Episode length: 48:11
Host Ruth Hegarty returns for the final episode of the Inside Food series when she interviews Professor Peter Jones of the eHotelier Academy and Bryan Davern of the Press Up Hospitality Group. Peter and Bryan examine how the use of technology has accelerated in the pandemic and discuss how technology can help streamline your operations and innovate your business.
What was discussed
Peter and Bryan discuss:
- The accelerated role of technology in the pandemic
- Integrating technology systems
- Improving efficiency through technology
- How to use tech to adhere to social distancing guidelines but still maintain human interaction
- What to consider before investing in new technology
Chapters and timings
04:00 – Chapter 1: The accelerated role of technology in the pandemic
07:40 – Chapter 2: Integrating technology systems
16:54 – Chapter 3: Improving efficiency through technology
27:48 – Chapter 4: How to use tech to adhere to social distancing guidelines but still maintain human interaction
38:11 – Chapter 5: What to consider before investing in new technology
Ruth Hegarty (egg&chicken consulting) is a consultant and facilitator focused on food, farming and sustainability in business and policy.
Professor Peter Jones is a Director of Wentworth Jones, an international hospitality consultancy, and a Dean of the eHotelier Academy.
Bryan Davern is Head of Hotels for the Press Up Hospitality Group, which includes seven hotels in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Westmeath.
[00:00:00] Voiceover: You’re listening to the Fáilte Ireland Inside Tourism Business podcast, the definitive podcast for tourism operators, bringing you expert advice, insights and practical tools to help you navigate the challenges your business is facing.
[00:00:20] Ruth Hegarty: My name is Ruth Hegarty and I’m your host for the first series of Fáilte Ireland’s new podcast, where we delve inside food, examining trends, innovations and tackling costs, to help you run a leaner more successful food operation.
[00:00:37] Welcome back to Fáilte Ireland’s Inside Tourism Business podcast. You’re listening to our seventh and final episode of the Inside Food series. Over the course of the series, we’ve tracked emerging trends in food service, learned how to engineer our menus for profit manage costs, reduce waste and improve service and sales. Following on from our last episode on data analysis, today we look at how innovations and technology can help enhance your service.
[00:01:03] I’m joined for this discussion by Bryan Davern, Head of Hotels at the Press Up Hospitality Group and Professor Peter Jones, Director of international hospitality consultancy, Wentworth Jones and Dean of the eHotelier Academy. Bryan, Peter you’re both very welcome.
[00:01:19] Peter Jones: Hi Bryan thank you very much, nice to be here.
[00:01:21] Bryan Davern: Hi Ruth, hi Peter.
[00:01:23] Ruth Hegarty: So, Bryan I want to talk to you a bit about how the pandemic has impacted the Press of Hospitality Group’s hotels and I suppose what opportunities you’ve gotten from technologies to help you pivot your business and adapt, but you might give us some context by telling us a bit about the business, first of all.
[00:01:41] Bryan Davern: Absolutely Ruth yeah, so I suppose for context first of all a quick overview of where we are at. So, we have six hotels currently, with The Dean Galway scheduled to open late this summer being number seven. Six of the seven hotels then are in an urban setting between Dublin, Cork and Galway.
[00:01:59] And then we have Glasson Lakehouse on the shores of Lough Ree in County Westmeath in the Hidden Heartlands of course being the exception. So, with Glasson we’ve undergone a really exciting transformation pre-lockdown and when we reopened, we will have what I think is going to be this really beautiful laid back luxury style retreat that’s different to anything that we’ve done before.
[00:02:20] Then back to our city properties with the city hotels – they’d best be categorised as lifestyle hotels and what I mean by that Ruth, is that they have a very high percentage of food and beverage turnover well over 50%.
[00:02:34] And of course then they have a very strong local customer base as well, that goes hand-in-hand to support that. So, during lockdown then, we have only been able to keep The Mayson open, that’s The Mayson is located near the 3Arena overlooking the River Liffey there and that’s been open for essential stays.
[00:02:51] And between The Devlin in Ranelagh and The Mayson, then we’ve been able to keep our DIME coffee hatches open onto the street serving the local neighbourhood, which I think is really important. Our brilliant team down in The Dean, Cork then got to open in December for three fantastic weeks and then sadly we were closed again.
[00:03:10] So that is something that we’re really excited to get back to as well. Going on from there, then we’ve also launched new delivery brands and turned our un-used event kitchens in The Mayson, for example, into delivery kitchens. So, we’ve launched new brands, such as RICE which is Chinese and Coo Coo Indian cuisine and we’re also launching POWER, which when we reopen that’ll be our boutique, fitness and wellness brand, which will be a big part of the hotels going forward.
[00:03:38] So for example, if we get the chance then to reopen The Dean in Harcourt Street, we’ll have transformed what used to be the nightclub, Everleigh nightclub into a gym, studios, relaxation pool and all of this would be a really great addition then to the overall guest experience. So that’s a quick overview of where we are Ruth and I guess how we pivoted during the pandemic.
[00:04:00] From a Press Up Hotels perspective then we have used this time to upgrade our systems such as moving our property management system to be cloud-based, which helps future-proof the business, as we develop beyond Dublin. Migrating to cloud just means greater scalability, agility amongst other things. So, from my perspective, I guess technology is a key driver for change for sure right now, but behavioural changes have also accelerated.
[00:04:27] So the pandemic is driving changes to consumer behaviour as well and tech is just furthering enabling that I guess, you know.
[00:04:34] But generally speaking technology has played a really important role in the hospitality industry over the last decade or so in particular. It’s clearly helped to reduce costs, enhance operational efficiencies and improve customer service experience. Then because of the pandemic technology’s role, I guess, has even accelerated further.
[00:04:52] Now also then how we work in and where we work is changing and it’s technology enablers if you like that support this in the community, such as Zoom meetings, Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc. So, in terms of catering to new markets, then blending different types of hospitality in one space is another example of what we do quite successfully. For example, we have a cinema in The Devlin Hotel that serves food and drink when you’re watching a movie and that’s popular mainly for the local market, as well as for in-house guests.
[00:05:24] I think everything is beginning to converge in hospitality and what I mean by that Ruth is that hotels have become hubs for entertainment, coworking, socialising, dining, nightlife even retail and cultural experiences to a degree maybe. [00:05:37] Ruth Hegarty: That’s, that is a really super overview and I mean it really just shows the level of kind of adaptation that has been happening already and that will happen, I think in the near future. Hotels are no longer the kind of traditional business that we associate around rooms.
[00:05:53] There’s so many different kind of aspects of merging to it and Peter, I mean you’ve been looking at innovation in the hospitality sector for a long time and obviously technologies have been a big part of that. How much has the technology side accelerated now due to COVID?
[00:06:09] Peter Jones: Well, it’s been a huge acceleration, I mean COVID has been a major catalyst for change largely through disruption. But what I was fascinated with there in terms of some of Bryan’s insights really into what’s going on within his business and they resonate quite strongly with some of the work that I’ve looked at and some of the work that I’ve been doing. The whole issue about localism is quite an important one to get to grips with because that local context where you are providing a workspace, you’re providing a leisure facility and they’re all blended.
[00:06:41] It’s no longer the case where if you like the 9-to-5 syndrome and that means you have to think differently about the product, but more importantly you also have to think differently about the technology that supports it. Because the hotel technology at the moment is very much predicated on rooms is over here, food and beverage is over here, other things are over there somewhere.
[00:07:04] And what you had in the past, where the key drivers to the business models for hotels were based on those. So, rooms being, perhaps for a lot of properties the main driver, but now we’re seeing that shift and so the technology has got to be able to change, innovate and adapt to cope with those shifts in the same way as the business is coping with the shifts.
[00:07:27] And what we tend to find with technology is technology can be single type solutions that might not have the flexibility to be able to cope with what the new offer is. Does that make sense?
[00:07:40] Ruth Hegarty: Yeah, that makes absolute sense and I mean, just to come back to you for a moment Bryan, is that one of the big challenges around it, that you have all of these different offerings and these different strands to the business and there might be different tech solutions for each of them and kind of bringing all of that together can be quite complicated, I’m sure.
[00:07:56] Bryan Davern: Yeah, absolutely I suppose, you know you go back to that word integration and how you interface all these different technologies and if you look at a hotel model in particular it’s, you know it’s very varied from, you know you could possibly have a property management system. You can have a CRM system, which is a customer relationship management system. Obviously, you have food and beverage points of sales. You have BDO system which is for events. So ultimately everything needs to interface, everything needs to come back to a property management system for various reasons for night audit, for guest profiles and even accountancy reasons, everything needs to merge back into one and how everything interfaces is crucial, you know.
[00:08:38] Peter Jones: Oh, I was just going to say one of the interesting things about that, of course, is that and it comes back to a point that I think is an important one to understand, is that when we’re looking at technological solutions, we think that we’ve identified a problem that we need the technology to solve. And sometimes what we do is we actually create other problems somewhere else in the system and that is often driven by, perhaps even a regulatory control, so if you take the accounting system for example, often a lot of the business models are based around the accounting system.
[00:09:15] But what Bryan is now saying and what I think I’m certainly agree with, is we need to have the technology that allows for the consumer interface, that bit between that, how do we get the information into the systems to support the consumer’s requirements and they are constantly changing. So, if you just take one example, let’s say I go into one of Bryan’s hotels and I want, I am basically going to spend all day there. I’m going to spend two or three hours using the workspace.
[00:09:46] I might want to go to the gym, I then go to the restaurant where I’m going to catch a quick lunch. I might meet up with somebody else in the coffee shop. I’ve used a whole raft of those facilities and yet I’m not a registered guest. So, you’re then thinking to yourself, well okay, if you were a guest, you’ve developed the guest profile, you’d have, I’d be booked into a room somewhere, but I’m not, I live locally.
[00:10:10] I want to use the cinema in the evening, is there a mechanism at the moment? Do we have the technological solutions to be able to cope with me as an individual to pay one bill at the end of the day? Now, you know in using an interfacing with all of those facilities and I think that’s where I would be coming from and I’m sure that’s where Bryan is now, how do we get all these bits, all these bits of different types of technologies to work together to the best effect of the business?
[00:10:38] Ruth Hegarty: Yeah, and I mean, it’s certainly complicated and I think it’s an area that maybe for a lot of businesses can be quite daunting and obviously right now during this kind of quiet period a lot of businesses are, they’re re-thinking their entire model in a lot of cases.
[00:10:51] And they’re looking at ways to adapt and ways to gain efficiencies and of course, technology is part of all of those considerations. So how do we simplify Peter and I suppose what do businesses really need to be considering before they invest in new tech or upgrade their tech?
[00:11:05] Peter Jones: Well, one of the things I could say to them is first of all, ignore all the adverts for the moment, because until you understand the problem that you’re trying to solve or the issue that you want to resolve, the danger is that you could get a bit sucked in and somebody got, hey when you reopen, we got this fantastic new whatever gizmo that you just put it on your phone and it will solve the world for you.
[00:11:29] The danger is sometimes that you can get sucked in, if you like, to that technology and you get sucked into all the widgets that are on the technology and you say, whoa look, that’s fantastic, it’ll let me do that. But then you have to step back and say, do I really need to do that? Is that something that’s important to me?
[00:11:46] So it comes back to the basic notion about understanding what it is you want the technology to do for you in its simplistic form and that means you’ve got to really look at your business properly before you understand how the technology can help you. So, the first thing you need to look back, is step back from the business and say, okay these are all the bits of the business.
[00:12:09] What do I need in order to make that business, that part of the business more efficient, more effective? What am I actually trying to achieve here? And then you begin to look and say, what technology have I already got? Am I using that technology properly? Am I only using a small proportion of that technology? Which is often the case.
[00:12:30] And how can I therefore adapt the technology I’ve already got, make that work for me a lot better than it is at the moment and then look and say, okay what do I need now to look at that will help me? But make sure it interfaces with what I’m already doing. The last thing you want is to have a system or two disparate systems that don’t talk to each other because that’s not going to be very helpful at all. And will cause you more problems than the technology is designed to solve.
[00:13:01] Ruth Hegarty: Okay Bryan, Peter mentioned there, maybe don’t be sucked in too much by advertisements before you’ve figured out what it is exactly that you need, and do you find there’s a lot of different solutions being offered, and you can kind of get caught up in what’s available rather than kind of actually what you need to solve the problem? Second part to that question would be, is it always the tech solution that you need? Like maybe you need to be looking elsewhere sometimes to solve an issue.
[00:13:25] Bryan Davern: Yeah, I’d say absolutely not Ruth, you know it’s not always technology as the answer. A simple example might be like a post-stay email to a complaint guest or I guess who has had any sort of issue, you know on-site that has been resolved in person on-site.
[00:13:41] It actually then takes away from that personal touch. In that if it comes across as automated as a post-stay e-mail, it’s been dealt with in person and then, you know, automated messaging going out, that’s obviously not genuine or heartfelt or at least that’s the way it will come across so that there should certainly be manual override in these kinds of scenarios.
[00:14:00] But on the other hand then you know a pre-stay registration email actually allows the guests to get the paperwork out of the way and could lead to a better in-person welcome on arrival as neither party then are kind of consumed with the admin tasks around registration and so you’d hope then that the host can properly concentrate on providing a warm welcome to the guest.
[00:14:22] But I think, you know there’s this phrase, I suppose a computer says no scenario for anybody familiar with David Walliams’ character, you’ll know what I mean here, but like for example if you’ve ever contacted a hotel directly to find that the poor receptionist isn’t empowered to at least price match a third-party online travel agent rate that you’ve seen online just now.
[00:14:46] You know, that’s a hotel manager’s worst nightmare, you know that both the guests and the hotel lose out in that kind of scenario. So, there’s always this level of having to have manual input or make decisions overriding the technology. If you look even at the moment, you know with revenue management systems themselves, you know they dictate pricing of hotel rooms.
[00:15:07] But they have to be manually overridden at times, you know? So, it could be argued that because of the major reset caused by COVID, their pricing analytics are based on historical data anyway. So, they might not be relevant at all for the next while. So, for me, a lot of the time it comes back to is the technology actually empowering the team to interact more freely with the guests?
[00:15:30] I think that’s the key question, Ruth.
[00:15:33] Peter Jones: Yeah, and I would agree with Bryan on that I mean there’s, can I just give you a couple of quick examples of how things can go dramatically wrong? So fairly recently I had cause to, if you like, let’s call it a complaint. Sent a complaint email with a reference. So, I’d received a previous acknowledgement from a company and with a reference on it.
[00:15:52] So I just sent back my email of complaint related to that reference. I didn’t hear a thing for three or four days, sent another email same reference nothing again, three or four days later sent another email with what I call a snotter mail saying, you know how about having some courtesy to reply? I then rang them.
[00:16:16] And only got a very apologetic answer saying “Oh we’ve just installed a new system and that reference was deemed to be closed. So, the emails were not seen by a person, they were automatically sent into a file.” So that’s Bryan’s point entirely, isn’t it? About you’ve got to have that manual override. You’ve got to have somebody looking at all of these things.
[00:16:37] Otherwise these things are going to get completely lost, I end up as a very disgruntled customer and I think to myself, am I going to go to that company again when clearly their systems are not enabling them to provide a service, they are getting in the way of providing the service.
[00:16:54] Ruth Hegarty: Yeah, absolutely, so really important message around using the technology when appropriate and when it works but being very aware of when not to rely on it as well.
[00:17:03] So I suppose in terms of where we can gain efficiencies and streamline through technology, Peter, I mean, what are some of the ways that you can really improve your service by using technology?
[00:17:14] Peter Jones: I think it comes back to my previous point, which is really understanding how your business works and so once you understand how that business works then you’re in a position of, if you like, improving the efficiency.
[00:17:30] And the first thing you should do is improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of your business without the technology. So, can you then see a way of streamlining or developing better systems to cope with whatever that particular issue might be? And once you’ve done that, then you’re in a good position to look around you and say “well okay now I know what I’m trying to achieve by this, now, can I look at the technology that can improve on that?”
[00:17:57] I mean there are very simple things of course and things that people have been using for years. So, Bryan’s already referred to you have EPOS systems in restaurants in the hotels. We could look at different types of technology in terms of ordering systems and there are a vast array of those around.
[00:18:14] Ordering which it goes direct to the kitchen, but then you still have to have somebody looking at the checks in the kitchen to make sure something doesn’t get missed.
[00:18:23] Ruth Hegarty: I think that’s really important. Bryan what’s your experience of areas that are really effective to maybe automate and use technology and how important is it then to have those kind of checks and balances in terms of the human interaction as well?
[00:18:35] Bryan Davern: Yeah, well I suppose if we look at kind of rooms division, you know in terms of when we look at it often from a hotel perspective, rooms division is the very kind of revenue management and very data driven, but we still need to distil it down then basically to I suppose, things like pricing strategy used to sell your rooms. It’s really, just about selling to the right guests at the right time and through the right channels to try and maximise your property’s revenue.
[00:19:02] So I definitely think that there’s areas of kind of revenue management that we could maybe apply at least the thinking more to, in terms of food and beverage kind of scenarios.
[00:19:11] Examples might be, you know demand stimulation, which is often through digital advertising, forecasting, booking management.
[00:19:19] What I mean by that is how we manage no shows, cancellations and even over-bookings. You know similar to rooms I think restaurants more and more are taking a stronger line in order to protect themselves from no shows and lost revenue associated with, you know, you protect yourself by taking non-refundable deposits.
[00:19:37] And I think we saw a lot of that last summer where it was required. If you look at the hotel distribution and channel management best practice then perhaps especially of interest maybe, if you’ve set up a food delivery business and that market where you have a third-party such as Deliveroo, etc. You know it’s similar to an OTA, similar to an online travel agent, in the room selling environment.
[00:19:58] So that might garner kind of further examination. And similarly managing group bookings, you know you could apply two selling menus with fixed-price based on the volume of covers. And then a big thing is that in hotels benchmarking performance, you know through companies like STR perhaps where you’re constantly comparing your key performance, your market share, your KPIs, to your own competitive sets. These are all kind of ideas. The idea of then planning of inventory, so if you replace hotel rooms, bedrooms for restaurant seats for a moment and consider the total capacity, the turnover of seats as well as the kind of the lower demand periods during the day perhaps.
[00:20:40] If you consider the time that the seat is perishable and then maybe you look at something like remote working to be an option during those kinds of off-peak periods. This would be another example of kind of looking at F&B from that kind of perspective of revenue management routes, you know.
[00:20:56] Ruth Hegarty: Yeah, I think that’s really, really interesting.
[00:20:59] I’m a huge believer in kind of cross sector learning opportunities and I think, you know across the hospitality and food service sector, you know there’s sectors that are really strong on certain things and others that might be weaker, and I think there’s real opportunity for learning. And Peter as Bryan said, you know the hotel sector has adapted tech for a long time and will be quite strong on, you know, analysis and benchmarking.
[00:21:19] But it’s not as heavily used typically in the restaurant sector or pubs and cafés, do you think that there’s some learning there for those sectors from what hotels do?
[00:21:28] Peter Jones: Yes, I certainly think there is, it is a slightly more complex issue because clearly with the bedroom you’ve got, yes, you’ve got a range of different types of bedroom products, but they’re pretty fixed. Whereas the restaurant, and especially if it’s a dynamic service, which is what Bryan’s talking about, so in effect you’re going to be changing the nature of the service delivery to different client groups throughout the entire day. You do that now anyway where, you know they do breakfast, becomes a coffee shop becomes lunch. But if you’re making it much more on this basis of sort of inclusive, integrated activities, so you’ve got to be able to be much more responsive to that and then you’ve got to look at well, what is the nature of these things and how can I maximise the revenue spend in relation to those?
[00:22:14] And yes, I think we need to get the technology to provide the data against which we can make those wider sets of comparatives, whether it’s average, you know we can do the simple things like average spend, but that doesn’t actually tell you very much about what the nature of the spend was by different types of demographic, by different types of consumer groups.
[00:22:36] And that’s the sort of thing that we need to understand an awful lot better than we’re getting at the moment. So, if we’re moving into those directions, I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to better understand what it is that you’re capturing, that you might want to actually use that to benchmark against. Because that will vary over time and it will vary by product and so on. It becomes quite a complicated overall scenario to be able to try and manage I think, and it needs a lot more work doing, I think in terms of trying to understand what is the importance.
[00:23:11] So I could ask Bryan that question, in terms of managing the revenue in a restaurant, what is the key benchmark that you would want to try and establish for your own restaurant to compare it with other restaurants within the same group? And once you begin, will that vary by different types of property obviously, but how much would you allow that to vary and so on?
[00:23:31] So it’s that level of complexity and complication, if you’d like, that we’ve got to try and better understand.
[00:23:38] Bryan Davern: Yeah, I think from the perspective in terms of looking at KPIs and every property is going to be slightly different, but the obvious kind of benchmarking KPIs and, you know, this could be as casual as literally, you know the sharing of information, but you might decide that, you know, the percentage of labour costs needs to be 30%.
[00:23:56] And you might find that you know somebody in your competitive set is running at a lower percentage and there might be learnings from that, you know, and these don’t necessarily need to be kind of rival businesses because of geographical spread and so on, so there’s an awful lot that you can learn from benchmarking and KPIs in particular.
[00:24:16] Peter Jones: I also think when you do that though, don’t you Bryan, you have to make sure you get the context in which it’s operating right? And so, it is about understanding the different scenarios that those different businesses are actually operating in and sometimes I think it’s relatively straightforward, isn’t it? If you’re dealing with rooms and you’re dealing with a bed factory then you can make those KPI judgments relatively easily. It’s when you get into what you’ve described as going to be a really quite complex business model that you are developing now is really how do I establish what’s relevant and how do I make those sets of comparators?
[00:24:54] Because it may be about the quality and the nature of the service that you provide. And that would depend upon the type of staff and the type of skill sets the staff have got and actually how well they’re integrating and adapting and using the technology as well, all of which can have some impact on that.
[00:25:11] Bryan Davern: Yeah, there’s so many different variables and ultimately, you’re coming away with data and you still have to obviously interpret that data and that’s the key, you know.
[00:25:20] Peter Jones: Yeah, could I just, I’ve just written this down actually I said, “technology provides the data, people provide the intelligence”.
[00:25:28] Ruth Hegarty: Yeah, that’s brilliant and Bryan, I mean, Peter mentioned earlier on about consumer preferences are constantly changing and particularly over the past year and really the tech needs to be able to respond to that and I’m just wondering, can you talk a little bit more about the key changes that have happened in terms of how consumers have taken up technology and you know how the industry has had to respond to that and what you’ve kind of put in place around that? And then where you would maybe avoid technology as well?
[00:25:57] Bryan Davern: Yeah, sure so I guess it’s definitely not a case of technology for technology’s sake, I mean personally I feel, you know, you introduce technology front of house at least only if it’s supporting the guest service experience. So, people now more than ever I think are seeking they’re seeking connections and authentic experiences more and more and that absolutely applies to hotel guests as well.
[00:26:19] So something like hotel check-in kiosks are a great example, I think. No, I would absolutely never want to a kiosk to replace the interaction on arrival between, let’s say, the receptionist and a guest, however I have a very open mind if the technology that it’s enabling the receptionist and the guests to have a longer, more personalised interaction.
[00:26:41] So that’s a very different thing and I think if that’s a different thing, you need to support the guest service experience and never try and replace it and that probably leads me on to kind of a related point, which is technology platforms bring consistency. But there is always this conflict at play for me in our independent kind of lifestyle hotels between consistency on one hand and individuality.
[00:27:05] So what I mean by that Ruth is that you want to share culture across your hotels, and you want a shared tech platform, and you want shared financial reporting. But what you don’t want to do is take anything away from the individuality of the team members, the location, the sense of place, the freedom to be kind of spontaneous and to not be scripted in any way.
[00:27:28] And I guess that’s ultimately what leads to kind of a truly intuitive service, you know. So, I guess while the large hotel chains need to conform and they’re slower moving in that regard, this is the advantage that the independent hotels, restaurants, cafés have that kind of freedom to adapt quickly, to innovate, to experiment more, you know.
[00:27:48] Ruth Hegarty: Yeah, definitely I think that flexibility is really key and as you said, you know you want to maintain a bit of personality and you don’t want to lose the human interaction. I mean, Peter that is, I think we’ve kind of said it across a lot of the episodes, it is a people business. We don’t want to lose the human interaction, but at the same time the technology can make people feel very safe and secure and can provide, as Bryan said, consistency.
[00:28:12] So where would be the key areas that businesses can look to technology to help them comply with social distancing guidelines and provide that sense of security and consistency to guests?
[00:28:23] Peter Jones: I think there are a number of areas and clearly it all comes back to that very important point about making the consumer feel comfortable, making them feel secure, and feeling in control.
[00:28:37] And that’s going to be increasingly important as we move forward that they got to have this feeling of control. So, if they feel that they can use technology to give them that element of control then they will do that. So, things like table ordering systems would be one way that they can feel that they’re actually perhaps more in control.
[00:28:54] Obviously things like contactless payments and so on, Apple Pay, or whatever, are very important again for giving them a sense of control about they are better able to control the environment. And that’s important because we are still in the middle of a very difficult pandemic position and we’re not going to suddenly emerge and go, “way hey come on everybody can do whatever the hell they like”.
[00:29:21] It’s not going to be like that, so we’re still going to have constraints on our behaviour. There will be constraints on the way the business is being able to interact with the consumer, but we’ve got to try and use the technology to, I was going to say, grease the wheels. That’s probably not a good expression talking to hospitality people, but you know what I mean.
[00:29:41] We’re not actually in a good position to be able to overcome some of those problems. What we’ve really got to come up with, I think is a way that we get that human technology interface, where everybody feels comfortable with it.
[00:29:55] And in particular that the consumer can feel that they’re in control. So online ordering systems, but just bear in mind not everybody wants to use their own devices. So, if you’ve got an expectation, for example, that people coming into your property will download your app and then they will use your app on their phone to control their interface with your business, I think that might be a big ask for a lot of people, especially if they are going in and out of numerous venues, for example, different types of pubs where there’s that degree of expectation at the same time.
[00:30:33] So I think what you’ve got to do, or what the provider has got to do, is to think about the technology interface in terms of what can we provide that’s going to still make it feel as though the client, the consumer is in control. Now, let me give you an example of that, there are a number of different types of applications around at the moment, but one of them is actually, effectively it’s a camera in the roof that actually projects the menu onto your table.
[00:31:02] And you just use your table as you would a touchscreen to make your order choice. It automatically knows what your table is and what your table number are it actually has got a visual imagery of how many guests there are there, and you just touch on that is your contact order point. You then need to make sure that the table is appropriately clean because you’ve had lots of people putting all their sticky fingers all over the table, making their menu choices, but there are different ways that you could envisage, you could use that type of innovation to be able to be that interface between the guest and the business, which hasn’t involved the guests using their own technology to create that interface.
[00:31:43] The younger generations might be much more adept at doing that and might be quite happy to do it. But I feel that there is a sort of, a bit of a generational divide, at the moment, with people that are perhaps more reluctant to use their own technology in those circumstances.
[00:32:00] Ruth Hegarty: Bryan, can you see that for Press Up Hospitality Group projecting menus onto tables?
[00:32:04] Bryan Davern: Yeah, well, you know it’s obviously it’s important not to lose the human interaction, but I suppose an example for me might be, I don’t like the idea of introducing let’s say a kiosk as I said into reception, if it’s simply a labour-saving mechanism, you know.
[00:32:18] But I do see advantages of contactless check-in and check-out and actually using mobile devices or smartphones as digital keys. You know, that’s a digital transformation that’s starting to happen, but in my experience, and we have that capability, but in my experience, it’s still very much, you know small numbers looking to use that technology.
[00:32:38] Now that will develop, but I would say a regular corporate guest may choose that method and that leaves more time then for other guest interactions, you know with reception and the leisure guests would say. And equally what we do use is QR codes in rooms, and we did it at summer obviously for menus to make it easier to order room service, etc.
[00:32:57] Ruth Hegarty: Yeah, and I mean, you know you mentioned there about, I suppose, the guests who want to use that option and then having a bit more time than for the guests who don’t want to. I mean, it’s an important message isn’t it, that you do need to have the kind of non-tech option as well?
[00:33:10] Bryan Davern: Oh, absolutely, I mean as I say, I guess the expectation with a lot of these things is that while a lot of technology has accelerated and you know, everyone has a smartphone it would seem. But when you look at like the raw data on it in terms of the percentage of people using that as a digital key, even when they have that capability.
[00:33:29] I mean, we’re literally talking 1 to 2% or so you know, so it’s still very much a case of the guest wanting to kind of interact at the reception desk and so on and so, it’s, you know, this will increase and it will probably increase more, so when corporate travel comes back and if you’re the regular guest, regular corporate and you’re very familiar with the property and so on, it might just be ease of use, but there’ll be many, many more who won’t want to do that, you know?
[00:33:56] Peter Jones: Yeah, let me just give you one quick example, I did some work some years ago, looking, with a prestigious hotel group, looking at the whole notion of smartphones and the way they can be used and interacted with, in a whole variety of different ways, very sophisticated. But of course, they felt that they had to provide the phone in order for the guests to really engage with the process.
[00:34:19] So that was, that was one point. The other point of course is if you have a guest who for example, has used his phone, he also has to make sure he keeps it charged. So, there was one incident where the person had been out for the day, had his phone on without necessarily realising it, tried to get back into the hotel room, and of course, he had no charge left on his phone, so it wouldn’t work. So, he then had to trail all the way back down to reception and get somebody to come up with a key.
[00:34:46] Ruth Hegarty: Great point and it can happen at airports too with the QR codes for checking in and I mean, God forbid, somebody might actually want to turn their phone off when they’re on holidays as well.
[00:34:56] Peter Jones: What?
[00:34:58] Ruth Hegarty: I’ve done it once okay. We’re going to take a really quick break and we’ll be right back.
[00:35:03] Voiceover: Fáilte Ireland’s new Breakfast Toolkit contains expert advice and practical tools that are applicable to all areas of food and service. You can find the Breakfast Toolkit and more helpful supports and guidance on the Operational Performance section under Strategic F&B Operations on our COVID-19 Business Support Hub at failteireland.ie.
[00:35:23] Ruth Hegarty: So, Peter earlier, we touched on the whole issue of kind of integration of technology as well. It’s a huge area of consideration for businesses that are investing in tech. How can they approach that? I mean what do they need to look out for in terms of trying to integrate their technology?
[00:35:38] Peter Jones: Well, I would make two points about that. First of all, that actually seamless integration is not seamless and it’s really quite hard to achieve because, it’s getting better and it’s getting easier, but you also have to consider that from the technological, sorry technology providers’ point of view, often they are a little, perhaps on occasion, reluctant to integrate with other systems for various reasons, might be security protocols, here could be a whole raft of technological reasons why they don’t want to integrate with other systems because they feel that that could there therefore put that system at risk. So, you have to realise that these things are very, very desirable but not always easily attainable for those reasons.
[00:36:26] But you do need to try and make sure that you can, where you can, is make sure that the systems do integrate in an appropriate way and it may be that you have to export data in a particular format that goes through some sort of intermediary process, which provides a security check on it before it then can get imported into another system. So, there are sorts of technological patches that can be put in place to allow those things to occur.
[00:36:54] The other point I’d make about, I suppose in a way it’s about risk as well, is if you can and where you can, you should now be looking at actually moving as much of your systems into cloud-based systems to provide you with a level of security.
[00:37:11] And that can actually interestingly enough, also provide you with a different style and level of integration, because it’s no longer two pieces of wire being plugged together. It’s actually happening magically up in a cloud somewhere. So, there are other ways and often it’s easier to manage the security of that than it might be if you just plug two pieces of wire together or you take a, you know, a stick out of one computer and you plug it into the other.
[00:37:37] You have to be very conscious when you’re doing that of the potential security implications to a complete systems failure and that is something that you’ve got to avoid at all costs. So yes, look for seamless integration, but please be aware of what the security risks that there might be and also don’t get beaten up by companies who don’t like to say “well I’m sorry, we can’t do that directly”. You need to understand the reason why, and it could be the integrity of their system and the security of their system that needs to be taken into account.
[00:38:11] Ruth Hegarty: Great and Peter I suppose we started out earlier talking about some of the considerations around kind of looking at technology. So, you’re going to go out and invest in some technology, what should you be looking for?
[00:38:24] Peter Jones: I keep coming back to my main point really is understanding the systems within your business, look carefully at the business processes and then keep asking yourself the question, “have I got a particular issue or a problem that I think technology can help me to solve?”
[00:38:41] So that would be step number one. Step number two is when you’re starting to do your research and evaluate what technology is out there and how it might be able to help you, is you’ve also got to come back to the fundamental question, how easy is it to use? And I’m sure Bryan would support me in this, some of the early RM rooms management, property management systems, were incredibly complex to use. We’ve moved on hugely, but you have to recognise, as well, that you’ve got to have something that’s usable by not only you, but also all of your staff.
[00:39:19] And it’s got to be relatively intuitive in terms of its use. If you’ve got to have, you know a 55-page manual and a three-week training course, it’s probably not going to be of much help to you. Because you’ll never learn how to use it all properly anyway. So, you know, how easy is it to use? Can I integrate it with my existing systems in some way? Bearing in mind all of those security issues that we’ve already talked about.
[00:39:44] The other question you must ask and is, it seems remarkably cheap this product, but then you realise that actually most of the revenue into whoever the technology provider is coming from an annual licence fee of some kind, it may be that there’s big support costs and so on.
[00:40:02] So you’ve got to look at the whole end-to-end costs involved in it, but also what’s the ongoing training and support that I will receive? Is it something that I can access fairly quickly or is it something where I’m held in a queue for 24 hours before they get to solve my problem at all? So, all of these things have to be taken into consideration.
[00:40:25] The other thing I think it’s worth doing, is finding out what other reference points there are. So, who else around you, or anywhere in the world come to that matter, is using that product and talk to them, find out what their experiences have been like, what were the constraints that they found? What were the advantages that they found?
[00:40:45] So you need a fairly wide-ranging evaluation of that technology to make sure it’s going to fit for your business really. Don’t forget, that upgrades can be very expensive. Bryan’s already just mentioned that, you know, changing a PMS system, if you change the configuration of the property, can be quite an expensive business.
[00:41:06] So you’ve got to begin to understand what the upgrade costs, not only in software terms is called, but also if you need to upgrade the system to do more than the original element that you bought it for.
[00:41:18] And my last point really would be how resilient it is. Talk to other people about: Does it go down very often? Are there major issues with it that I need to be aware of? You need confidence that you’ve got a resilient system that once you get it doing what you want it to do, it will carry on doing what you want it to do for some considerable time to come without falling over.
[00:41:44] And that’s, that’s absolutely vital because if it falls over, it can cost you and your business, quite a lot of money.
[00:41:51] Ruth Hegarty: Super, Bryan would you echo some of that from a user perspective? And I suppose what are maybe some of the pitfalls around technology?
[00:41:59] Bryan Davern: Yeah. So, look, it’s very expensive process as we touched on earlier, even small changes to the system.
[00:42:06] So you’re looking at everything most interface, there’s a lot to consider, so I would probably just try and simplify things. As a non-expert, you know, you’re always trying to simplify things and look at the tech infrastructure and maybe just simply map out kind of a flow diagram as how everything is coming together.
[00:42:23] And you know, there might be elements of it that aren’t required that are actually slowing you down.
[00:42:28] Ruth Hegarty: Super. So, before we wrap up the discussion, I’d just like to ask you both, if you have any parting advice that you’d give to all of the businesses who are listening in and who are considering upgrading their technology at this time in advance of reopening?
[00:42:42] Peter Jones: Yeah, use the time as wisely, take what you’ve already got and learn how to use it as well as you possibly can. Because I’ve already made the point that most of us don’t use technology to its fullest advantage. There will be some technological software geek somewhere, that’s put all sorts of whistles and bells in that technology, which you never know about and you never use.
[00:43:06] So it’s about learning, by doing it, practicing it and pushing yourself to find out more about it. You’ll get much more out of the technology.
[00:43:17] Ruth Hegarty: Brilliant, Bryan what would your key advice be?
[00:43:19] Bryan Davern: Yeah, I guess coming from my own recent experience, where, you know we even had servers on-site and so on and I think, if there’s a significant software element to your business and you’re looking to future-proof it you probably need to look at kind of migrating to the cloud.
[00:43:36] And obviously that can be you know time-consuming when you’re running a business. So that’s maybe an opportunity to look at now, you know.
[00:43:43] Ruth Hegarty: That’s fantastic. That brings us to the end of our final episode of Inside Food, the first series in Fáilte Ireland’s new Inside Tourism Business podcast.
[00:43:52] My thanks to Peter and Bryan for joining us today.
[00:43:55] Peter Jones: Thank you
[00:43:56] Bryan Davern: Thank you.
[00:43:57] Thanks to all the guests who’ve joined us and shared their experience over the seven episodes and thanks to you, the listener, for joining us throughout the series. We hope you’ve picked up some useful advice and insights to help you innovate your business during this critical time for the industry.
[00:44:10] You can always listen back to the previous episodes by searching for Inside Tourism Business on your favourite podcasting platform. Many of the practical tools referenced throughout the series can be found in the Breakfast Innovation Toolkit on the COVID-19 Business Supports Hub at failteireland.ie.
[00:44:26] From me Ruth Hegarty and from all the Inside Food team, thanks for joining us.
[00:44:31] Voiceover: The Inside Tourism Business podcast is brought to you by Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism development authority. Subscribe now on your favourite streaming platform and join us next time for more expert advice and insights.