Digital Transformation in Hospitality: The New Norm

digital transformation in hospitality

They say ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ which certainly rings true for the hospitality industry, hit hard by furlough and lockdowns across the globe. Could the silver lining be the real digital transformation in hospitality that we have seen?

As restaurateurs have emerged from the ‘lockdowns’ of the Covid pandemic, many have demonstrated an ability not only to have survived in the face of adversity but also to adapt and grow. New business opportunities are being realised as merchants turn to the latest in table reservation, ordering and associated payment tech to enhance customer engagement with increased covers and increased opportunity to upsell and cross-sell resulting in higher average transaction values being just some of the many benefits. Starved of social interaction for many months, restaurateurs are also seeing increased consumer demand for their services whilst still having to remain ‘Covid aware’ by minimising overcrowding in their restaurants.

For example, diners have become accustomed to the now almost ubiquitous requirement to make those all-important table reservations at a restaurant using online booking tools, which not only secure payment in the event of a short notice cancellation or a ‘no show’ but which are also being used to subtly emphasise table time limits aimed at maximising turns and hence covers, with the commensurate increase in revenue that this brings.

The benefits of digital transformation in hospitality

While pre-booking does indeed give diners certainty of a table, it also provides additional advantages to the restaurateur. By reserving in advance, a diner’s telephone number, email, home address and dietary preferences can be captured. This not only effectively facilitates easy contact but also removes the obstructive frictions of ‘track and trace’ where still required. Engaging a diner before and in particular – after – their visit further presents an opportunity to encourage online reviews as well as to incentivise return visits or referrals. 

Many high volume table service restaurants have also introduced Smartphone apps encouraging diners to use these to ‘order at the table’ and letting the App do the work of promoting specials, side orders and drinks whilst also providing essential dietary advice. Not only does this reduce the number of servers required to manage a busy restaurant – and hence the overheads – but those Apps that register payment details at the point of purchase, come with the added advantage of not having to take payment at the end of a meal as well as protecting against ‘walk outs’ enabling the merchant to retrospectively charge for any unpaid covers. The valuable savings in time lead to an increased opportunity to turn tables around quickly and squeeze in more covers before closing time. Whilst using an App to ‘order at the table’ might not align with diners’ expectations in a ‘Michelin star’ restaurant, even fine-dining restaurateurs are turning to the use of technology to improve customer experience. Increasingly such merchants are implementing ‘pay at table’ solutions enabling them to facilitate more personal service where it matters most. These devices enable a server to open a check and split bills whilst enabling the diner to earn and redeem loyalty points or vouchers as well as adding or accepting suggested gratuities before being presented with a receipt. Added to this is the possibility of sending receipts to a diner’s email address along with an invitation to return for that special occasion in future! In fact, these methods are increasingly providing the foundations for an holistic approach to engaging diners in which the process of reservation, ordering and payment become inextricably linked, giving the merchant full visibility of their customers’ journeys, preferences and habits all of which are used to drive return business, positive reviews, and referrals together with increased loyalty to their brand.

Perhaps one of the more interesting developments in recent months is the increased emergence of fine dining experiences at home where famous chefs prepare ‘cook it yourself’ dishes for home entertaining. It’s now possible through websites and Apps to order and pay for the ingredients of an ‘a la carte’ meal ‘delivered to your door’, thereby extending the restaurateurs reach well beyond the boundaries of the traditional restaurant, whilst simultaneously widening the audience for their product. The order, payment and delivery data not only underpins greater operational efficiencies but also adds new levels of business intelligence that helps take the business to the next level in terms of national and indeed – international growth.

However, food service technology is not only the ‘preserve’ of the fine dining and table service sector. Fast food and ‘take away’ restaurateurs also represent a fair slice of the pie when it comes to turning the pandemic crisis into opportunity. 

Theirs’ is a numbers game with a hunger for speed as well as quality of service. With hygiene in this industry also being second nature, the demand for in-restaurant touchless payment tech is at unprecedented levels. Fed by recent increases in contactless card spend limits combined with the unlimited transaction values associated with mobile wallet transactions such as Apple Pay, the fast-food sector – eager to speed people through order points and minimise the possibility of viral transmission through the handling of coins, notes and keypads – are implementing a number of technology-led initiatives. The reduction in cash handling not only reduces associated security risks but has the benefit of expediting the cash-up process when closing out the registers late at night. 

Whether a chain or an independent, self-service kiosks with integrated payment are also now becoming commonplace in fast-food restaurants – not only helping to reduce staffing costs but also helping to increase average transaction value by a reliable process of up-selling and cross-selling, all of which drives consumption. The emphasis is always on speed and convenience which needs to be matched by fast, secure payment. 

Theirs is also an industry conducive to drive-throughs, click & collect and home delivery –  services all of which have seen unprecedented rises in demand and the emergence of new integrated order and pay applications designed to facilitate ordering from your car, home or on the move – all coupled with the ability to send out offers in real-time to whet the appetites of their customers. 

In conclusion, it’s fair to say that all is not doom and gloom in the Hospitality industry and as markets begin to re-open around the world, those restaurateurs that didn’t sneeze at the challenge of enabling their businesses with new tech can not only look forward to pent up public demand for their product but also the opportunity to develop new sales channels and revenue streams for their product. We should all drink to that! 

By Tony Hammond, SVP Global Product Delivery at FreedomPay