Enterprise hotel and restaurant companies are facing many challenges right now due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But one upside is that it’s accelerating the usage of new technologies that make it easier to provide a more seamless consumer experience powered by data. Fortunately, these new tech tools are likely here to stay.
The food and beverage and hotel industries have long been intertwined, but the last decade has seen a dramatic shift in how enterprise hospitality brands think about the ways their guests eat and drink on property. New technologies have fueled these changes, making the integration easier and more seamless than ever before.
Shiji Group serves the hotel, retail, food service, and entertainment industries with tech-driven solutions, ranging from business consulting to pay-per-use software platforms. When it comes to food and beverage, Shiji’s mission is to provide the food service industry with a complete and modern technology stack that is secure, scalable, and future-ready. The company values efficiency, flexibility, and guest satisfaction in the space and has delivered all three to over 200,000 restaurants.
Brett R. Smith, Shiji’s Vice President, Global Strategy and Product Management, has over 25 years of experience in the sector. He has seen the technology landscape evolve and is on the frontline of customer requirements for all the changes that the industry faces today. SkiftX spoke to Smith to learn more about how the company is thinking about the evolution of food and beverage technology in enterprise hospitality.
SkiftX: Beyond the current crisis, how has the hotel industry changed the way it views food and beverage?
Brett R. Smith: Years ago, hoteliers looked at food and beverage as a necessary amenity that sold rooms. You can still find that today in some cases, especially at hotels that cater to budget or business travelers, who tend to favor convenience over the overall experience. But we’re increasingly seeing food and beverage become an intrinsic part of a hotel’s revenue and attract non-stay-spend. Rather than just driving room revenue, it’s creating a destination out of its restaurant. However, when this happens, the hotel is now competing with the local restaurant market, as well as national restaurant brands, creating pressure around food and labor costs, providing consistent service, and staying on top of new technologies and local and cultural trends. It’s an exciting, but challenging space to be in.
SkiftX: What are some of the ways consumer expectations are changing when it comes to the food and beverage experience?
Smith: Not taking into consideration the immediate needs for more contactless solutions, today’s guests expect more customization, thanks to new technologies that allow staff and service teams to become wiser about their guests. While awareness of guest preferences was once considered invasive, guests are now used to, and are becoming more comfortable with, their preferences being known — at least when it’s relevant. Guest menu preferences or food restrictions should be made known to a restaurant’s servers when a reservation is made, and the payment experience should be as frictionless as possible, ideally connecting to a customer’s loyalty account or email account for easy expense reporting.
SkiftX: What are some of the major technology shifts that are taking place in the global hotel and restaurant space in response?
Smith: Cloud technology has really pushed the shift from analog to digital in the food and hospitality space. We’ve seen it with reservation and waiting list systems, table management software, and digital loyalty systems. This, combined with smartphones, tablets, and other handheld devices, are allowing for frictionless, informed ordering and payments, increasing the speed of service.
Previously a lot of a restaurant’s success depended on intuition. The data driven quick service restaurants focused on volume whereas the high end restaurants relied on uniquely talented chefs. While the abundance of data and the rise of analytics have been game changing, data that’s diagnostic and descriptive based on historical accounts of what happened will no longer be enough. Instead, future industry leaders will be more proactive and prescriptive in their decision making and planning by using multidimensional predictive analytics like forecasting and optimization. For example, when you combine future group bookings, local event schedules, historical sales and transaction data and let’s say forecasted weather; you can model changes in liquor menu and prices. This would result in increased bar sales and improve the probability of paired menu items that are more profitable, all while driving traffic to outlets that best can handle the additional capacity. It’s more than having a “BI” tool and the data. It’s analytics using virtual modeling that brings the highest outcomes and predetermined risks.
SkiftX: How has the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated certain trends?
Smith: Covid-19 has put pressure on every aspect of the restaurant business. Businesses have to do more with less, though we’re seeing a digitalization of restaurants like never before — getting it right is a matter of survival. Fortunately, the integration of these digital tools are wise investments that will pay out after the pandemic subsides.
Digital reservation and wait systems have existed for a while, but they are now essential to ensuring capacity mandates, and in some cases, assist with contact tracing. Menus, ordering, and payment systems are being increasingly accessed through QR codes or through the personal devices of customers to decrease the number of surfaces being touched.
I think the reemergence of QR codes in North America is a very graphic example of a technology that has existed for a while, but that’s being revived and accelerated due to the pandemic. While they’re very popular in Asia-Pacific markets, Western businesses really didn’t find a day-to-day use for QR codes until now.
The same is happening with contactless payments, pay-at-table with one’s phone, online menus, kitchen displays and more. Most of this technology already existed in systems such as Infrasys and other enterprise systems – but it was not a necessity – other than in quick service restaurants or other enterprise chains.
SkiftX: What are some specific needs of enterprise hotel and restaurant companies when it comes to their food and beverage services?
Smith: Enterprise hotel and restaurant companies are dealing with a lot of challenges right now, including employee furloughs. So they must leverage their partners, integrate digital solutions quickly, and double-down on technology platforms to get through these obstacles. The platforms that make the most sense to partner with right now must work with all aspects of a business and be extremely agile, adaptable and services focused— simply being successful at coding software is not enough anymore. For example, Shiji’s cloud systems are upgraded monthly to move with today’s demands and backs it up with a team of highly trained support and service members that are dedicated to hospitality which differentiates greatly from the legacy cloud solutions in the market.
SkiftX: Can you tell us a bit about Infrasys, Shiji’s cloud-based point of sale (POS) system, and the solutions it providers for hotel and restaurant chains?
Smith: Infrasys provides both a property’s guests and its employees with modern, truly mobile applications that work with a “bring your own device” strategy, allowing the ability to provide food and beverage service from anywhere.
The foundation of Infrasys’ POS system is that it’s stable, secure, and infinitely scalable. Infrasys offers the standard table service and reservation systems, but it’s specifically focused on connected guest experiences and making the customer journey more seamless. It also eases friction for a property’s employees and simplifies training processes. The POS allows the hotel to act as a whole: A guest’s reservation is integrated into a hotel’s loyalty program to support revenue generating objectives and solve operational needs. Data collection is vast, helping hotels understand the preferences of their guests and the overall operation. However, it also provides security of guest data while complying with regulatory standards.
SkiftX: How does Shiji’s MyCheck Click to Order online ordering system align with what customers demand today? How does it stand out from other online ordering systems?
Smith: Hotels are hyper focused on capturing guest satisfaction at every touchpoint of the entire guest journey. Unfortunately, many hotels are still using siloed technology systems that cannot communicate with one another and complicate the overall operations of a hotel. MyCheck offers the simplicity and ease of ordering food and drinks as well as hotel booking, check-in, wallet, and check out experience.
For restaurants, whether it be in the lobby bar, kiosks in the grab-and-go, tables, pool side, or in-room – having flexibility of mobile ordering and payment options makes dining easy, fast and convenient for employees and guests, which ultimately leads to a great guest experience. Today, driven by the need for contactless solutions, MyCheck uses QR codes to allow guests to order, view their checks, and pay via credit card or room charge using their mobile device or kiosk while fully integrated to Infrasys Cloud or legacy POS systems. Under the challenging environment of today, many restaurants first use MyCheck without integrations to capture the order and pay needs, and then connect POS. This non-integrated solution has a quick impact at a very low cost.
Beyond restaurants, MyCheck connects with the hotel guest before arrival by joining guest reservations with the brand’s mobile wallet and loyalty. Through MyCheck’s flexibility to integrate with a variety of hospitality technology software, a brand can deploy a single mobile journey across a mixed estate of POS, PMS and payment providers. As a result, from hotels to restaurants, MyCheck creates a simple and efficient property-wide digital and contactless experience. Recently, we integrated Shiji’s ReviewPro guest intelligence solution as greater guest satisfaction and more memorable stays will grow the business and lead to recovery.
SkiftX: Is there anything else you want to add about the shifts taking place in the food and beverage space when it comes to enterprise hospitality companies?
Smith: Our industry is in a steady state of reinvention. Enterprise hospitality companies often face challenges when it comes to finding the right employees. I think hoteliers and food and beverage directors should reach down past the typical hospitality colleges, into the high schools. The National Restaurant Association manages an education program called ProStart, which provides students with an industry-driven curriculum and real-life experience to build practical skills in the hospitality and food and beverage space. There’s a group of underleveraged students who are extremely talented and passionate about culinary services and management out there. And they’re ready to lead the next generation of the industry. Shiji strongly believes in this initiative, we are a proud sponsor of ProStart at both the National and State level.