Future proofing your pub: tech and gadget trends to watch

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Future first: All you need to know about the tech that will help your business stay one step ahead
Future first: All you need to know about the tech that will help your business stay one step ahead

Related tags Cask ale

Smartphones, predictive analytics and tech to ensure staff pour the perfect pint can all help the bottom line but with so many new gadgets and tech advances, it can be difficult to know which are worth investing in. Here, we examine the gadgets to help you get ahead.

This article could have been written by an algorithm. It wasn’t but that’s the pace of technological advance we’re witnessing right now. Don’t believe it? Well, this time last year a robot in China wrote a 300-word news story in just one second. Technology is driving change in pubs too​. Yes, they are spaces where humans interact but tech is altering the way pubs are run, with implications for profit margins and future success. To help you stay ahead of the curve, The Morning Advertiser has identified key trends and products worth keeping tabs on in 2018.

Smart bars

The smartphone is fast becoming the fulcrum around which the modern bar operates. Hand-held devices are becoming more capable of providing unprecedented transparency for publicans and helping them streamline their business.

Vianet’s iDraught smart bar management system affords publicans closer control and management of their draught beer operation from their smartphone or tablet. It showcases cellar conditions such as temperature, logs line cleaning dates, average pour yields and  temperature at which beer hits the drinker’s glass.

Vianet product manager Mark Fewster forecasts: “We see predictive analytics becoming a big focus area in the on-trade this coming year. Having complete sight over estates is crucial, especially during key calendar dates. For example, using predictive analytics to forecast the correct number of products to order ahead of major trading occasions such as the World Cup, alongside more accurate staff scheduling, will help avoid wastage and save money.”

In addition, Ei Group introduced an ordering system in August as part of its online advice tool – Publican Channel. Within three months of launching, more than 1,000 publicans​ chose to order beer, wine, spirits and soft drinks via the mobile app – with more than 12,000 orders placed.

Trail app

To help publicans keep tabs on which jobs have and haven’t been done across their estate – as well as helping new wor-kers with everyday tasks and processes – app developer Trail has an app system that specialises in smart daily to-do lists and is already being used across the industry by the likes of BrewDog and the New World Trading Company.

Trail managing director Joe Cripps explains: “The best operators will look to implement simple technology that reduces the admin burden on teams that will, in turn, free up time to focus on delivering a customer experience that grows sales and loyalty.”

4K Ultra HD

In addition to FIFA’s announcement that this summer’s World Cup will be the first to be broadcast in 4K Ultra HD​ – yes, that means a better chance of witnessing the pain of England’s traditional early exit creep across crestfallen faces from the comfort of your bar stool – broadcasters have made a strong commitment
to broadcasting 4K content over the
next year.

This includes Sky’s showing of the Premier League title race, with the remaining fixtures from the 124 it committed to broadcasting in Ultra HD this season available to view this spring.

Commenting on Russia 2018’s tech upgrade and the advent of 4K Ultra HD, Dominic Collingwood, co-founder of MatchPint, says: “We need to think carefully about how pubs can make the most of it. It’s not simple.

“Two words of warning before getting too excited. First, you’ll need to have the right equipment: An Ultra HD box from Sky or BT Sport and a compatible TV. Second, think about how your Ultra HD is better than Ultra HD at home. In this instance, size is key: 93% of sports fans say a big screen is important when choosing a pub, while 40% say it’s very important. If you get all this right, then you’re set up to be a stand-out venue.”

Sound zones

Given in-built TV speakers are often not good enough to project sound out to the whole venue, it may be time to upgrade to a decent PA or sound system – especially given improvements being made to screen resolution and the likelihood of a packed venue with a wealth of first class sport on show next year.

Sky has recently been exploring options for venues that wish to use zones, enabling customers to enjoy a meal in one area of the pub while sports fans watch the match in another.

Sky Business head of product Andy Kydd explains: “To create different audio zones, landlords can install ‘Zone Array directional speakers’ in one specific area to deliver a shower of full and rich sound for the match.

“The cluster of speakers will ensure that sound is primarily dispersed within the desired area only, while minimising interference with sound systems in other rooms."

Virtual reality

Anthony Nixon, founder of The VR Concept, identifies virtual reality gaming​ as an essential way to engage new crowds next year. “You’ve got Generation Z, which is a demographic of 16 to 22-year-olds who are steering away from alcohol. You’ve got to find more innovative ways to pull those people in and keep them in the pub. The emphasis on drinking has shifted a bit for them, they just want to do more, different, stuff so we’re trying to target them.

“VR is a great social activity. You can play up to four players, be in the same game as your friends, then once you’ve finished you can sit down and have a pint. It also makes for a fantastic spectator sport. If you’re looking at something like eSports, there’s tens of thousands of people who go to events.”

At more than £10,000 per 3x3m VR booth – which accommodates a single player in a cubicle that opens at one end for spectators – virtual reality gaming systems, and the safety equipment and staff that accompany them, don’t come cheap. But having catered for 17,000 users last year across three venues – two of which only opened in November – expanded to a fourth site, and outlined plans to create an inter-pub gaming league between pubs in Brighton and London, Nixon predicts a huge year for VR, expecting to have had more than 60,000 users by the end of 2018.

Pub connectivity

With Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond pledging £500m to investigate new digital, data and tech projects – including better and broader Wi-Fi – in his Autumn Budget, there’s never been a better time for pubs to connect with their customers.

Startle, for example, works with pubs and pub groups to create connected and more interactive environments. This includes music, signage and quiz offerings, powered by its state-of-the-art cloud platform, meaning pubgoers can experience more from their smartphone.

Startle Jukebox aims to make chasing errant shrapnel to feed an old-school jukebox a thing of the past, putting millions of music tracks at customers’ fingertips via a free play or credit system that they can access and queue tracks from on their smartphone.

Startle’s full product suite dovetails into the brand’s data offering – Startle Loyalty – which allows pubs to operate loyalty schemes and reap the rewards of data capture to find out more about their customers.

However, all this rests on having Wi-Fi that is fit for purpose. Sky, for example, has been offering customers free Wi-Fi with their TV package as well as Wi-Fi Premier – super-fast fibre-based broadband that is up to four times faster than regular Wi-Fi.

Draught dispensers

While the list of criteria for the perfectly poured pint has grown in recent times, thanks to new smart dispense technology, it’s never been easier to nail it and avoid customer quips about needing a ladder to navigate a frothy head or serving a warm beer.

The Smart Dispense range by Heineken features a number of draught systems including one-tap and multi-tap products offering tailored solutions to a wide variety of bars. The all-in-one draught systems feature 20% more energy-efficient coolers and insulation reducing utility costs and, in some
cases, consigning cellar cooling to the history books altogether. What’s more, the Smart Dispense Integral and Integral+ products feature patented disposable beer tubes to avoid the hassle of line cleaning.

Another dispense upgrade option is the Draughtmaster. The next generation system by Carlsberg, featuring one-way kegs and tubing to ensure a simple cleaning procedure and high hygiene standards, doesn’t require CO2 making it both cheaper and easier to maintain and more environmentally friendly with lighter and recyclable PET kegs replacing steel predecessors.

Carlsberg UK’s vice-president of marketing, Liam Newton, says: “Stocking a variety of draught beers can be a challenge for operators who have limited space. Carlsberg UK has developed a compact, unique, innovative and convenient beer dispense solution to combat this issue and enable all operators to offer premium draught options.”

Choosing which tech and gadgets are right for your establishment will depend on your clientele, budget and confidence in the products. But whatever direction pubs decide to move in, the march of technology won’t stop, it is only likely
to accelerate.

Phone charging stations

With smartphones becoming more important on both sides of the bar, it’s essential that they have access to the ‘juice’ they need.

Charge Point’s multi-compartment units operate using a plug-pay-lock system that revolves around providing a secure place for customers to charge their phones. Their small, easily co-branded units offer pub owners a neat way to boost customer retention, earn via a range of customer payment options and sell a few more drinks – well, what else are you going to do in a pub while your phone is on charge?

Automated ID checks

ID checks are a hassle for all involved. However, the Yoti app aims to tackle this by creating a secure digital identity by pairing a user’s selfie with their ID documents via facial recognition software.

Either at a venue’s doors or bar, customers scan a QR code unique to that site, using the Yoti app to prove their age​, meaning that anxious pubgoers can leave valuable documents like passports and drivers licences at home.

Yoti and Beer Command

The app, launched in November​, is exploring an early partnership with self-service pint pourer Drink Command in which pubgoers can ID check themselves then self-pour and pay for a pint using a tap and touch screen combination.

This system allows bar staff to prioritise customer-facing parts of the job rather than endless pint service. It also reduces beer wastage with each drink measured by the unit’s technology and allows publicans to impose a maximum number of pints per Yoti ID. 

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