Modern Food Service Challenges are Driven by the Modern Guest

By Larry Steinberg Sr. Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, Agilysys | August 20, 2017

Consumers want more options. For every practiced chef, there is a collective of guests eager to spend their hard-earned dollars on something exotic and different. They want to experience a bit of culture by way of their next meal, and they want to find it using the latest technology. How do businesses prioritize which technologies to embrace? How do they stay in business in such a saturated, competitive marketplace? How do they keep up with the constantly-expanding demands of consumers? This highly competitive landscape, combined with changing guest expectations, has created a handful of new challenges for many operations. And the answers all begin with the guest.

From the guest’s point of view, an excellent experience is one that is simply frictionless. No one wants a struggle to meet a basic need. Guests want their experience without the friction of having to repeat what’s already been communicated, spending time trying to resolve issues that shouldn’t exist in the first place, or worse yet, feeling restricted because the technology to select specific preferences hasn’t yet been adopted, all of which can be sources of frustration.

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Integrating Convenience with Self-Serve Technologies

When it comes to technology, younger generations are in the driver’s seat. With self-service order placement alternatives, guests can meet their needs effortlessly, without standing in a long queue to place an order and without interfacing with a “human” order-taker, which is sometimes perceived as interference or friction. Interactive kiosks in foodservice environments give guests more control over their browsing and purchasing decisions. They not only connect guests to more menu items, but guest-facing, self-service kiosks also contribute to the overall brand experience. Today, self-serve technology is appreciated but not completely deployed or demanded, resulting in a window of opportunity for operators to capitalize on their ability to offer brand differentiation. With the recent shifts in shopping behavior that have resulted from a do-it-yourself mindset, users are all too happy to manage their own shopping and spending experience.

In this environment, digital kiosks are steadily taking the place of a person, who might otherwise judge what the guest orders or make a mistake by touching the wrong key on the POS (point-of-sale) terminal. Kiosks are ideal alternatives that allow users to place orders and send them straight to the kitchen - no intermediary necessary. While cafeteria settings are a natural fit for self-serve hungry consumers, fast-food restaurants and grab-and-go establishments are also benefiting from the limited staff required to support this convenient technology.

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Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.