Ambassador Theatre Group takes a bow with Zonal technology

The UK’s largest theatre owner and operator, The Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), has implemented Zonal’s Hospitality Management Solution across its growing estate of 40 venues.

With each venue undergoing a complete overhaul of its front-of-house EPoS and back office financial planning and stock taking software, the company needed to ensure every member of its workforce could use the system confidently, especially at peak times.

ATG invested in a detailed programme of training for each venue, designed and delivered by Zonal’s dedicated training team. This included a two-day management course, intensive Go-Live support on the day of installation and practical assistance for the first live stock-take.

The aim of Zonal’s management training course was to provide ATG’s head office and theatre managers with a thorough understanding of the system and the knowledge they needed to train new members of staff. Managers were given practical tuition in till functionality, back office financial procedures including closing down, cashing up and banking, staff attendance and performance management, purchasing and stock auditing, delivered through lively classroom-based sessions and role-play exercises.

The next phase of training took place on site on the day of installation and was focused around the needs of sales staff in each venue. In the hours before the venue opened its doors to customers, Zonal’s project support team, working closely with ATG’s IT department, guided staff and managers through the point-of-sale system, from checking products and pricing to opening ledgers, making a sale and processing interval drinks.

ATG’s retail sales are focused around evening and matinee performances when the company’s biggest venues attract up to 2,000 customers who fill its bar and restaurants.

“Our sales activity peaks dramatically in the hour before a show and during the interval when staff can serve several hundred drinks in a very short amount of time, so they need to be well-trained to cope with these bursts of intense sales activity,” says Colin Chester, Group Head of Retail Services at ATG.

“A major benefit of Zonal’s approach to training was that staff and managers had lots of opportunities to practice using every function of the technology with experienced trainers on hand to guide us through every eventuality.”

“Our installation days have gone particularly smoothly because as well as being familiar with the system, staff were supported at all times by the team from Zonal working with our own IT experts.”

The final stage of training was delivered two weeks later to support each venue’s first live stock-take. This proved particularly useful for managers who weren’t used to viewing and interpreting stock reports, to help them make sure profit margins are correct, deliveries are being added to the system correctly and waste is kept to a minimum.

“Our approach was to invest in the right amount of training and support to ensure we got the most from the system as quickly as possible, and to equip our managers with a detailed knowledge and understanding that could be passed on to new members of staff,” says Colin Chester.

“As a result, we are able to manage our use of the system in-house with little need for additional support from Zonal. To ensure we maintain this level of product knowledge, we are now planning to provide new managers with similar training sessions.”

Standing Ovation for Zonal

The Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) adopted Zonal’s Hospitality Management Solution to streamline sales transactions and help manage the performance of its rapidly expanding estate of high-profile venues.

ATG is the largest theatre owner and operator in the UK with 40 venues including many of the most prestigious and well-known theatres in the West End of London and other major cities.
With more than eight million customers passing through its doors every year, the company needed to find ways to drive more profit from every visit and control the huge quantities of sales data it was generating every day.

The brief

ATG wanted to upgrade its financial planning and stock taking technology so that up-to-date sales and stock information could be viewed in a clear and consistent format. The company wanted to take back full control of stock taking for all of its bars and restaurants so that it no longer had to pay suppliers to carry out external stock checks.

Another of ATG’s key requirements was a simple way to raise purchase orders for new stock electronically and replace the inefficient and unreliable paper forms theatre managers had to fill in by hand.

The company was also looking for ways to use point of sale technology to speed up sales at its box offices and in its bars and restaurants, to reduce queues before performances and during intervals, improve customer experiences and maximise sales opportunities.

The solution in practice

ATG adopted a Zonal Hospitality Management Solution incorporating Aztec back office financial control and stock taking modules, and the Dimensions suite of reports including bespoke reports. In its box offices, bars and restaurants, ATG is using Zonal’s 509 EPoS terminals with fully integrated chip and pin.

“Adopting Zonal’s technology has enabled us to take greater control of our business than ever before and made it possible for us to view our company in a completely new way, based on clear facts that are easy to gather,” says ATG buying manager Colin Chester.

“Using the system’s sales reports, we can now see how each of our venues is performing at any time, and that is extremely important for us, particularly as we grow, to ensure we support every part of the group in the most productive ways.”

“The intelligence we receive from the system at the end of every day, week and month is being used to inform our plans and helping us to develop new and effective ways of working and marketing ourselves.”

Electronic ordering

The solution’s fully integrated purchase order system has replaced ATG’s hand-written ordering spreadsheets. Venue managers can now create orders for supplies quickly and accurately using electronic order forms that are automatically populated with current pricing information.

“Our new purchase ordering system makes it much easier for our accounts team to process orders and means prices are always consistent and up-to-date,” says Colin.

Streamlining interval orders

“One of the greatest benefits of the new system is the improvement it has made to the way we manage pre-ordered interval drinks,” says Colin.

A pre-programmed function on each bar’s EPoS terminals allows serving staff to clearly identify drinks that have been ordered before the start of the show and need to be prepared for collection during the interval.

“The technology has significantly reduced interval congestion, freeing up bar space, and boosting the volume of sales we can make in a short space of time,” he says.

ATG is now trialing software designed by Zonal to show how many interval drinks are pre-ordered at each venue. Specially designed reports are being used to compare each venue’s success in marketing and selling interval drinks to discover which venues are most effective in what is a highly profitable element of ATG’s sales. Armed with this intelligence, ATG is designing initiatives to improve performance across all venues.

Driving promotions

The system is also helping ATG implement a major new marketing campaign to encourage customers to spend more time and money in its theatres, particularly before performances. Customers buying tickets online are offered a selection of promotional bundles – combining tickets with champagne and show programmes for example – which can be redeemed on arrival at the theatre using a voucher code. Code recognition software running on ATG’s in-house EPoS systems identifies these codes when presented by the customer and authorises the server to award the correct goods.

Timed promotions, such as mid-week pre-show drink offers, are also being put into practice through ATG’s EPoS technology which is programmed to automatically switch between standard and promotional pricing at pre-defined times of the day or week.

The future

ATG is now trialling a swipeable loyalty card system which will work alongside its EPoS technology to gather information about customer buying behaviours and enable the company to develop more targeted offers and rewards that have a greater chance of attracting repeat business.

“The beauty of Zonal’s technology is that it is growing with us and always helping us to realise our next business ambition. Whatever our challenge or objective, Zonal’s project support and technical teams have worked hard to develop the system to meet it,” adds Colin Chester.

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