A byte of the action

By Phil Mellows

- Last updated on GMT

Appy to help: encouraging customers to use apps on their phone can make your business run more efficiently
Appy to help: encouraging customers to use apps on their phone can make your business run more efficiently
Customers are more than used to using modern technology and are now demanding premises like yours can deliver on such requests – so don’t get left behind.

Come the big kick-off, it could all kick off­ in your pub as football fans surge towards the bar for that energy boosting half-time refreshment.

But as they line up five-deep, how are you going to serve them all? It’s not the sales you’re gaining that you should be thinking about, but the sales you’re losing through inefficient service.

Fortunately, the modern world has an answer. Thanks to mobile technologies, it’s no longer necessary to go to the bar for food and drink. Customers can place and pay for their orders from where they sit or stand in your temporary terraces.

Surge in popularity

Indeed, they are not only increasingly comfortable with the idea, they are now demanding it. ‑ e phenomenal surge in popularity of contactless payments – now used for most transactions in hospitality – is a clear sign of how quickly things are moving.

“Technology has shifted perceptions around what the pub experience should be,” says Pete Wickes, vice-president corporate at online payment platform Worldpay. “Consumers are used to shopping online and increasingly using mobile phone apps to order food and drink without leaving the table – or even before they arrive.

“It’s faster than queuing and improves the customer journey for groups of friends watching football to families with small children.”

“For most customers, order and pay is pretty handy,” adds Tim Chapman, sales director at EPoS supplier Zonal.

“They see it’s five-deep at the bar and they don’t want to lose their space. So pubs aren’t getting the income.

“And as people’s expectations are going up, the costs of these systems to operators are coming down.”

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Customers can do the work

So, how does a pub move into the mobile era?

Hand-held mobile devices for sta­ff that link straight to your till system have been around for a long time. But as smartphones have evolved, operators have come to realise that customers are carrying the necessary device in their pocket, and by downloading the appropriate app can, in e­ffect, do it themselves.

Chapman describes the new world of mobile order and pay as “hardware agnostic”.

“Pubs don’t want to have, say, a tablet for each table when customers can bring their own device. ‑ e speed comes from them doing it themselves.

“You’ll need an incentive for them to download the app, but Wi-Fi has improved so much lately that with two or three-second downloads, people are using an app temporarily and will delete it later. You don’t have to have it sitting permanently on your phone, and that’s a real change.”

Cost-effective solution

However, if you’re an independent tenant or freeholder, Peter Wickes suggests tablet-based mobile PoS “could be a more cost-effective and flexible solution as it gives smaller pubs more control over their payments and reconciliations.”

Robert Clarke is EPoS business development director at Access Hospitality, which offers a system that connects to integrated contactless payment and loyalty apps “enabling operators to rethink and reimagine the way they handle transactions”.

“Reliable wireless coverage has enabled pubs to move away from traditional fixed point-of-sale hardware to a more flexible tablet-based approach,” he says.

“Tablets provide staff with all information and ordering capabilities they’re used to in the palm of their hand, ready to take an order or give them confidence to navigate easily through the difficulties of providing accurate allergen information.”

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Streamlined service

Indeed, integrated with kitchen video management (KVM), mobile EPoS can streamline food service, automate many processes and generally improve communication between front of house, kitchen and back office.

“Our cloud-based KVM system is easily configured for individual requirements to manage and monitor orders through busy kitchens improving efficiency and reducing service times,” Clarke continues.

“Orders can be received from handheld or tablet units with on-screen colour-coding indicating courses and times, customer waiting alerts and realtime reporting and statistics.”

Whatever the size of your operation, solid, stable internet connection is essential. And it must have the reach to provide a mobile service that extends right into the furthest corner of your beer garden.

“Traditionally, pubs used GPRS terminals to provide payments in harder to reach places for Bluetooth,” explains Wickes. “Now it’s important that pubs invest in Wi-Fi infrastructure with signal boosting hardware installed across the whole site, including outdoors.”

Power of integration

You also need an EPoS system that can integrate with whichever mobile payments platform you choose, that way, mobile order and pay can not only drive sales, it can help you better understand your business, introduce effective promotions and build loyalty.

“An integrated EPoS system that connects with mobile payment options and customer loyalty apps is crucial in the development and future-proofing of businesses in the sector,” says Robert Clarke.

“Millennials and Gen Zers want to benefit from loyalty promotions on their mobile, they don’t want to wait around to pay manually and want to split the bill without having to work it out for themselves.

“Our EPoS integrates with the most popular apps, including Google Pay and Apple Pay, giving customers as many options to as possible, and uses cloudbased technology to enable staff to quickly split the bill.

“Not only is this a significant benefit for customers, but ease in handling transactions also ensures a quick turnaround of tables to help maximise trade.”

Being loyal

A YouGov survey in 2018 revealed 72% believe loyalty programmes are a good way to reward customers and that 77% are members of at least one such scheme.

“Hospitality has been slow to understand the benefits, but improvements in mobile technology means pubs can now tap into exciting new opportunities,” says Robert Clarke at Access.

“Using technology to connect through a smartphone, QR barcode or a swipe card opens the door to multiple ways of building loyalty including cashless, discounts, points and product promotions.

“Apps such as Pepper or Eagle Eyes can be easily integrated to enable you to enhance the customer journey and drive revenue, and our Access online loyalty module integrates seamlessly with website and social media platforms to monitor and measure activity, and track the impact on sales and profit.”

Combination ordering

It’s the added extras for customers that are really driving adoption of a technology that’s been available for years, believes Simon Kelton, co-founder of UK-based Pepper, which customises payment apps for companies such as Young’s, Eclectic Bars, Cirrus Inns and London Union.

“Mobile payment on its own is not enough – otherwise we would all just be using ApplePay all the time,” he says.

“Customers want a combination of quick and easy payment with features like discovery, digital bar tabs, loyalty, ordering, table and room booking, e-receipts and so on.”

For the pub business, these apps save staff time, of course, “but, down the line, the greatest value is in data that helps pubs and bars to get to know their customers better and then to influence their behaviour through a direct mobile marketing channel.

“We regularly see an app user being worth 20% more than a regular customer.

“Over the next year or two, more and more venues will offer these services and learn how to market with mobile and drive loyalty with rewards programmes. As soon as the customer realises their experience can be made better, they want to see it everywhere.”

Ability to grow and adapt

For Okan Ozaltin, vice-president of product management at First Data, the company behind Clover EPoS, such technologies “can help improve customer retention, protect customer data and drive sales”.

“One of the overarching benefits of these systems is that they are generally equipped with the technology to grow with your business, allowing you to adapt to market trends.

“Clover’s technology gives businesses the flexibility to accept all forms of payments, including transactions via mobile wallets, and manage day-to-day operations with greater control and insight through customisable reports and real-time performance data.

“Instead of simply being a payment system, it acts as an operating system for the entire business, unlocking services such as order tracking, loyalty programmes, employee management, payroll services, accounting, data analytics and more.”

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Speed trumps human touch

Pubs might worry about losing those human, bonding, interactions between staff and customers that comes with ordering and paying. But Tim Chapman believes today’s customers “are more interested in speed and reliability”.

“The technology has been around seven or eight years. It’s the operational challenge that’s holding pubs back.

People value speed and simplicity but the success of technology always relies on human beings, whether you have enough runners to take food and drink to the tables, and how you communicate the system to customers, for instance.”

Cashless can have drawbacks

Eloise Sheppard, managing director at wireless communications supplier Call Systems Technology (CST), also adds a note of caution.

“Mobile payment is a real benefit for pub operators looking to serve the crowds during busy periods and consumers have come to expect the option to make cashless payments.

“Some venues have gone entirely cashless, reducing the time spent on administration and making the premises less attractive to thieves.

“But cashless has pitfalls. Technical glitches could paralyse businesses for hours, as Visa found in 2018 when an outage left them unable to process 5.2m payments during a 10-hour window.

“We’ve also seen a rise in RFID (radio frequency identification) crime with scammers taking advantage of contactless by programming a machine to take automatic payments while a card is still inside a wallet or bag then simply brushing past the victim.

“And no conversation about cashless would be complete without mentioning cryptocurrency. Not surprisingly, a number of operators have been quick to adopt bitcoin, seeing it as a way to attract a digitally savvy audience.

“They like the fact it increases payment options. It’s about choice, and for astute operators, it’s a brand differentiator.

Young’s app

The Young’s On Tap app was customised for the pubco by UK-based company Pepper. Tapping a button is enough to set up a digital bar tab on a customer’s mobile. They can then add their friends, see their bill accrue in real time, add a tip and then pay with the touch of a button without going to the bar.

The app also comes with content – managed by Young’s digital agency, Propeller – which seamlessly syncs with the firm’s website. Customers can use it to book a table or a room, claim rewards and vouchers, and even control the music in the pub.

“We expect this technology to save customers time in their payment journey while freeing up a little of the team’s time, allowing them to provide a better and quicker service,” says Young’s Paul Raynor. On Tap also delivers relevant news and updates on events as well as giving customers occasional treats at their favourite pubs.”

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