Six suppliers and operators sound off on the value of hardware, software and social networking.
“It took 40 years to put a TV in every household in Canada [and] only 10 years to put a computer in every house,” Dr. Nick Bontis, an award-winning professor at Hamilton, Ont.’s McMaster University, said at a recent industry event. He was discussing how literacy and knowledge will help us sift through information since technology and information overload is a growing reality. It’s why foodservice operators need to use software, hardware and social networking to their advantage, and a number of operators and suppliers are already leading the way, including six who told their stories in an F&H technology roundtable.
Participants from the supply side included Joe Cortese, vice-president, Product Development of the restaurant point-of-sale technology company, Squirrel Systems; Chris Kneeland, president of the Calgary-based Watermark Advertising on behalf of Expion, purveyors of social-media management software and Kris Edwards, vice-president of Operations at Ameego, which produces a web-based scheduling and labour control application.
Meanwhile, our panel of operators featured Michael Doyle, vice-president Food and Beverage, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment home of Real Sports Bar & Grill and E11even; Kathleen Bell, co-director of Marketing and Creative Services for SFAF Canada (Subway Restaurants) and Grant Cobb, senior vice-president of Brand Management for Prime Restaurants Inc., parent company of East Side Mario’s, Prime Pubs, Casey’s Grill and Bar and Bier Markt.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST TRENDS WITHIN YOUR AREA OF EXPERTIS?
CHRIS KNEELAND: Every marketer is trying to make sense of the social space. While most are now convinced social [media] is much more than a fad, few know how to monetize it. But, social media marketing can be as simple as using new channels to secure lower cost, better targeted and more measurable media buys than newspaper, radio, TV or outdoor. It can also help build customer relationships, resulting in greater traffic, new customers and brand buzz.
JOE CORTESE: Four trends come to mind: mobility hardware solutions, loyalty solutions, PCI [Payment Card Industry] compliance and cloud-based applications.
The growing number of mobility devices is giving restaurants new opportunities to connect with customers and realize more productivity. Squirrel Professional has recently been deployed on the Apple iPhone and iPad. Using the devices as a desktop terminal, mobileordering device, wine-list selector, or payment terminal with full POS functionality resonates with our customers.
With the pervasive use of mobile smartphones, restaurants want to communicate in real time to have customers earn and redeem loyalty awards on the spot. For example, customers can use their smartphones to scan quick-response codes printed on receipts, which results in cost savings to restaurants since they will rely less on plastic loyalty cards, which customers won’t need to carry.
The ongoing journey of merchants maintaining PCI compliance remains a hot topic. While tokenization — where a customer’s credit card number is replaced by a special number [token] at the merchant site so only the cardholder and the payment processor know the actual card number — was a previous trend, the next concern is encrypting card data in the magnetic card reader itself, commonly referred to as E3 or End to End Encryption. Another path is Pay at the Table where credit, debit and chip and pin cards are accepted at the table; devices are integrated to the point-of-sale but do not pass any sensitive cardholder data to the POS.
The development of cloud-based applications will enable customer to access their data from any Internet connection. [Such] applications are essentially software applications and computing infrastructure hosted in data centres and delivered to customers via the Internet. Our market segment uses cloud solutions for reporting and other back-office applications.
KRIS EDWARDS: With the instability of the economy in the recent past, operators are shifting focus from outward expansion. Now they’re looking inward at operations for opportunities to improve, gravitating toward tools that…demonstrate significant ROI, are easy to use and even easier to deploy. They’re looking deeper to understand
how a solution is going to affect all aspects of business, including adoption rate, ongoing training and culture…. Companies no longer require large IT departments to support an extensive hands on roll-out, nor must they travel outside their core competency to become experts in hardware and networking.
WHAT CAN FOODSERVICE OPERATORS EXPECT TO SEE ON THE MARKET IN THE FUTURE RELATIVE TO NEW SOFTWARE, HARDWARE OR SOCIAL MEDIA APPLICATIONS?
CORTESE: In terms of hardware, expect cheaper consumer devices that use Google’s Android operating system gaining significant traction; the leveraging of devices staff already have as tools for ordering or connecting to HR portals in the restaurant industry; ultra-thin, retail-hardened touch-screen terminals at a much lower price point; digital display menu boards and voice-activated devices. On the software front, there will be a focus on loyalty and social media connectors, and restaurant operators will use applications downloaded to consumer devices more aggressively. Social media will have to be embraced tightly into the restaurant technology fabric, with applications initially centred around loyalty and rewards.
EDWARDS: Over the last 10 years vendors raced to build the latest and greatest tools and crammed as much functionality as they could into their product suite, resulting in an overwhelmingly high occurrence of difficult-to-use software that deterred adoption. To stay competitive, vendors will have to re-think their approach to design and re-prioritize their initiatives based on ROI, needs versus wants and simplicity. This is good news for open-minded operators because it’s going to become increasingly easy to find solutions that are simple to adopt and drive a measurable ROI to their bottom line; something that isn’t easy to find today.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE NEW TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS WITHIN YOUR SECTOR THAT FOODSERVICE OPERATORS SHOULD PAY THE MOST ATTENTION TO AND WHY?
KNEELAND: Social media management software allows the restaurant industry to reap the benefits of social marketing while avoiding the risks. It works well at the corporate level but excels at the regional or store level. So brands with franchisees, or brands with strong ties to local communities, find the tools particularly effective.
CORTESE: Aside from the trends already discussed, virtualization allows an IT person to load multiple POS environments and applications on a single system instead of multiple systems, which reduces energy consumption, simplifies deployments and provides easier maintenance.
Kitchen video systems will also gain momentum in the fast-casual and fine-dining segment to improve quality, speed of service and reduce paper. In addition to scheduling food preparation, kitchen video systems deliver visuals on how to prepare and plate food as well as online training.
EDWARDS: There are two technological advancements we believe will have a significant positive impact on a foodservice operator’s brand: automated intelligence and design usability. Automated intelligence is an exciting notion for the most business-savvy operators. It provides solutions in seconds and automates tasks that would take a person hours to complete. For example, it could take a scheduling manager hours to create a perfectly costed schedule, but there are tools available that can digitally capture the logic a person would use to create a schedule and complete that task in seconds, free of human error. The value that speed, consistency and accuracy can drive to an organization is significant and is the reason operators should pay close attention to automated intelligence. Design usability is incredibly important when it comes to analyzing the impact a particular solution will have on a brand…. As advancements in design usability unfold, software adoption by operators will increase rapidly, offering early adopters a competitive advantage.
HOW WILL TECHNOLOGY CHANGE THE RESTAURANT LANDSCAPE IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
KNEELAND: Social applications — on desktops and more importantly on mobile devices — will change how consumers engage with restaurants. From deciding where to eat, based on wait times or ratings and reviews, to physically making reservations, to receiving loyalty rewards for frequency or referrals, something as experiential as dining out is ripe for engagement marketing via social channels.
CORTESE: Connecting with customers in the way they are accustomed — with Facebook, Twitter and other social media — will be key. Plus, restaurants will be signing up more for software as a service in the same fashion as consumers download an application from the Apple App Store or their antivirus software. POS will become more of an infrastructure utility where restaurants pay for consumption, similar to their electric or gas bills.
EDWARDS: Operators new to the game or ones looking to continually improve can become far more competitive in far less time because they won’t have to re-invent the wheel. Operators who embrace a technology based on the pooled experience of industry leaders can leverage a set of tools that automate proven, best-in-class processes. For this reason, success and profitability across the sector is going to accelerate, closing the gap between the big and small fish to create a very healthy and more competitive environment.
THE RECCESSION REMINDED US OF THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD SERVICE. WHAT TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS HAVE YOU MADE TO CREATE FASTER MORE EFFECTIVE SERVICE FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS?
MICHAEL DOYLE: At the Air Canada Centre we use handheld computers to service the lower bowl of 9,000 people with in-seat service, so the customer can be served in their seat during the game. The hand-held technology allows us to finish the transaction at the seat with credit-card or cash payment. At our newest restaurant, E11even, we’ve invested in new iPads and a software called SmartCellar, which put our beverage menu on the iPad for diners to access information about each wine, its price, its tasting notes and its winemaker and winery. The new Real Sports Bar & Grill has used the latest A/V technology so the guest can plug in their iPod at the table to play music, change the channel on the TV or use their laptop to display a PowerPoint presentation at the table.
HOW IS SOCIAL MEDIA CHANGING HOW YOU MARKET YOUR BUSINESS, AND HOW ELSE ARE YOU USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO YOUR COMPANY’S ADVANTAGE?
DOYLE: We use social media at all our restaurants, and it is extremely effective…. Twitter is currently the leader in the restaurant world, but Facebook is certainly a very valuable tool to help market your establishment. We use social media to communicate to our customers but also to communicate to our staff. We have a dedicated team that manages social media for our employee communication and our customers. We use a system that enables staff to call in sick, get a shift covered or pick up a shift.
GRANT COBB: Although traditional media remains a crucial component of our marketing, our engagement in social media continues to grow. Prime Restaurants and our franchisees are actively engaged across numerous social media channels, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter Social media enables us to be constantly [involved] in a dialogue with our guests. Although our brands are chains, most of our restaurants and pubs are franchised and managed by a local member of the community. As such, each location manages its own social media — sharing information about new menu items, upcoming events and promotions and answering any guest questions. It’s a great way for the unique personalities of our franchisees to shine, which helps build their own unique presence in their communities and maintain an ongoing conversation with guests.
KATHLEEN BELL: Subway Restaurants is leveraging [social media] to engage customers between visits, sharing news about in-store promotions, limited-time offers and programs while also listening to customer experiences. We are working to expand available content to provide a rich user experience…. Our newest innovation is the Fresh Finder app for iPhone/iPad and iPod Touch. It offers the integration of location and social-sharing technologies for the first time in the quick-service category. The Fresh Finder uses the iPhone’s built-in GPS functionality and Google Maps to pinpoint the closest Subway to the user, providing the address, phone number and best route. Utilizing Facebook, Twitter or email, users can invite friends to join them at their selected location.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO YOUR COMPANY TO STAY ON THE CUTTING-EDGE OF TECHNOLOGY?
DOYLE: Very important. It helps you become more efficient, have better customer service, increase speed and create better communication, which helps deliver better service. COBB: Prime Restaurants prides itself on being a leader in the casual dining industry, and to remain in this leadership position we turn to cutting-edge technology. For example, when guests of Casey’s Grill and Bar wanted to make informed meal choices, we responded by introducing a new menu in October that featured a quick-response [QR] code…. Guests scan the QR code with their mobile phone and receive instant access to nutritional and allergen information for every menu item. The QR code is an innovative and highly effective way for us to increase the level of engagement, and Casey’s was one of the first restaurant chains in Canada to offer it on the menu.