Back To The Future
After having the same laptop for more years than I care to remember, 2021 finally saw me reluctantly have to replace it. The calls to my IT support had become more frequent and the final straw was that the operating system and my version of Microsoft Office were no longer going to be supported in the coming months.
What became clear very quickly was not only had technology moved on significantly since my original purchase, so had the range of options which were now available to me. What processing power did I need? How much storage? Should I even buy a laptop, or would a desktop be a better option?
As you can imagine the difference in cost depending how I went about answering these questions was quite considerable. Without boring you with all the details a major consideration was to make sure that it was as future proof as possible. I therefore opted for a much more powerful processor than I probably need at the moment as well as a large amount of storage space.
As I made these various decisions it became obvious that I had been ‘making do’ with my old laptop for far too long. As a result, I had probably not been anywhere near as productive as I could have been, as I spent an increasing amount of time sorting out problems as well as some of the most basic of tasks taking much longer than they should. My weekly backup would regular take 4 to 5 hours. With my new laptop it took less than 30 minutes!
This made me wonder how many operators are running legacy systems or using outdated equipment rather than making the most of what the latest technology can offer?
Don’t wait until it’s broken
Even for the most technophobe operator having a decent till system (EPOS) is a must these days. At the most basic level your front of house staff use the tills to enter orders and calculate the overall bill, however they can and should be used for much more. Whether everyone likes it or not, we continue to move to a more cashless society. It is therefore vital that your till system is fully integrated with your debit or credit card processing machines.
Rather than just a way in which you process orders, your EPOS system should really be viewed as the ‘operating system’ of your pub, bar or restaurant. It is or should also be at the heart of your inventory management and feed into how you control your stock.
Setting up your EPOS is a serious business and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, I still come across operators who don’t give it the consideration it deserves. The old computing adage ‘garbage in, garbage out’ very much applies in these instances. A well setup system will give you real visibility in terms of your sales and stock levels. Lumping things together or not identifying items correctly may appear to make life easier for you and your staff in the short-term but in reality it is likely to cause more over time. Cash-flow and stock control are the life blood of the hospitality industry, and a properly functioning EPOS system is key to managing them.
Order, order, order
Taking orders and payments has normally been seen as an integral part of the customer service that your front of house team would offer. Whether that is at a table as would typically happen in a food-led pub or restaurant, or at the bar in a more conventional pub.
However, in 2020 and 2021 in the UK, restrictions around Covid-19 meant that for pubs, bars and restaurants to open they had to be able to offer table service. For many this process was very labour intensive, quite costly to operate and time consuming. As a result, some traditional wet-led pubs and bars felt unable to open.
However rather than just seeing this as a problem some operators took the challenge head on and invested in and implemented the use of mobile ordering and payment Apps. These systems have actually been around for some time now with the one that Wetherspoons launched in March 2017 being one of the most high profile.
Whilst it can sometimes feel time consuming for customers to set up ‘their account’ on these applications, once done there can be some clear benefits when it comes the speed of service and adding to an order. It also removes a big issue for many guests when it comes to how long it can be to get their bill and pay, as payment is taken at the point of ordering.
There are of course also downsides to using this type of technology. For one, not everyone is comfortable with using their mobile phone to place orders or providing credit card details to a third party. Secondly you can only order what is on the app, so if you don’t want to have an individual item for some reason most systems don’t allow you to remove it. Thirdly it reduces the amount of interaction your front of house team can have with customers, thereby lessening the customer experience as well as removing the opportunity for your team to offer advice or upsell.
Going forward having invested in this technology many operators may be reluctant to ditch it when restrictions are lifted. That said, they will also need to think carefully about how to mitigate the downsides mentioned above.
There is an App for that
As previously mentioned, many state-of-the-art EPOS systems can now be considered as the ‘operating system’ for an outlet. In addition to what we have already talked about more and more of them now include the ability to schedule and communicate with staff in a very effective way.
The technology can also make creating and running a customer loyalty programme much easier. An increasing number of venues are now doing this with industry estimates suggesting that these programs can increase sales by over 25%.
The world moves on
Replacing what would appear to be a working EPOS may seem a lot of time and effort for no real gain and might not be for everyone. However not reviewing what your system does or doesn’t do on say an annual or 2 yearly basis is probably being somewhat negligent. You might even find that the system you already have does far more than you realise and therefore a major overall might not even be necessary. The important thing is to make sure you are up to speed with how you use this technology so that you can plan as and when is the right time to replace it rather than having to do it under duress because something is broken.