A-Z of pub tech trends

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Tech-savvy: which technology trends are catching on in pubs?
Tech-savvy: which technology trends are catching on in pubs?

Related tags: Technology

Forward-thinking pubs are setting the path for rivals to follow – here is what the tech-savvy are up to.

Apps

JD Wetherspoon’s ordering app paved the way for a swathe of mobile solutions on both sides of the bar – and allowed cash-strapped students to beg for drinks on social media.

According to research by CGA and Zonal, more than a quarter of those asked (27%) agree that a site embracing apps and tablets makes it more likely they will visit again.

The likes of Untappd, MatchPint, Tipll – dubbed the ‘Pokemon Go of bars’ – and the Alchemist’s augmented reality app have helped enhance the experience while apps like Rekki help operations run more smoothly behind the scenes.

VR

Biometric analysis

Revenue Management Solutions (RMS) has launched a study of consumer menu ordering behaviour with the Centre for Marketing and Sales Innovation at the University of South Florida Muma College of Business.

“The research is using biometric measures such as eye tracking, brain activity EEG (electroencephalogram), facial expression software and the skin stimulation measures that are used in lie detector tests to explore how consumers of different ages and genders review a menu,” according to managing director Philipp Laqué.

“The goal is to learn whether consumers interact with menus differently across different media, including printed, online or mobile formats, and if their gender or age, particularly as it relates to being familiar with digital interaction, play a role.”

Chatbots

The rise of pre-booking at pubs and bars has coincided with a rapid improvement and proliferation of chatbot technology to facilitate bookings.

Tech (3)

"Chatbots are expected to embed themselves further into social media platforms, driven by a virtual ambition to be an established order and payment channel,” according to Laqué. “The rise in popularity of virtual assistants such as Alexa and Google Home is already driving this, as well as adding to the consumer desire for more voice-activated digital interactivity.”

Draught systems

Since the introduction of Heineken’s SmartDispense​ in 2013, hi-tech draught systems have further enhanced publicans’ ability to cut time, wastage and the environmental impact of pouring a pint. Grey Goose, for example, has created a new system that can pour a perfect cocktails at sub-zero temperatures in just seven seconds.

Environment

With global warming always a hot topic and hospitality under the microscope for food waste, there’s been an explosion in tech helping pub operators measure and mollify their excesses – from tracking water and energy consumption to reinventing the plastic straw.

Finger scanning

Modern advances in technology could soon see pub and bar operators giving cash and card the finger.

Biometrics payment provider Fingopay – which secured its first bar partnership with XYZ Social in Manchester​ this autumn – for example, allows customers to link unique finger vein signatures with credit and debit cards and pay by simply swiping their finger beneath a scanner at the bar.

tECHDW

Gaming

Through the rollout of colourful HD displays and camera technology, competitive socialising at concepts such as Flight Club​ and newly launched Electric Shuffle​ has become not only more popular but far more intelligent. What’s more, supplemented by the advent of virtual reality and cloud-based gaming systems like Google Stadia in tandem with in-pub streaming, it seems a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ the sector cottons on to a winning esports solution.

Home comforts

Tech (1)

Ever-present across the residential market and leading the living room’s crusade against the pub, the likes of Amazon Prime, Netflix, Deliveroo​, and Alexa and Google Home aren’t going anywhere soon. Despite recent developments in enterprise-grade streaming and some venues already accommodating food delivery, the on-trade’s response to disruptors in the coming years is worth watching closely.

ID checks

Age verification in the pub is a hassle on both sides of the bar. Staff despise the impromptu maths test while customers hate fumbling for a passport or driving licence at a crowded bar.  

However, finger vein payment provider Fingopay, for example, offers what CMO Simon Binns describes as a “unified solution”​ to the faff of ID checks  – with the company’s veinID technology offering a quick and easy way to check a customer’s age during payment.

What’s more, digital identity app Yoti ​– which pairs a user selfie with ID documents via facial recognition software – sees customers scan a QR code at the bar or on nightclub doors to prove their age.

Jobs and training

While we’re not quite at the point of AI-conducted job interviews (yet), data and tech are increasingly important in driving and simplifying recruitment and training in hospitality. A number of trackable online training modules can already help staff broaden their skill set.

Kitchen connectivity

Against a backdrop of chef shortages, data-driven connected cooking is becoming a more prevalent way to make food output more efficient and consistent. UNOX ovens, for example, ensure in-venue ovens are controlled, monitored and maintained remotely by a central appliance. The technology provides data and reports that can shape menus while faults can also be fixed remotely.

Layout and design

The result of more than two years of research and development, Lloyd Catering’s Room Scale virtual reality system allows users to step into a digital version of their kitchen rebuild during construction using a VR headset. Satisfied customers, so far, include the designers behind burger restaurant and bar chain Wahlburgers – co-owned by chef Paul Wahlberg and his brothers, actors Donnie and Mark Wahlberg.

Tech (2)

Microbrewing

Every operator strives for something bespoke on their bar – from a hard-to-find craft spirit to a characterful local brew. Technology such as self-contained, computer controlled, automatic craft brewery system DigiBrew helps simplify the brewing process while giving users full control over their new brew’s​ body, bitterness, flavour and aroma. What’s more, kegged cocktail innovations yield consistent, custom cocktail pours on a larger scale.

New media

Traditional media giants are finding new players stepping on their toes in the on-trade. Where Sky once had a monopoly on sports rights, for example, we’re seeing Amazon Prime​ make its move with the Premier League Pass, while a partnership between Screach and Premier Sports​ could be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to alternative viewing.

Tech (4)

Ordering

Ordering food or drink in a pub has evolved far beyond just collaring the nearest member of wait staff. Alongside mobile ordering apps launched by pubcos and app-free payment services like Wi5, pubco Fuller’s, for example, has introduced a talking menu service​ to improve the experience of visually impaired, blind or dyslexic customers. It has added its menu to the service Good Food Talks, which makes menus more accessible through text-to-speech software with diners now able to access features including large text format, background colour inversion and OpenDyslexic font.

People Management

“Now more than ever, the customer’s experience of, say, a pizza and a beer in your pub has to be significantly more premium than the same food and drink consumed in their flat, in front of Netflix,” Conor Shaw, CEO at workforce management experts Bizimply, says. “And it’s the service customers receive from your team that will make it different and memorable – and persuade them to come back.

Shaw adds that using scheduling tools to free up a GM to spend time front of house, coaching staff and dealing with issues and opportunities for improvement can have a positive knock-on effect on the increasingly demanding modern consumer.

“Our existing customers have seen some impressive management time savings since starting to use Bizimply; for example, one operator is creating rotas for 60 team members, across five sites, in just one hour a week. That’s given the general manager hours back to spend out on the floor, doing what they’re best at and managing their team to deliver a memorable customer experience. Success comes from having the right staff in the right place at the right time with the right attitude.”

Queue-busting

‘British people love queuing’ is a myth – nobody likes queuing. Waiting is awful. Thankfully, the past year has seen a rush of pub companies adopting pre-booking technology letting customers spend more time in venues rather than queuing outside.

Recharging

On average, operators providing phone charging facilities having the potential to see customers extend their stay by 90 minutes.

Drinks giant Jägermeister recently invested £2m into portable power bank network ChargedUp​, which lets customers rent a portable powerpack by scanning a QR code. ChargedUp partnered with Stonegate Pub Company in April 2019 on top of an existing tie-in with Brewhouse & Kitchen.

Tech 6

Self-service

Removing negative aspects of customer experience such as queuing at the bar or trying to grab staff attention, touchscreen self-service ordering systems are increasing in popularity according to Tabology managing director Phil Neale.

Tech (5)

“Customers can spend time browsing the menu in the comfort of their seat instead of being rushed into a decision at the bar – from the bar’s perspective this is one of the factors that leads to an increased average spend for those using self-service.

“We recently launched our first contactless payment beer wall in Leeds. These walls need to be monitored by sta but provide a much more frictionless experience for the customer, who can just tap their debit card and pour. This opens up self-serve beer to many quick service venues that it wouldn’t previously have been a realistic option for.”

Tunes

A growing number of drink makers  and operators have been  expanding their repertoire to  music and drink pairings for when regular food and drink pairing menus don’t hit the right note.

Diageo’s Futures team, for example, recently collated information and keywords related to specific brand cocktails before sharing these insights with Spotify, who used them to identify music that best encapsulated the mood and spirit of the cocktail to create six data- driven playlists for Diageo Reserve brand’s signature cocktails.

User data

It’s increasingly important to engage customers beyond the four walls of the pub through pub websites, social media, and direct digital communication according to Admiral Taverns’ commercial director David Wigham. “The more bespoke and relevant this communication is, the more chance it has of connecting with customers,” he says.

Mark Tunstall, UK operations director at Impact Data concurs: “Consumers are having a personalised experience online, via Netflix, Spotify and Facebook, receiving film and TV recommendations and curated playlists based on their tastes and preferences.

“For pubs to catch up and provide the personalisation that customers expect, they have to fully utilise the data and technology available to them. Pubs collect hugely valuable customer data via PoS, booking platforms and Wi-Fi providers, yet all too frequently this data is left unused and unloved.”

Virtual reality

From the launch of Tipll’s virtual reality, Pokémon Go-like, bar-finding app and premium operator the Alchemist unveiling an augmented reality cocktail menu​ to Lloyd Catering Equipment using headsets to, quite literally, put operators at the heart of kitchen design projects, virtual reality is to catching on across the pub industry.

Wi-fi

“Services such as high-quality Wi-Fi and contactless card payments have become a business essential and customer expectations as basic as heat and light,” according to Admiral Taverns’ Wigham.

Offering mobile internet speeds 10 to 20 times faster than previous generations, 5G networks can provide a wealth of opportunities for rural pubs – especially following the Government’s launch of the £30m UK-wide Rural Connected Communities​ competition which will see up to 10 locations chosen to run trials.

Tech 3

X-Ray vision

Well, not exactly X-Ray vision but close enough for the purposes of this feature.

Harrild & Sons in Farringdon, London, recently became the first bar in the world to use facial recognition technology to determine which customers should be served next.

Tech

The tech’s developer, DataSparQ claims this will avoid arguments, speed up service by three to five seconds per order as well as flagging customers who look under-25 and whether they’ve already been ID checked.

You

Pub operators and drink makers are finding more ways to personalise customer experience, from Ripples delivering personalised content in foam on drinks to Diageo measuring electrical brain activity to find your ideal Tanqueray No.10 mixer via their Head vs Heart activation.

“Head vs Heart is just one example of an emerging technology enabling consumers to explore their own taste preferences and the flavours of Tanqueray No. 10 as part of an engaging, sensory and surprising experience,” according to Diageo’s Benjamin Lickfett.

Zoning

According to figures from Kantar World Panel, nine in every 10 visits to the on-trade only involves one venue, making it increasingly important for pubs to be multi-dimensional ​– perhaps showing sport in one area and hosting diners in another. As such, audio and visual systems restricting noise to specific areas are becoming increasingly popular.

Related topics: Technology

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