Technology in pubs falls into three camps - the Good, the Boring and the Really Quite Useful.
For most licensees Good Technology is considered to be something that makes them money - satellite TV, fruit machines and gas-fired barbecues for instance.
Boring technology is something they think they should have but doesn't appear to contribute directly to the bottom line - smoke extractors, deep fat fryers and security systems, maybe.
And then there's Useful Technology - the sort of thing that could make a difference, if only the licensee could figure out what to do with it.
EPoS is a classic example. Many licensees will know what it is - electronic point of sale - but only a few truly understand how it can radically affect the profitability of their pubs.
EPoS in its most basic form is nothing more than a till. At its higher levels it can be a fully integrated back office accounting system capable of delivering complex management information concerning every operational aspect of a pub.
There is an EPoS solution to fit every type of outlet, regardless of the size of the business. It's just a question of finding out what's right for you.
There's a feeling that complicated computer-based till systems are just for managed pubs - this isn't so. All outlets dealing with multiple cash transactions on a daily basis need to keep track of where the money is going and what relationship it has with all the other aspects of the pub's operation from stock to staff, not to mention profit and loss.
This is as relevant for tenants, lessees and freetraders as it is for managers. If you are running your own business it is essential to keep tabs on how things are going so you can make adjustments as swiftly as possible.
Useful Technology is Good Technology and it's time everyone got their heads around the benefits a well thought out, easy to use and cost effective EPoS system can bring.
There is a lot more to be gained than management reporting, stock control, cash management, food and beverage operation and staff management - as if that wasn't enough.
The future is already here for a number of innovations that could give pubs - single operations or managed chains - a major boost.
Take credit or debit card payments for instance. A lot of pubs now accept these as a way of paying for drinks and food, particularly for people who want to run a tab. Generally speaking this works well and EPoS systems can be configured easily to accept these type of payments as part of their function.
However, what if you took the whole idea of "cashless" payments and looked at them in a different way?
For instance, why not consider a card-based payment system for your regular customers which also gives you access to information you could use for marketing and promotional purposes?
Why should membership systems be just for clubs? Or to put it another way if pubs have loyal regulars, why can't they be treated the same as members of a golf club or a nightclub? No reason at all, and you will have a system that could improve your relationship with your regular customers and reward them for their loyalty.
Loyalty systems are well known in supermarkets and there is no reason why the same principles cannot be applied to pubs. Each customer is given a payment card which they load with cash either by direct debit from their bank or through a cash or credit card in the pub. Their details are loaded onto your system so they become part of a database and their "accounts" can be monitored.
Not only can you contact them (via e-mail of course) with details of special events or reminders of regular nights, but a loyalty bonus could kick in when their account gets to a pre-set level.
For their part, your customers will have the warm, cosy feeling of being part of a club, plus the ease and convenience of cashless card payments. And there's more.
The loyalty system could be used to "profile" each individual customer and tell you what are their favourite nights, favourite drinks and when was the last time they were in the pub. Lapsed "members" could be automatically highlighted and contacted via a letter or mailshot.
If all this sounds like Big Brother, don't be alarmed. Millions of people willingly join up for supermarket clubcards and the like without worrying a jot. If presented and explained properly a similar loyalty system in your pub could be just the link you are looking for between you and your customers.
Other levels of complexity could be added later - analysis of customer spend by product type and even by brand which could allow you to gain support from suppliers.
In marketing terms, promotions would be less of a hit and miss affair as you could be sure of reaching your customer base with information and monitoring closely how the event went. This is particularly useful for driving visits at quieter times.
Finally, you could get important feedback from your regulars about what they like, what they think works as well as recommendations for membership. Now wouldn't that be Useful?
All this through the humble till? Yes - for the most part. You will need a computer too and some training but it's all possible with some imagination and a little help.
Clarity - 01722 746200/e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org