How a digital revolution is transforming hospitality in the time of Covid, by Hadie Perkas, The Gift Club Editor

As the UK tentatively returns to its favourite drinking and eating spots, with lockdown easing, consumers are seeing that a very significant transformation has taken place. For the first time, we are imitating our European friends’ penchant for table service in an attempt to limit social interactions, and with businesses still trying to keep staffing levels low, they’ve looked for digital solutions to keep customers happy.

As the public start to step out of their homes, bleary-eyed and desperate for a drink prepared by someone else, they’ve had to get used to a whole new way of getting their fix. The first thing now done when entering a restaurant or such-like is not to cordially greet the bar person or maitre’d, but to pull out a phone to register on the track and trace app to keep Johnson and the gang abreast of our whereabouts. We’re also likely to be hastily eyeing up the joint for a QR code linking us to an ordering site so that we can select and pay for what we fancy drinking or eating. Technology has become an essential part of the ‘going out’ experience.

The 2020 Restaurant Technology Study backs this observation up, with 71 per cent of their respondents having recently added, upgraded or changed digital ordering software, a top investment priority for 2020. 64 per cent plan to upgrade online mobile ordering in 2020.

The Generational Shift to Digital Everything

Mobile ordering isn’t purely a symptom of the pandemic. For a good few years now Gen Z and (younger) Millennial consumers have been pushing the digital agenda. Research conducted by KAM Media and OrderPay, drawing on feedback from 2,500 hospitality customers gathered between March 2019 and August 2020, found that 64 per cent of under 34-year-olds say the importance of digital ordering has increased. A move to digital wallets and an ambivalence about cash means the hospitality has had to change its relationship with cashless payment options. 47 per cent of the total group wanted to be able to pre-order and pay before arriving in a venue, which rose to 66 per cent for under 34-year-olds.

Putting Customers First

For the hotel industry, the need for slick and effective digital solutions is even greater as customer expectations are relentlessly high. Gary Patrick, CEO at Hotel Internet Services spoke to HospitalityNet and suggested that “updating tech and services focus on creating an enjoyable guest experience while minimizing health and safety concerns should be prioritized. From content casting to mobile room service, in-room “smart” technology such as voice-activated thermostats, and even VR and AR technology”.

Creating apps with no mind for the customer journey or experience could damage loyalty and deter people from coming to your venue, especially if the bar next door offers Apple Pay or an app that doesn’t require registration. Above all customers want to feel safe in your venue, but they still want to feel valued, even if that’s now through an elegantly designed app and a smile through a Perspex mask.