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By Alison Vasey, Group Product Director, Zonal

Robot waiters may seem a far-fetched idea right now, but technology has irreversibly cemented itself as an integral part of every stage in the hospitality customer journey: pre-visit, in-venue and post-visit. For hospitality operators that means, not only accepting that the technology we have recently adopted during the pandemic is here to stay, but that technology will also be key to success in the future.

Voice activation in hospitality

Zonal’s GO Technology research, in partnership with CGA, investigated the future of technology in hospitality earlier this year, and the findings make for interesting reading – whatever the size or stage of your business. Voice activation for example, is something we are all familiar with – who these days hasn’t asked Alexa what the weather forecast is or, “Hey Google! Tell me a joke”? And the report shows there is appetite for this to be transferred to pubs, restaurants and the wider leisure sector.

Pre-visit for example, consumers could be using this tech to search for venues, and in fact, the report showed that nearly 15% of people are already very interested in this, while in-venue it has uses too. In fact, 13% of people are very interested in using voice ordering when eating and drinking out.

These numbers may seem low now, but we fully expect them to rise rapidly, as the technology improves and Gen Z and Generation Alpha grow up – after all, for today’s 10 to 20-year-olds voice activated tech is nothing unusual at all. When put in this context, it seems not a case of if but when this technology will be a regular feature in hospitality businesses.

Taking online and mobile ordering one step further

Talking of tech that is a regular feature in pubs, bars and restaurants, online and mobile ordering, while in-venue, has become just that for many consumers. This is as a result of restrictions due to the pandemic, yes, but research shows that now it’s been adopted and normalised, it’s here to stay. Some 56% of 18 to 24-year-olds told us that they would prefer to order online in-venue, even once the country has been safely vaccinated (GO Technology, March 2021).

Operators need to keep this in mind and look at how they offer not just a basic capability but enhance it too, to help build and future proof their businesses. The GO Technology report suggests one area worth looking at is providing a way to track orders – not just when dining at home but when in venues too. This is a popular concept among those surveyed, with a quarter saying this was appealing. A fifth want a way to set up bar tabs and the same number say they’d like to be able to easily repeat previous orders.

With such technology already readily available in other sectors, hospitality needs to ensure it isn’t left behind.

The emergence of VR and AR

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are also familiar terms to today’s drinkers and diners, especially those at the younger end of the scale. This is technology that can be harnessed to engage consumers and drive revenue pre- and post- visits to venues.

One third of late-night bar users said they’re interested in VR tours and experiences and 13% of all consumers say they felt that way about AR capabilities. At first glance the latter number may not seem high, but it’s double the number that said they would like AR features on apps three years ago, which indicates a significant shift and one which experts forecast is only likely to increase.

Menus go digital

Valuable insight from our recent Plan to Plate customer research in partnership with KAM sheds light on other areas to focus on too. For example, who would have thought almost a quarter of customers now prefer digital menus over any other type of menu – rising to 36% for those dining with children.

So yes, robot waiters may be a little way off yet (although 13% of those surveyed for March’s GO Technology report said they are very interested in the idea and this rose to a quarter of late-night bar users, a substantial percentage) but investing in technology is now essential for hospitality operators and knowing where to invest your precious cash reserves for the most effect is important.

Operators should think about taking a closer look each stage of the customer journey to work out where tech solutions can relieve pain points pre-visit, in-venue and post-visit, and therefore where investment will be best targeted in the short and long term.

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