The past 12 months have seen ‘smart’ technology infiltrate our homes in the form of app-based utility controls and chatbots. While we’ve not heard of a pint being ordered via Amazon Alexa just yet, industry experts are predicting a wave of new tech in pubs in 2019.
According to a recent survey by London based international customer experience and branding agency I-AM, more than half of consumers would be happy to eat robot-made food, with 59% happy to see more technology used if it meant an improvement in the dining experience.
With front and back-of-house tech poised to improve pub efficiency, profit and loss figures and, potentially, market values, The Morning Advertiser took a closer look at hospitality’s ‘IT revolution’.
Tech in 2019
Anthony Nixon, co-founder and technical director of Inter Pub Gaming, forecasts that operators who upgrade their venues with the latest tech will be best placed to capitalise on the increasing number of consumers visiting pubs for reasons beyond just a night out.
“E-pubs can provide fantastic remote working locations,” he says. “With more people trying to strike the work-life balance, they are a great place to hold impromptu meetings, connecting people and allowing business discussions while having lunch or a glass of wine.
“With the promise of a post-Christmas haul delivering a plethora of devices waiting to be connected, it’s time for the pub industry to look hard into how they can utilise technology to attract and retain customers.
“When you look about, there is an array of digital advertising everywhere: on screens, computers and, most importantly, on mobile devices and tablets, yet wireless technology in pubs is one area that remains largely untapped.
“It’s difficult to say why this is but an obvious conclusion might be that pub companies have underestimated the importance of social connectivity.”
Clive Consterdine, sales and marketing director at retail data specialist Zonal, thinks the growth of artificial intelligence in pubs will gather pace in 2019, with devices that have started to infiltrate the home market poised to appear more regularly .
“The likes of Amazon Alexa, Apple HomePod and Google Home, which use chatbot technology to replace human voices, are now commonplace in many homes,” he says. “In the last 12 months we have been supporting operators to optimise the opportunity of chatbots within channels such as Facebook’s Messenger.
“This form of communication is changing the way bookings and orders are being taken and we predict will continue to grow in 2019 and beyond as chatbot technology becomes more familiar in our everyday lives.”
Colliers International’s director of licensed and leisure, Niall Cassidy, says pubs have been slower than the wider food service industry to embrace new advances in tech, but this is likely to change as pub groups recognise the benefits of what he calls “the IT revolution”.
“Patrons are likely to start seeing new systems being employed to increase the speed of service and enhance the customer experience in tandem with the ever-more present smartphone, ”Cassidy explains.
“Smartphone chargers may be introduced in many venues to enable customers to keep in touch while enjoying time out with friends.
“Coupled with in-house free Wi-Fi, this will enable customers to communicate freely as well as increase dwell time and customer spend.
“It is also an opportunity for operators to receive live feedback which will enable them to respond to changing customer needs, developing new markets and bringing in new ranges.
“In a similar way, as the gaming community has spread across the country, so has the rise of interactive gaming. This is likely to be further encouraged by the leisure market with the introduction of gaming rooms and equipment in pubs, where friends can compete against one another or other venues while having a drink – particularly during the sports season and at pre-match events.”
However, it’s the back of house where Cassidy believes most technical innovation will take place, and where the IT revolution will have the biggest impact.
“IT innovation is evolving rapidly and pub operators are now waking up to the substantial benefits of this technology to their business and the need to evolve into new markets as customer demands change,” he says.
“Utility and eco-management systems are available to reduce utility costs and each property’s carbon footprint.
“Reducing demand for power will have significant savings for each establishment, improving the P&L and producing further profit.
“‘Smart cellars’, which measure the delivery of beer and spirits to the bar and interface with tills, will assist order delivery, reducing waste and stock storage.”
Smart cellar innovation
“A good cellar management routine is essential to any pub’s success,” according to Heineken UK’s category and trade marketing director Jerry Shedden. He highlights that effective cellar management can save the average pub thousands of pounds a year in reduced wastage, improved dispense yield and pub operator time.
“Essentially, the cellar is a food preparation area and should be treated as such. Ensuring that beer dispense systems are clean and running smoothly at all times is crucial to a pub’s value as it effects everything from health and safety standards right through to the quality of the pint.
“Many of the traditional beer dispense systems have become inefficient and are in need of modernisation.
“In an increasingly fast-paced and digital world, many traditional beer dispense systems require valuable time and energy to maintain and are yet another integral pub system which require review and investment should landlords wish to remain efficient.”
Shedden highlights that in 2019, Heineken will be celebrating five years since the launch of its beer and cider dispense system, SmartDispense.
“Traditional UK systems have bare beer lines running from cellars cooled to 12ºC. SmartDispense uses green cooling, hydrocarbon, technology to cool beer towards a refreshing temperature preferred by consumers,” he says.
“SmartDispense is also extremely well insulated, meaning more energy efficiency. The first time the beer sees light after being put in the keg at the brewery is when it reaches the glass. This insulation works in balance with efficient cooling, reducing energy loss for a greater environmental result.”
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