Using Smartphone Technology to Streamline Food and Beverage Operations

By Tina Stehle Senior Vice President & General Manager, Agilysys Hospitality Solutions Group | October 17, 2010

When hotel executives think of smartphone and other mobile technology, guest self-service applications are most likely to come to mind. After all, consumers increasingly use mobile applications to check in and check out, order room service, schedule wake-up calls, make restaurant reservations, request luggage pick-up and confirm car rentals. Guests also routinely view promotional deals, such as restaurant coupons and tourist attraction discounts, while on the move via their smartphones. It offers the ultimate in convenience, ease-of-use and efficiency.

Yet, this same technology can also be employed by hotel staff to boost productivity and streamline operations. Hospitality-specific applications enable properties to manage housekeeping duties, track inventory, facilitate employee communication, monitor key hotel metrics and respond more quickly to guest service requests.

One of the most intriguing smartphone applications in the hotel environment is as an extension of the point-of-sale system in the food and beverage area. Here, it can be used as an order-taking device, offering a practical and cost-effective alternative to tablet PCs and traditional handheld POS devices.

Market growth exploding

A smartphone is simply a handheld device that integrates mobile phone capabilities with the more common features of a handheld computer or personal digital assistant. More than just a cell phone, a smartphone runs complete operating system software and provides a platform that supports third-party or browser-based programs that can perform a variety of specific functions. Many smartphones also offer practical tools like calculators, built-in GPS and map applications.

Recently, the smartphone market has witnessed explosive growth. This is due to a number of factors, including lower production costs, improved handset design, expansion of global mobile e-mail and browsing services, the emergence of 3G and 4G network technologies, increased competition among mobile carriers and standardization and upgrades of operating systems. According to a recent study by global marketing research firm comScore, Inc., more than 49 million people in the United States now own smartphones, and it is the fast-growing segment of the mobile phone market. The Nielsen Company further predicts that there will be more smartphones than traditional mobile phones in the U.S. market by the end of 2011.

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Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.