Recently we at FoodRazor had the opportunity to be part of some meaningful conversations held during the Hospitality Unites event, a 2-day virtual summit dedicated to supporting the Australian hospitality industry, with a focus on restaurant tech. Being relatively new to the Australian market, this was a great way for us to learn more about the current situation of the industry and speak with experts in understanding the specific issues troubling the industry right now.
The main focus of this virtual summit was to bring to light how technology can be utilised to alleviate some of the recent challenges brought about by covid, with a focus on revenue loss and staffing. There was also an emphasis on the importance of diversifying the business model as a way to diversify risks; how technology can assist in facilitating business innovation; and the implications of technology on the various aspects of a restaurant’s operations. The general tone was one of (what I would call) sober optimism. The pandemic has been particularly brutal on the hospitality industry, and the hard-earned lessons give room for hope, provided we proceed with caution. Technology alone will not save the industry. Rather, it will facilitate its evolution.
Here are some takeaways that I picked up from the event:
Technology as a way to adapt
It's important to have the right technology(ies). It is equally important to make sure that the technologies are connected to each other to maximize operational efficiencies. For example, POS systems should talk to invoice management tools like FoodRazor and tools like ours should talk to the accounting system.
"If this is done right and the front of house is linked to the back of house, then the technology can run in the background and venues can focus on what they do best, the business of hospitality."
Better technologies will also be able to recommend specific courses of action. For example, with the right suite of tools, you should be able to automatically generate and send purchase orders to suppliers when ingredients are running low. This is one example of the power of data. When companies talk about empowering businesses with data, this is what this means. It saves a huge amount of time and frictions and if done right can also help restaurateurs make efficient decisions that will lead to lower costs.
This is the direction FoodRazor is moving towards: finding ways for restaurateurs to exploit their own data.
Another example is employing customer-facing technologies. Personalisation is something that restaurants can do based on the amount of knowledge they have about their customers, so they can be prompted to provide a more customized experience (e.g. celebrating milestones like birthdays, or recommending menu items based on dietary preferences and requirements), which will help generate stronger loyalty, and to more repeat visits, referrals, and so on.
Adoption of new technologies can take time and can feel painful especially since it involves retraining staff, relooking at workflows and possibly making big changes. In the ideal scenario, the technology/product is perfect, super intuitive and business owners understand it clearly. However, in reality, many restaurant owners will need some help setting up, so my recommendation here for business owners is to make sure that they partner with a technology company that has outstanding customer service/support. Chances are you won’t need a customized solution, but chances are also that you’ll need some support in getting the tool to work the way *you* want it to.
One of the tips given during the virtual summit was to find a technological service provider that is fast-moving and listens to business needs. This is why it's great to work with (the right) young startups. They are hungry to learn from the users and are likely to listen for feedback on the features demanded by the users. At FoodRazor that’s exactly how we operate: we recently launched an email upload feature for invoices as we received suggestions from users who wanted alternative ways to easily upload their invoices. Of course, these implementations are not done on a whim but by collating this feedback and research from users so that the platform constantly helps them improve their operations.
Importance of risk-proofing the business model
Business owners need to understand that in this climate, operating as a dine-in business alone is no longer an option. Diversifying revenue channels such as delivery (the most obvious one), e-commerce, selling the products (e.g. the signature BBQ sauce) for people to take home, selling B2B (e.g. to supermarkets, grocery stores), and so on, is the way to go to prevent relying too much on a single revenue stream that would be heavily affected by snap lockdowns.
Risk-proofing the business model by embracing technology is great because even with a lean team of FOH and BOH staff, you can manage these new channels of revenue. How so? Digital solutions can be used to take over repetitive and manual tasks that can be automated, immediately freeing up the time for staff to spend more effort into properly establishing the new e-commerce channel or marketing efforts etc. In this way technology doesn't replace the labour involved, it enhances productivity and empowers staff.
Some advice from Hospitality Unites panellists
“Find a technological service provider that is fast-moving and will listen to your individual businesses’ needs.” (Daragh Kan)
“Throw away the mentality, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.” (Joshua Harrison)
“Maintaining an open mind and being curious will take you down the road of listening to new ideas and picking up new things.” (Jordan Murray)
“Tech is here to help, not to hinder.” (Kerry Osbourn)
The Hospitality Unites virtual summit covered a lot of realistic points and areas of reflection for the hospitality industry. I think we all agree that 2020 was indeed a brutal year, but at the same time, I do believe that the lessons that we have learned in the past 12 months allow for measured optimism. In general, the food service industry remains slow to adopt new tech/digital solutions, but I foresee that early adapters embracing technology are already well-prepared on a quicker and smoother path to evolving and transforming their businesses.
Follow the link here to access the recordings at Hospitality Unites.