2019 highlights

Hostech will take place on 29 January 2020 at the Ham Yard Hotel, London. To be the first to hear about our next conference, please register your interest by sending an email to events@mca-insight.com.

The promise of digital technologies, to help operators deliver outstanding hospitality experiences, is seductive. But how to navigate this complex and rapidly developing landscape, in challenging times, to make the right decision for your business? Whether consumer-facing or back office, MCA’s 2019 Hostech conference examined case studies from leading operators and best-in-class solutions from sector suppliers.

Hostech 2019 addressed:


The importance of tech and digital integration

Simon IddonSimon Iddon, former chief information officer of The Restaurant Group, called on the hospitality sector to get up to date with technology and not wait around for peers to take the jump first. He explained:

You’ve got to understand the business, the problems, and the opportunities. You can’t sit around waiting for it to happen. You need vision, creativity and foresight – and the ability to challenge the business. We need to take more risks – you’ve got to keep up and innovate and be different. Tell the story and bring it to life. You’ve got to get the passion across the business. The most important thing is getting everyone on side – operations, finance, HR – so they all know what’s in it for them. For most IT led projects – everyone has to be there.

This echoed the discussion between IT leaders in the sector, who met just before the Hostech conference, for a roundtable discussion organised by MCA and Restaurant Magazine. They called for greater cooperation among their industry peers – while accepting technology is only part of the solution to great hospitality. Without revealing trade secrets, they recognised the need for operators be more open and share their tech challenges and ideas.

Enticing customers in hospitality using technology - Simon Iddon, CXOwnDuring his presentation, Iddon also gave a whistle-stop talk on the different types of technology currently available and where he thinks the industry needs to improve. He explained operators do very little of what is possible with regards to enticing customers to visit, order more and be loyal to a brand, with examples described on one of his presentation slides.

He sees opportunities with Augmented & Virtual Reality for both enabling better staff training and delivering information to consumers in a more engaging way. On the topic of engagement, he urged operators to use personalisation and gamification more. He then pointed to tech again to help address the hot topics of the moment, i.e. sustainability, allergen labelling and healthier eating.

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Digital integration at KFC

KFC Call the Colonel projectLisa Bowen-Dawes, KFC’s senior digital product owner, told delegates that the group was set to roll out Netflix-style recommendation technology trialled in its drive-thru estate across it UK operations. The project, named “Call The Colonel”, was to become part of the online and app experience for UK customers in the first half of 2019. It allows drive-thru customers to call ahead and hear a recording of the menu, with key products and deals picked out. She explained that the technology had helped ease anxiety at the speaker post as customers struggled to read the menu with a queue of cars behind.

Bowen-Dawes said this was an example of the group’s “innovation sprints”, which consists of digital projects implemented and tested in small sections of the estate, with further progress based on customer reaction. She told the conference that KFC needed to shift away from thinking of the brand as a quick service bricks and mortar restaurant, and instead get into the mindset of an e-commerce company, more customer-focused and data driven.

Read the full article on www.mca-insight.com >>

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Better using data for improving the customer experience

“Jamie Italian has 15m pairs of eyes across his social channels every week – so it should be the most successful restaurant on the high street, but it’s not,” Jon Knight, chief executive of Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group told Hostech. Knight was speaking as part of a panel session hosted by Peter Martin, contributing editor at MCA, and addressed by Gary Goodman of Yumpingo, who set the scene for the ensuing discussion. He said:

The better you understand your customers, why they buy from you, what they love about the experience, and what drives them to come back, the more you can serve them. The way I shop and watch TV has been transformed by Amazon knowing aspects about me, keeping it consistent and personalised. They do it better than anyone I know, and I suspect restaurants can learn a lot form it.”

Also on the panel was Gavin Adair of Rosa’s Thai, who said data was now front and centre of his growing group’s KPIs. “I was pleasantly surprised when I joined Rosa’s about quite how much infrastructure there was for a business with 10 sites. We had strong till systems, strong people, and the early beginnings of a customer data base. The challenge now is to pick and choose where to make our investments.”

Knight pushed back against the personalisation trend, saying it could undermine consistency in branded restaurants. “Next year we will do four menu changes, but I can only personalise what’s on my menu during that period of time. If we try and over-complicate personalisation, then we’re going to have kitchens in disarray and see standards slip around allergens, cooking and presentation.” Adair countered that technology could help provide a solution, especially around allergens, without losing the people factor.

Read the full article on www.mca-insight.com >>

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Future-proofing: from AI to AR

Tom Weaver, global CEO of Flyt, described 2018 as (mostly) a year of technological stagnation, with big tech hitting the headlines “for all the wrong reasons” – from Facebook and Google’s privacy breaches, to Apple’s slump in sales. He explained that Augmented Reality was still very much in early stages of maturity, whilst Google Duplex – a fully automated system which places calls on an individual’s behalf using a voice that can hardly be distinguished from a human one – “may be the most game changing innovation of the decade”. He also highlighted Domino’s for using an AI assistant with a voice recognition feature to automate pizza orders places over the phone.

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Whitbread’s future plans

Andy Caddy, Whitbread & Dave Sayers, MicrosoftWhitbread is trialling new restaurant formats as well as rolling out a refresh of the Brewers Fayre brand, Andy Caddy, the group’s chief technology officer, told MCA’s Hostech conference during a discussion with Dave Sayers from Microsoft. “We are in the process of trying out a couple of different brand ideas, around freshening up some of those spaces. Brewers Fayre has got a little tired so we’re doing some work there”, he said.

He stressed that the c700-strong restaurant estate remains a crucial element of Whitbread’s stategy going forward, with a focus on building the “symbiotic relationship” with Premier Inn. He explained that when people stay at a Premier Inn, they expect a “good breakfast and somewhere to go in the evening. Together it’s about making a compelling offer across our different segments.” On the hotels side, he said that personalisation of the guest journey remained the key digital focus.

Read the full article on www.mca-insight.com >>

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Using technological innovation to improve the customer experience

Do not run before you can walk: that was the key messages to emerge from a panel discussion on embracing technology and improving the customer experience. “You have to make sure your foundations are right,” Stephanie Lloyd, head of marketing at New World Trading Company (NWTC), told delegates. She admitted that when she joined the company, the business “would have loved to have launched a consumer app” but the infrastructure was simply not ready for such a move. “We didn’t even have websites that were mobile friendly, so we’ve spent the journey getting those in place,” she explained.

Forging a close relationship with the IT department, she continued, had been instrumental in helping other departments understand how long tech-based visions might realistically take to get off the ground or, in some cases, not. Through collaborative working, the departments had been able to identify potential problems, preventative measures and solutions before it’s too late.

Buy-in from the top is also essential but according to Paul Jones, head of IT at The Alchemist, IT – or at least ‘cyber security’ – is not an easy topic for people to feel passionate about. “If you outline the risks – that these bad guys are trying to get into your network and you’re trying to stop them from coming in – that’s half the battle,” he said. “Let your MD know there are people trying to impersonate them and steal their cash – that also helps convince them to come on board.” He advised drawing out a simple network diagram to aid understanding and “get the business on side.” “Here’s our network, here’s our data, there’s the bad guys, they want to come in and take all our stuff, and this is what we can put in to stop them,” he explained. Businesses were also advised to put mechanisms in place to analyse valuable customer data.

Noel Hunwick, Inamo co-founder and marketing director added: “We’re doing menu rework for April. We have something like 30,000 guest ratings from the past number of months, so any dish which is not rating above a four is immediately called into question and one that we might consider moving off the menu.”

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How to appeal to Gen-Z

Chloe Combi, ZedChloe Combi, the Generation-Z expert and co-founder of the dedicated generational future-proofing agency Zed, looked at some of the ways in which the sector can appeal to a new breed of diners and drinkers. Generation Z – roughly aged between 13 and 23 – will represent 32% of the entire global population by the end of 2019. However, convincing Generation Z to eat and drink out is the real challenge. Combi explained that restaurants that foster communal elements – from building tacos to pick-n-mix platters – are proving to be popular with Generation Z, who find these break down social awkwardness. Moreover, it forces a generation often more intimate with their screens than their peers, to put down their phones and re-connect with their fellow people – and of course, the food and drink. Both out of need and necessity, Generation Z will go out with and be dependent on their ‘tribes’ (as opposed to a partner or family) more and for longer. Restaurants, pubs and clubs should cater for this, Combi said, offering group packages that are affordable and appealing for these diverse Generation Z tribes. This would include flexible menus to cater for different food needs and tastes, as well as flexible payment options.

Two of the main factors that put off Generation Z eating and drinking out more are cost and waste. The cost for a financially-challenged generation is often hard to justify, but the idea of left-overs going to waste is just too much to stomach for them. To this end, all outlets need to facilitate ways customers can take home their leftovers. If young customers view a meal as a something that can be stretched into something more – tomorrow’s lunch, a snack for one of their tribe – that is certain to be appealing. Additionally, establishments that seem to be giving a little – a free re-fill, not charging for sides – go far with Generation Z.

Combi pointed out that Generation Z are the masters of multi-tasking and are increasingly demanding multitudes from their social and dining experiences. Hence why, dining experiences that contain elements of adventure, mystery, surprise and ‘doing’ are beloved by younger generations. Beyond stimuli, Gen-Z in particular likes to feel special. Whether it’s specially named bottles, T-shirts, private membership passes, or being sung ‘happy birthday’ by the staff – establishments that go the extra mile for young customers will be revisited and reviewed (favourably) a lot on social media.

For many more ideas on how to appeal to Gen-Z, read the full article on www.mca-insight.com >>

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Grind’s early success from its retail arm

Grind's coffee capsulesGrind founder David Abrahamovitch told the conference that the successful launch of the brand’s retail arm was a natural extension of its multi-faceted offer. The group began selling compostable Nespresso-style capsules of its coffee in December 2018 and Abrahamovitch described the strategy as “building a bolt-on subscription business, using technology that sits within a coffee brand”.

He said: “The retail arm of the business came about because we felt like we had this huge digital audience but a lot of these people didn’t necessarily live within walking distance of a Grind. We wanted a way to engage with them and we thought there was an appetite for our brand to extend into the home. We were intrigued by Nespresso pods. We experimented for 18 months and eventually found someone who could pod up our coffee into compostable pots. We launched it in December with the capsules available in our pink tins. I see them as the millennial version of the Illy tin. They’re currently on sale through our stores and in Selfridges, but primarily the volume is coming through the website and then you can subscribe.”

Grind's digital presence“I like to think about Grind as a tech business that employs people, and we focus a lot on those systems and integrated processes. I really see us as a Shoreditch start-up with 20 employees which also has 10 physical stores with another 200 people working in them.”

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Want more insights from Hostech?

The highlights of the 2018 Hostech conference are still available here.

Hostech will take place on 29 January 2020 at the Ham Yard Hotel, London. To be the first to hear about our next conference, please register your interest by sending an email to events@mca-insight.com.