nearly where I went researching this.  The good news is that trade What’s App groups are generally very good at recommending tech that works for them.

Companies offering a plethera of services are also happy to come and see your operation and give advice on what tech would best suit your business. It is certainly not a case of one size fits all – in fact research shows that only 1 in 5 businesses describe themselves as tech savvy, as a result the majority of businesses need a tailored and intuitive solution which can be provided by the experts. Says Stuart, “Our goal is help customers increase their sales, reduce costs and help them increase margins as well as service levels . The industry is struggling to get staff, and struggling with high energy costs and high ingredient costs. We know their challenges and automation can bridge the gaps.

We would always look at a business and find out if there is an area of automation that would be particularly effective. “Customers need systems that can automate processes and that in turn allows them to work more efficiently which saves money and they process more transactions and therefore make more money and that’s how system pays for itself. It is about driving efficiencies. Then that splinters out in all different ways.”

But before we go any further the most important part of tech is connectivity, and the necessity of having a backup plan should that go down. Having been at a hotel in the highlands recently when nobody could checkout or pay because there was no internet – and hearing of a well known hospitality company who had weekend service revert back to pens and notepads because of an outage… there definitely needs to be something you can pivot to if your
connections go down.

Epos (Electronic Point of Sale) systems have been around for nearly as long as I have been writing about the trade but having come from a newspaper background which delved into buying buying patterns of consumers, I could never understand why the information from these systems was not used more often to target consumers and use the information on trends, which it clearly offered, to drive sales. All that has now changed. As have systems.

In fact the pandemic really helped with this – people could no longer just walk in. The habit of booking online became the norm. That information that is now available from your Epos systems can, and is, used for marketing and it can be automated. With the right system for your business you can automate sending out vouchers to customers with upcoming birthdays, graduations or celebrations. Of course like anything the more effort you put in to gathering that information the better.

Another area of the trade which has seen a move toward technology is the very act of taking the order. Hand held terminals are much more prevalent and available from all good EPOS providers. Says Stuart, “Using hand held terminals means that you can manage a restaurant with less staff – the order is taken, it goes straight to the kitchen, and staff spend less time going back and forward, they can also be promoted by the terminal to upsell.”

Full-service restaurant digital order

While hand held terminals are now familiar tools the move to QR codes is took hold during the pandemic and although many companies are not sure about them – believing that customers want the familiarity of a member of staff, there is certainly a younger demographic which don’t blink an eye – and in fact, they prefer ordering by QR rather than conversing with waiting staff! Just like they prefer to be looking at their phone rather than talking on it! The customer is in effect taking their own order.

C0A64058-8043-4DEE-A453-BE0B9F236ECBIn fact full-service restaurant digital orders jump by 237% in 2021 according to the NPD group, and the majority of digital orders came from mobile apps. Digital ordering also offers valuable data insights to restaurant and pub owners. By looking at the trends – such as the most popular dishes, peak times, and customer preferences, businesses can market their offers more precisely and change menus to trends.

This data-driven approach also allows better stock management, and better targeted marketing strategies, ultimately leading to increased profitability and customer loyalty.

Edinburgh-based Signature are currently trialling QR Codes, says Director Louise Maclean, “We have QR code order and pay in some venues on a trial and already we are seeing customer satisfaction increase and repeat purchase so it’s swiftly becoming a favourite of the teams. Me&U is the platform we are using and it’s working.

Customers can get in an out quickly, interact with our people as much as they want it and pay and leave without having to wait for the bill to be brought and then the card machine. Certainly the younger generation who are all tech savvy appear to prefer to use apps rather than order in the more traditional way!”

Another cloud-based system is Tripleseat designed to help solve issues in hospitality – they solve the large party headache. They have a “one-of-a-kind reservation solution” to restaurateurs and consumers reserve tables for large parties – typically between 6 and 15 people. Built on the TripleseatDirect platform, the new Large Party Reservations solution aims to sort the 6+ people resercation often a challenge for both people looking to book a table and restaurants trying to accommodate them. For restaurants, large parties can be difficult to manage and staff resulting in poor service and lost revenue. For guests, it is a challenge to secure a table with restaurants causing frustration for everyone.

682AB0B6-8933-4F2B-8692-4D0ED9F65EA9Tripleseat’s new Large Party Reservations enables the restaurant to offer online table availability, pre-ordering, and up-front payment. Armed with all the details for the reservation, the kitchen can prepare in advance and the venue can staff appropriately resulting in a positive and profitable reservation for everyone.

Jonathan Morse, CEO of Tripleseat ays, “Tripleseat continues to develop solutions to tackle challenges that restaurants face every day and turn them into revenue opportunities. The Large Party Reservations product solves a big problem for restaurants and addresses the needs of consumers by providing them with an easy and quick reservation capability.”

Dynamic Pricing

There has been talk recently of ‘Dynamic pricing’ which some bars, particularly in London have adopted – ie the busier it gets the more expensive a pint becomes. The trade, to some extent already does this – Christmas Dinner comes to mind – but it is not usually utilised on a daily basis.

Tripleseat also offers a facility called “ Dynamic Minimums’ within its portfolio – Dynamic Minimums are prices that change and are contingent on things like venue location, event style, room, and timing to attract more business and ultimately bring in more revenue.

However when I ask operators what is the piece of software they couldn’t live without it is, time and time again – a Rota solution. If you are a small operation it is less likely you need Rota software – it’s possible to plan, share and communicate rotas manually by email, spreadsheets or even just by chatting with staff and putting the week’s rota up. But the more staff you have the more important it is. Because the efficiencies that using Rota software bring are immense – for a start rota management software helps balance staffing levels accurately. It takes a look at levels of activity and forecasts what you need on certain days… there are lots recommended – Deputy, Rotacloud, Findmyshift – it’s about finding the right one for your business. Cost, usability and time management all come into play.

You can find one that is sophisticated and does everything an HR function might do, from working out holiday entitlement to keeping employee records, equally there are more simple, but equally effective solutions too. Again the best people for advice are your peers and the companies themselves.

Another income stream that has led to operators utilising technology is take-away. Once again it was the pandemic that caused that explosion and we all know why – it allowed our trade to survive, when premises were closed.

Although many operators now don’t offer this – many do, and not only that many who stopped it after the pandemic have now introduced it. If that is the case consideration must be given to having an EPOS system that can integrate with the systems used by delivery companies. For instance ICRTouch integrates with Deliveroo and Justeat.

But there are altenatives too – you can use an system like the one set up by Hungrrr – which is online ordering system which allows you to take food and drink orders through your own branded website and mobile app, with 0% commission although they take a subscription fee.

Cellar Management

It’s not just front of house that has technology make a difference. And it is not all about apps. Cellar management technology has also improved over the years.

One company that is at the forefront of the cellar management evolution – and it is evolution not a revolution – and that is Thompson Hunter – led by Craig Dempsey, who provide independent Tech services to the Scottish licensed trade. I asked him what improvements he had seen over the years, “The key thing has always been to ensure that customer gets their pint at the right temperature – and they notice that when they take their first sip. So cooling has always been important.

“We used to have flash coolers which meant the power was underneath the taps but now we have we use Glyco Cooling Systems and all the cooling is done from the cellar. These systems are energy efficient and save on waste and money while delivering a consistent, high quality draft beer.

“We use longer coils to ensure that the beer is kept 3 degrees or lower. We call it ‘foil and coil’ an original coil would be 5m long now they are 10m to 15m long in cooler – so there is more product in the cooler cooling down – instead of a third of a pint you can have a full pint – so it pours quicker. Every beer line is also touching a cooling line, which is wrapped with foil and then armaflex – the systems works by pumping a mixture of glyco and water through a trunk line that keeps the draft beer at a consistent temperature as it travels from keg to tap.

He is also keen to advocate using CO2 sensors and believes all cellars should have them. He told me, “We fit world-leading Analox gas sensors, which monitor carbon dioxide levels which are undetectable by humans. The slightest amount of CO2 in the atmosphere can put a person at risk so I believe that all licensees should protect staff by having a CO2 monitor installed in their cellar and alarm repeater at the entrance to the cellar. All my team have them on.

“Older clients who have in the trade a long time understand how cellars work, however some of the new entries to the industry just see it as a storage room. They miss the opportunity that a good cellar brings – better quality beer, less wastage and less energy used. As money is now tighter I think they would benefit from focussing more on this aspect of their business.

For instance, “Every cellar used to have a detailed specification sheet which told employees what temperature it should be at etc. Now they don’t. We actually provide them for our customers and it does help them.”. Says Craig, “If they do at least one check a week it makes a difference. They need to check the temperature, check they have enough gas and such like. If they have a problem I often ask them to send a photograph and if we can resolve it over the phone we will. We like to help our customers get a result.”

BD97FE68-7951-458A-9242-028170492381HEINEKEN SmartDispense® is another route which some licensees can use to help improve quality, reduce waste and free up staff time. This cutting-edge draught technology solution aims to support operators in delivering a consistently top-quality draught
product, while being more sustainable versus traditional dispense systems.

The SmartDispense® CellarPro system is is estimated reduces up to 85% of water, beer and cider wastage, and saves 156 line cleaning hours, providing peace of mind for operators.

The SmartDispense®system allows the product to be served to consumers in the best possible condition by keeping the liquid below 3˚ C, the optimum temperature, from the moment it leaves the keg through to the glass. It does this by fully trace-cooling the product from coupler to tap, which keeps the beer consistently chilled and ensures great beer and cider quality delivered every time.

SmartDispense® customers also receive an ongoing 6 or 12-weekly proactive service and quality visit, which includes a line-cleaning service and 24-point quality check on the system, cellar and taps. This minimises breakdown calls, disruption and frees up time for staff to focus on other duties within the venue and there is also training for the staff.

The future is already upon us and there are pubs using Self service beer taps, digital beer screens, projection mapping (audio visual), robotic cocktail servers, who embrace location-based apps and more. You don’t need to embrace it, but as one licensee told me recently, “you do need to keep adapting,” and the latest technology can help you keep your competitive edge.

All of the above technology – and there is lots more too has at its heart, solutions to the challenges facing hospitality. These bar technology solutions can be used by businesses of all sizes, and they can be relatively easily implemented.

You don’t have to worry about the exorbitant cost of investment – find alternatives that best fit the scale of your business, and any investment should be returned in savings. Technology can be used to ensure better service and customer experiences… and that’s what matters.