By Mel Taylor, CEO, Omnico Group (https://omnicogroup.com)
After nearly a year of Covid- fuelled challenges and disruptions, Omnico’s CEO, Mel Taylor, connects with industry experts to explore how catering businesses can survive and thrive in 2021 with the right tech on their side.
The coronavirus pandemic caused drastic changes to the way businesses function and the hospitality industry – in both the commercial sector and contract catering – is no exception.The Government’s changing tier system made planning difficult, while lockdowns forced closures of restaurants, offices, schools, casinos, and attractions, often with little notice. For the industry this meant reduced footfall, copious waste, and drastic revenue drops.
But, with the vaccine being rolled out more widely, there’s an opportunity for commercial hospitality and catering businesses to restore trust in the industry by responding to customers’ post-pandemic demands.
BALANCING SAFETY AND THE GUEST EXPERI- ENCE FRONT OF HOUSE
According to Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK Hospitality, the constant back and forth of Government restrictions will continue to cause uncertainty for the industry in 2021.When customers can return, they will, but only if they are made to feel safe doing so.
“Last year’s events have undoubtedly affected customer expectations when it comes to eating out – be it in restaurants, office canteens, or university cafeterias,” says Kate.“When eateries opened again in July 2020, guests favoured businesses that made them feel safe and secure and are likely to adopt the same approach in 2021. So, venues must show they’re taking all the necessary steps to reduce infection risks in order to please customers.While sanitation and occupancy management certainly help, technology, particularly when used for contactless orders and payments, also plays a key role.”
While safety is a top priority, hospitality expert Todd Noftall believes a balance needs to be struck between safety and delivering a great, personalised experience. “Consumers still expect great, personalised experiences in hospitality.While they might have forgiven a less personal service during the pandemic, when things return to normal – as we hope they will this year – their pre-pandemic expectations will return. In order to meet these demands, businesses need to nail that balance between delivering a human-centred service and adopting technology that enables customers to self-serve when they want to.”
HARNESSING DATA TO MANAGE OPERATIONS BACK OF HOUSE
In addition to restoring consumer confidence front of house, technology and data are increasingly being used to help hospitality businesses – and, particularly, catering companies – better meet changing supply and demand. One of the issues caused by on-and-off lockdowns is food waste — from restaurants losing millions in festive food, to school and hospital canteens wasting thousands of chilled goods.
As they prepare to ramp up orders this year, with uncertainty set to continue until spring, caterers should invest in inventory solutions that allow them to check stock data in real-time, across all locations, in order to help reduce waste. If, for instance, a venue is being closed due to virus restrictions, or orders are low in a specific region, inventory can be moved to where it can be used, helping caterers cost-effectively meet demand and prevent waste.
THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN RESTORING THE INDUSTRY
If Covid-19 taught businesses one thing, it’s the value of technology in tackling pandemic-related challenges and improving process efficiency in the long run.To succeed in 2021, hospitality businesses must connect their front and back of house systems to meet customer expectations in terms of safety and service and make the most of their resources.
For instance, caterers must unify Point-of-Sale operations and run orders and payments from any location or device, meaning customers can pay safely from their tables or at kiosks. But it’s not just about simplifying payments: ensuring front and back-end systems are connected can help caterers boost revenue at this testing time.
When back office and front-of-house tech work seamlessly together, customers can buy more easily, and be rewarded for doing so. Orders can be integrated with stock management systems to ensure products are available at the right locations.This not only reduces waste but gives customers access to what they want, when they want it, too. It also streamlines service and promotes a sense of safety; boosting speed of service and eliminating friction means there are fewer opportunities for customers to crowd together in queues or waiting areas, making them feel at risk. Catering businesses that take this on board and adopt an omni-channel, tech-driven approach to service will certainly set the scene for a successful year ahead.
There’s no doubt caterers have another challenging, uncertain year ahead. Adaptability will be fundamental. But, if they pay attention to customer demands and leverage technology to meet them, they have a good shot at recovery in 2021.