By Scott Muncaster, Managing Director of Adactus, hospitality technology specialists (www.adactus.co.uk)
2020 has been a tough year for hospitality for reasons that need no explanation. Many reports have appeared of how the industry has been ‘hung out to dry’ after spending thousands to be Covid safe only to face further curfews and lockdowns.
Brands with investor backing may be able to ride out the storm but it’s much harder for smaller chains and independents. In the last nine months, the way independents have had to flex and change their business at pace, has been unprecedented. Consumer behaviours have shift- ed and Covid has killed spontaneous drinking and dining.A trip to the pub now requires organisation, and what was once taken for granted like queuing or a busy venue, is now a deciding factor on whether to frequent a place or not.
As a result, venues have had to transform the way they ‘talk to’ customers which is being driven through technology. In a confused and uncertain Covid world, consumers are automatically assuming the worse – that the venue won’t be ready for them.Whether that’s meeting social distancing needs, restrictions on party size to concerns over wheelchair access – overall it can seem too much effort or risk to go out.
This public fear and doubt means venues can’t afford to operate ‘in the moment’.They can’t for instance wait for a consumer to arrive only to see a socially distanced queue or struggle to get a pushchair into the venue.While such experiences aren’t ideal even pre-pandemic, they might have been tolerated but today in the chaos of Covid, customers are less tolerant.
Operator’s now have to pre-empt and remove those barriers, and reassure individual customer concerns if they want to attract and retain a strong clientele. It’s for the operators to tell customers why they should come to their venue, reassuring them that all their specific needs are covered.And they can do this effectively by taking detailed customer data and analysis, captured through technology to deliver their customer service model through a position of information.
Loyalty schemes, order-at-table apps, booking reservation systems, queuing apps that reserve a place in the queue, customer newsletters, and even on premise customer Wifi connections – these are all individually effective at capturing valuable data. But together and integrated they’re even more powerful at creating a well-honed customer journey that breaks down barriers, addresses doubt and persuades customers to return.
For example, an operator could just offer an online reservation system to reserve a table for two, or they could integrate this with an ‘order-at- the-table’ system. Instantly the operator not only knows how many people are in the group but what those individuals like to eat and drink, if they have children, whether any have dietary requirements etc.
Then wrap services around this reservation stage to help retain the booking and build relationships.Asking questions during online bookings like does the customer need a parking space, wheelchair access, a high- chair, have certain allergies etc? And underpin this by reassuring messages on Covid safety. Knowing, for example, that the customer is driving, the operator can advise on parking and be ready with its alcohol free menu – tailoring the occasion and removing the hassle factor. Meanwhile data is captured to continue the conversation with permission, after the event.
The customer experience is more joined up than ever by technology and operators can use this advantageously as they move through and beyond the pandemic. As always, it’s still about the food, the service and the space but operators can enhance these dimensions with digital insight to inspire guests to visit – vital while Covid concerns remain.
Captured correctly with the right systems, operators have rich data at their fingertips drilled down to even how long customers ate, how they paid and the food and drink they like.What was once stored in a manager’s head is now captured through technology and linked back to an individual. Operators instantly have much more relevant information than they did before, to engage the customer such as via a newsletter or eshot.
Communication needs to be personalised and relevant; if we know a guest chooses gluten-free, ‘talk’ about the gluten-free Christmas menu. If they have children, describe the kids’ menu and activity pack. It’s an approach that will resonate better with customers, remove barriers, and enhance customer experience and retention.
Restauranteurs are generally in the business because of a love for food and in providing great experiences – not because they love technology. But operators who embrace IT, just a little, will stand the best chance of understanding their guests’ needs in these strange times, giving them an edge to not only survive by thrive once more, post-pandemic