Hotel Food & Beverage: Using Technology to Gain Productivity

By Al Ferrone Sr Director F&B Marketing, Hilton | October 28, 2008

Technology is also helping us become more competitive by allowing us to manage CRM. And although technology is useful, we need to be careful when applying it so that we do not diminish the experiences that our guests expect. We need to apply it in areas that do not inconvenience or burden our guests when using it. It may make sense for guests to use a kiosk ordering system at an airport, but I would be reluctant to place that kind of technology in a full-service environment. In a full-service food and beverage operation, I feel that it would be a grave mistake to replace service with technology even though it is available.

An example of not using technology is with an older form of technology, liquor dispensing guns. Our guests have made it clear that they prefer bottle-poured and handcrafted drinks versus the automated dispensing system. Technology will not replace personalized service and showmanship in a full-service environment; at least I hope it doesn't. That is my view for the present and the immediate future. It is not clear what our guests will accept in the distant future.

As innovation progresses, we are seeing a plethora of new products designed to control labor and products and that focus on our training needs. Most of the products are transparent and do not detract from providing guests with the experiences they expect. We at Hilton are testing, developing, and implementing several products to assist us with better managing our business.

We know that productivity is the key to healthy profit. We have tested several products that will allow us to look at our sales and product movement in order to identify training areas in real time through information in our POS system. "My Micros" and "Avero Sling Shot" products allow operators to manipulate information in their POS systems so that they can measure all areas of productivity by meal period, by hour, or by individual. It allows users to review what items servers are selling, and can highlight servers' strengths and weaknesses, which allows operators to focus on training needs. It makes the POS system transparent, preventing potential shrinkage.

The information that I am writing about has always been available, but technology has evolved. The problem in the past was that trying to extrapolate the information needed was so laborious that the information was too old to use by the time a report was generated, making it obsolete. With new products, we can measure by a touch of a button, in real time, the peaks and valleys of our business. We can measure by meal day part, by day of the week, and by the hour of the day, if so desired. This allows users to deploy the resources needed in order to provide better service and enhance the sales process. One thing to consider is that even though technology is great, it is not free. Before you buy any software, perform an ROI to determine the price/value relation.

An item we see as valuable is the new "On Demand" printing product. Printing menus can be expensive due to artwork and quantities. Graphic design and production costs can be over a thousand dollars for a high-quality, professional menu. In order to keep the price down, more menus than needed are ordered to receive volume price breaks. Because of the large quantities of menus that are received through conventional printing, restaurants tend to keep menus longer than they should. This results in infrequent menu changes. We have partnered with a company to create an online product which we call "Hilton's Menu Maker." We are rolling out a beverage menu and will grow to encompass restaurants and room service menus soon after. Utilizing this technology, we have created seven distinctive beverage menu designs that are available in two sizes for our hotels to order. We also give each hotel a choice of three menu cover styles which are customized for the hotel's specific outlet. Hotels simply go to the Flavor of Hilton Website located on Hilton.net and choose the look and style to create custom menus. Hotels can order as few as 25 menus at a time. When the menu program is fully implemented, we expect to see a 30-40% reduction in menu costs.

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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.