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oday, foodservice operators must cater for customers who have become more reliant on their own digital technology than ever before, and whose expectations have changed dramatically in terms of how quick and simple

they expect service to be. The food and beverage industry must embrace a new dimension of customer service to live up to these expectations, and the technological tools to help them do so are already out there. “Technology is crucial in commercial foodservice because it helps operators to make more money,” says Jonathan Doughty FCSI, founder and managing director of Coverpoint Catering Consultancy and president of FCSI Worldwide. “Rent, labour and materials costs are going up so people need technology to assist with management. For me, the biggest impact has come from internet booking, which enables people to search for a restaurant, instantly book online and even choose where they sit.”

As well as making booking simpler, digital devices are increasingly making the process of ordering food and beverages quicker and easier. Tabletop ordering is becoming more prevalent in restaurants, where systems such as Ziosk enable customers to access menus and place orders through a tablet. “I love the use of iPads rather than paper. When you look at a wine list on a tablet, for example, you can choose a price range, see videos of the vineyards where the wine is made, see an interview with the guy who stomps on the grapes, and you don’t have to deal with a sommelier trying to sell you a more expensive bottle. It’s a chance for customers to explore for themselves and learn about food and wine,” says Doughty. The E-Table system at Inamo St James, in London’s

West End, is the fi rst interactive food ordering system to incorporate overhead projection technology. It allows customers to not only order food, but also control their eating environment by choosing virtual tablecloths or even the ‘chef cam’, which shows a real- time video feed of the cooks working in the kitchen. “Even in cafés tabletop ordering is very useful. For

instance, people may come in and buy a coffee then set up their laptop to work, but then don’t want to get up to buy another because they will have to pack their computer away. Now, they can order and have drinks delivered to their table, so they consume more,” says Doughty.

No delay when you want to pay

At the other end of the customer journey there are many systems that are making the payments process quicker and simpler.

“Payment at the table technology through an app rather than a server is transforming the industry. People can close their bill, add a gratuity and pay through their smartphones. They can leave the restaurant promptly because they don’t have to wait to pay,” says Doughty.

The advantages of cashless payment systems are epitomised by the solution provided by UK-based fi rm Systopia, which supplies the business, education, healthcare and leisure sectors.

“For the business and industry (B&I) sector cashless pre-pay solutions speed up the payment process and avoid the hidden costs of credit or debit cards. In some applications we are using the security badge employees use to enter the building, which can be used to buy items in the cafeteria,” says Chris Lyons, managing director of Systopia. Though it is mainly focused on B&I applications, the company is moving into more commercial areas such as sports stadia and leisure facilities. It installed its solution in Center Parcs in Cumbria, UK just over one year ago to address the problem customers faced paying for food and beverages when they were poolside. After all, no one carries cash in a swimsuit. The solution uses a wristband with a microchip inside, which can be linked to a credit card and enables customers to spend up to £300 during their stay. It also acts as a key for their guest rooms and their swimming lockers. As well as providing convenience for customers, such systems also provide valuable information for operators. “The cashless payments system generates an incredible amount of data, allowing operators to see who buys what and when, and to track average spend. This information helps them to plan better, improve effi ciency, save money and deliver better service. For customers there is no need to worry about cash because they always pay in advance. Sales are higher and throughput is faster,” explains Lyons.

“Since our solution was deployed in Center Parcs in

Cumbria, which was our fi rst step outside B&I into the business to consumer (B2C) market, sales have gone up 25% and we are now rolling it out to other sites. It is about technology, it is about the cloud and it is about fl exibility,” he remarks. In payments and EPOS systems, data is the real currency



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