Is order and pay here to stay?

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly put digital solutions at centre stage in the customer journey. As operators across all sectors of the industry put a laser focus on safety measures and managing cash flow in order to survive, we’ve seen an explosion of innovative revenue streams and ordering channels – many of which have been made possible through technology.

Most notable of these have been order and pay at table solutions – from apps to web ordering, which, prior to the Coronavirus pandemic were still emerging technologies – used mainly by early adopters – both operator and consumer. Zonal and CGA’s GO Technology research programme has been tracking the adoption of order and pay technology over the past two years, and findings from the most recent study show that the percentage of UK adults using order and pay tech has more than doubled since before the pandemic – up from 18% to 43%.

Satisfied customers

And consumers have reacted positively to the new ordering channel. Just over three quarters (77%) say they have been satisfied or very satisfied with the ease of ordering, and even more (79%) with the ease and speed of payment – a notorious and recurring pain point for customers in hospitality venues.

Safety first

Whilst order and pay was previously viewed with scepticism by some as a replacement to human interaction, it has in fact, enhanced the customer experience and served to provide reassurance for customers around safety issues. According to the 5,000 UK adults surveyed: nearly nine in ten (86%) of those who used order and pay solutions reported that their interaction with staff was the same or better than it was before lockdown, and 40% of consumers say they feel safer in venues that use order and pay technology. A further third (34%) stated that they would be more likely to visit a venue that has order and pay technology.

The future

So is order and pay here to stay? With current adoption almost doubling compared to pre-COVID times and almost half of 18-44 year-olds intending to use the technology going forward, even when COVID measures no longer need to be implemented, we say yes.

Download GO Technology: Order and Pay Technology in the COVID-era for further insights on this emerging technology trend

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Lockdown 2.0: Now’s the time to review your tech stack

Lockdown in March caused chaos and uncertainty in the industry. Within days businesses were forced to close their doors and no one could predict what was going to happen next.

As the industry emerged from lockdown, technology very quickly became the solution to a whole raft of new challenges, from social distancing to table service and contactless payment, leading to an acceleration of three to five years in the demand and usage of self-ordering and payment solutions. At Zonal alone, we’ve seen over 40 times the amount of orders go through our online ordering platforms than prior to COVID!

Many operators were forced to adopt new technology solutions at record speed, or make better use of those they already had over the past few months – for everything from managing bookings and capacity, to creating completely new ordering channels via click and collect and delivery. 48% of business leaders suggest that implementing new technology has been a major, or their biggest focus post lockdown to help safely reopen their businesses.

Fast forward seven months and we were presented with a second lockdown. So how can you use this time effectively? What have we learned and how are things different this time round?

Many of our customers are using this time to build for the future, not just for post-lockdown – planning long-term operational strategies, and for many this includes reviewing their entire technology suite.

Now is the time to look back and reflect how this tech is performing

You’ve implemented online ordering, click and collect or delivery. What now?

Having embraced these new technologies, it’s time to ask some serious questions of them – are you getting the most out of the solutions? Are they performing as you hoped they would? Is your provider giving you the right level of support or has it highlighted the cracks in your tech infrastructure? Has it put pressure on other systems showing they can’t cope with an omnichannel approach? A technology review will reveal the strengths and weaknesses of these solutions to ensure they are fit for purpose and capable of delivering your business needs.

Not sure where to begin? Here are a few points to consider when undertaking your review:

1. Sharing of data

Do your platforms sit in silo or do they talk to one another, can you capture this data centrally to give you a single view of your operations? Is it giving you access to the insight and data intelligence that you need to help you make informed decisions?

2. Operations

Do your tech platforms offer everything you need to support all your operations? Are they adding more time pressure on your staff, for example do online orders need to be re-keyed into your POS or kitchen management system or accounting tool? How do you ensure nothing is missed and how do you account for human error? Are the systems giving you complete control of all your customer touch points?

3. Protect your brand

With more ordering channels now available, this brings more opportunities for customers to engage with your brand. How is this being managed, is the brand experience consistent or is it being compromised? How do you ensure you offer the same experience customers expect from your brand even if they are not in-venue? Do the new platforms allow you to add your brand personality and unique offering, but still allow for that personal touch when needed?

4. Availability

How are you managing your available stock items or even available tables on different channels? Can customers order things that are no longer available? Not only is this an additional task for your staff to keep on top of but also leaves a negative impression of your brand with the customer.

5. Right partner

You may have needed to act quickly in implementing your new solutions and not had time to complete all the research that you would normally do when choosing a new technology partner. How is the partner working for you, how are they supporting you during this time, if you need help can you contact them outside of the standard 9-5pm? Can they meet your growth plans and expectations, can they grow with your business? Ensuring a partner can provide solutions that can integrate into your existing technology infrastructure will stand you in good stead for a successful, profitable business in the future.

Adding new technology to your business to meet changing demands is not as simple as a tick box exercise, it’s not easy and you’re not alone, 94% of leaders suggest that implementing new technology is at least somewhat challenging, with 1 in 3 suggesting it is a major challenge. You need to review, listen to your customers and work with your technology partner to ensure you are providing the best experience to keep those loyal customers.

With customer touch points becoming increasingly varied and arguably more complex, the seamless data sharing and integration becomes ever more vital to ensure the customer experience is not compromised and to minimise the burden on operations.  With a plethora of platforms now available to operators, never has there been a greater need for a holistic view of customer touch points and this can only be achieved through an integrated approach to technology. The data available from this approach will be invaluable to any business, it will aid planning, ensure operational efficiency and help meet your business goals not just for re-opening but for the future.

For a complete integrated approach, check out Zonal’s range online ordering tools

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Top 6 Order & Pay Dos and Don’ts

With concerns about protecting employees, customers and communities from COVID-19, mobile ordering and payment technology has been pushed to the fore faster than any hospitality technology trend before it.

Zonal has been working with thousands of operators to support their order and pay solution requirements for several years now, but in October alone, we saw £15 million worth of contactless food and drink orders processed through our mobile ordering solutions – the highest on our records, with that number expected to rise once lockdown restrictions are lifted again.

Aside from the safety benefits of contactless order and pay, the technology has significant customer experience benefits too. What’s more, it’s very quickly become the expectation from customers. So whilst customers are currently confined to their homes for another four-week ‘lock-down’, now’s the time to get on the front foot with Order and Pay technology, ready for the industry to open back up again.

As with any new technology rollout, there are critical steps and pitfalls which determine its success or failure and we’ve put together a few Dos and Don’ts to help you make a success of your new order and payment solution.

1. Don’t rush your decision

With restrictions and government guidelines changing almost by the day, operators are having to make quick decisions, pivot business models on the spot and adapt to what is expected of them with only a moment’s notice. However, making a quick decision about a technology solution is not always the best decision, so make sure you take the time to do your research to find the right online ordering system for your business. Think through exactly how staff are going to quickly receive and manage orders, without disrupting other existing operations. Why not write a checklist of all the things you want your order and pay technology to be able to do, and be sure to speak to a few providers before making your decision.

2. Do check it’s future-proofed

Ensuring that your system is future-proofed is vital. A short-term solution could end up as a long-term headache, which drains more of your time than it saves. Does your online ordering system seamlessly integrate with your POS, so that orders are sent straight to the kitchen without your staff having to manually re-key orders? Does it give your customers a real-time view of your prices, stock, menu availability and offers? These are all things that need to be considered when choosing the right order and pay system and things that could very quickly become a drain of your time.

3. Do set KPIs and review them regularly

The best way to ensure a return on investment on your order and pay app is to review its performance against a set of KPIs that you set at the beginning of the project. You can quickly identify what’s working and what’s not, and prioritise any areas for improvement. You might want to set KPIs around the number of users, average spend or other important goals for your specific venue.

4. Don’t underestimate the importance of testing

Order and Pay is an extension of your brand and is an essential part of the customer experience. Make sure you test it out for yourself and ask staff, friends and family to do the same, to make sure you are happy the user experience. You’ll find that their feedback and engagement will enhance the overall success when it’s time to launch and could also give you some valuable nuggets of feedback that turn it from a standard solution to one that really flies!

5. Do take the time to train staff

Your staff can be your biggest advocates. It might seem straightforward but staff knowing how to use it inside out will be critical to its success. Take the time to train your staff thoroughly and allow all your staff to trial it.

6. Don’t expect your Order and Pay solution to sell itself

Just launching a mobile order and pay solution doesn’t guarantee it will be used. Your staff will be your main promotional channel for using the service, but it’s equally important to utilise every marketing tool in your kit. Whether it’s point of sale material on tables, till receipts, posters on toilet doors, on your website or emails, making customers aware that they are now able to order from the seat of their table will ensure its success.

Find out more about Zonal’s Order and Pay solution, or get in touch with one of our team today using the form below.

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Order & Pay Implementation Checklist

You’ve decided to invest in a new piece of tech to improve the customer experience in your hospitality venue and keep your customers and staff safe, great news! The next stage, however, can seem a rather daunting… from deciding on the right solution to invest in, to selecting the menu items you wish to push. What exactly does it entail? And what needs to be done to ensure you get the most out of your investment?

Over the past few years, Zonal has helped thousands of hospitality businesses to successfully deploy mobile order and pay solutions, so based on this experience, we’ve put together a handy checklist of everything you’ll need to do,  to ensure you get up and running quickly, using your system to its full potential.

1. Appoint a project owner and identify key stakeholders

Whether you’re a single site business, small group or multi-brand operation, the first and most important step is to decide who will be managing and championing your order and pay project. Even the biggest technology projects can fall between the cracks if there’s no clear owner to manage communications, gather feedback and keep the project on track. Likewise, if you’re not involving all of the members of your team who will be impacted by the new technology, it’s much harder to get their buy-in. Some key stakeholders you might want to involve could be wait staff, bar staff or even customers – it’s these groups who will be using it the most after all.

2. Set KPIs

As you probably already do with your other technology solutions, setting KPIs for your mobile Order and Pay solution will help you measure success and allow you to spend time nurturing those areas that are doing well.  There are many different metrics you can potentially track including spend per head, engagement with the service, frequency of visits or even average table occupancy.  Tracking these will help you to accurately determine ways to improve performance and develop an action plan based on the data.

3. Keep your brand and customer journey consistent

Before investing in an Order and Pay solution it’s helpful to ensure your brand guidelines are up to date. To ensure your Order & Pay web page or app is customised the way you want it to be when it goes live, double check you have all your logos, images, font files and colours ready to go. Ensuring these are all up to date and match your current branding will ensure consistency of your brand and enhance the customer journey.

4. Decide what menu items to sell

Whether you choose to include your full menu or a select few items, deciding which items to appear on your menu is necessary before implementation. Push special promotions or offers to promote your best sellers or push those less popular to increase sales. Menus, pricing and stock availability are kept up to date in real-time, so guests are never disappointed.

5. Ensure payments can be processed

To process payments through a mobile order and pay solution, you’ll be required to set up a Braintree/Paypal account. This is simple to set up and just requires to you to send a few details to Braintree and can be processed in 1-3 days.

6. Set up your developer accounts

If you’re going down the bespoke mobile app route, you’ll also need to set up developer accounts to push your app to the Google Play store or Apple stores, so it can be downloaded by customers. This can be set up in a few steps, and your app will appear in no time!

7. Make sure staff are onboard and fully trained

Ensuring your staff are onboard with any new technology solution will be critical to its success. Encourage them to give their feedback and ideas on how to make it a success and of course to use the new ordering process to see for themselves how easy it is. Why not organise a series of dedicated training sessions ready for launch with one of our trainers to help get you started. Providing a safe, non-live environment for all users will help them get comfortable with the solution and practice real-life scenarios before they happen.

8. Create a dedicated marketing campaign to launch your new service

You’ve created a fantastic new ordering channel. Now what? The success of your Order and Pay solution is completely dependent on how you promote it. So before rolling it out, make sure you create a dedicated marketing plan, incorporating all of the channels you have at your disposal – website, social media, in-store POS, email, till receipts… Consider an incentive to encourage customers to use the new ordering channel too. Maybe a free drink? Or free dessert with a spend over a certain amount. Think about really clear and simple messaging in your venues where it’s visible for customers to see. Having the right marketing in place, can help encourage downloads, improve customer experience, and help you meet safety expectations. The Zonal team are happy to help with more ideas on making a success of your roll out.

9. Test, test, test

If deploying an Order and Pay solution with Zonal, our dedicated Project team will support you through the testing phase to ensure everything is working as it should. Once you’re happy with your solution, it’s also important to test it with your stakeholders – staff, friends and family, to identify any final tweaks that will ensure it is an instant success!

10. Set a date to review the implementation

Like any great technology rollout, the analysis and adjustment phase is a critical stage to enable you to check that the tech is working as you hoped it would, to review results and identify anything that needs to be adjusted to improve results. Put a date in the diary to get your stakeholders together post-go live.

Using Zonal’s Order and Pay solution is seamless, efficient and stress free and your deployment process should be no different.

Find out more about Zonal’s Order and Pay solution here or get in touch using the form below.

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How customer behaviour and preferences change across age and gender in pubs and restaurants

If you’re over 55, special offers and deals are likely to get your attention. If you’re between 18-34 it’s most likely to be the drinks menu. Zonal’s GO Technology research explains how customer behaviour and preferences change depending on age and gender.

Pub and restaurant customers are a diverse bunch, but there are some interesting patterns when you start crunching the data: different groups of people have very different expectations when it comes to the booking and dining experience.

According to Zonal’s GO Tech research, there are distinct differences between differing age groups. Older customers are much more likely to check a pub or restaurant’s website before visiting the premises, with 34% of over-55s looking for special offers and deals compared to just 26% of 18 to 34s. The pattern repeats with booking information – 44% compared to 32% – and location information, which was required by 32% of over-55s compared to 22% of 18 to 34s.

Some things are universal, however. Across every demographic, the reasons for using a restaurant’s website are ranked in the same order of importance: the menu first (88%), followed by opening times (63%), booking information (38%), offers and deals (31%) and the drinks menu (29%). If your website people aren’t making it really easy for people to get those bits of information, you might want to have a word: when it comes to the biggest frustration with restaurant websites, 44% of people across all demographics say that it’s the lack of a viewable food menu. Difficulty in using or accessing the website is second (20%), followed by lack of booking information (12%), not listing opening times (10%) and not having a viewable drinks menu (7%).

That’s not to say that there aren’t some demographic differences in that data. The drinks menu is much more important to younger consumers: 41% of 18 to 34s check the drinks menu before visiting compared to just 21% of over-55s.

Points to remember:

  • Over 55 are more interested in special offers and menus than any other age group
  • Older customers are much more likely to check a pub or restaurant’s website before visiting, so make sure all of the information they are looking for is clear and easy to find
  • Website features and frustrations are common across all demographics: lack of a menu is the biggest sin
  • Some information is more important to specific groups: older consumers want location info and younger ones are looking for a drinks menu
  • The most important thing about data is what you do with it – where you invest your valuable time, IT budget and marketing effort.

Discover more about how Zonal’s loyalty management system gives you the tools to build smart loyalty programmes that reward your most loyal customers and encourage increased spend.

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Training and communication: how to get teams ready for a new IT system

Convincing employees to use new technology is anything but an easy task. All too often, the new platform sits idly while staff happily maintain their old ways of working.

If you’re planning to roll out a new IT system in your hospitality business and haven’t worked out your end-user training or communication strategy, stop right there.

If staff in your venues aren’t ready or motivated to use the new systems, they won’t deliver the benefits you expect. That’s why it’s crucial to ensure you have a training strategy in place long before you start making changes to hardware or software.

Here are six top tips on how to go about it:

1) Set your training goals

Your training strategy is likely to have two goals:

  1. Get your employees up to speed so there’s a minimum loss of productivity when the new system goes live
  2. Improve employees’ productivity by taking full advantage of the new system

The first point is purely transitional. The second is the reason for switching platforms in the first place, which is to improve or replace old ways of working. That means continuing your training once the roll-out has been completed to ensure that the new system is used to its full potential.

2) No one size fits all

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to apply a one-size-fits-all model to your entire organisation. You’ll have people in different roles, using different areas of the system, and with differing levels of IT knowledge and ability. Humans learn in different ways, so your employees will respond to different types of training. Try asking them what method they prefer from the off – ensuring they are bought in to the training and committed from the very beginning. That means you’ll need to provide different forms of training according to job role, levels of expertise and learning preference.

It goes without saying that it’s a bad idea to try and train novices and experts simultaneously: novices could be intimidated and experts bored. Similarly, novices may value classroom training while more tech-savvy users may prefer to experiment by themselves.

On the subject of what format training should take, there are several options including:

  • Online or printed self-study materials
  • Individual hands-on instruction
  • Classroom-style training
  • Seminars / live demonstrations
  • Interactive training applications

Many organisations will offer blended learning, employing several different training methods to meet differing needs and employee preferences. In very large organisations it’s also common to train senior staff first and then have them train their own teams.

No matter which particular mix of training options you decide to use, it’s important to schedule training alongside your roll-out plans to ensure that the right people get the right input at the right time.

3) Assemble your team

You may be the main driver of the project, but change isn’t solely your responsibility. The more people involved in selling the benefits of the new system, the more successful your roll-out is likely to be. Most organisations can identify influencers: the members of staff that other employees look to. Recruiting and training those influencers to be expert and enthusiastic users of the new system can pay dividends in terms of reducing resistance to change and framing the change as a positive step forward.

However, while influencers can significantly reduce the amount of work the core change team has to do, that shouldn’t mean dumping the evangelist role on them without giving them the time and resources to do it. The last thing you want is an unhappy advocate.

4) Sell the sizzle

In addition to training programmes, you’ll also need to communicate the benefits of the new system to everybody who’s going to be affected by it. And the key question to answer is WIIFM – what’s in it for me?

To take the old marketing saw, you need to sell the sizzle, not the steak. Most people are primarily interested in how the changes are going to affect them, so a message about how it’ll make customers friendlier, reduce paperwork and generally make everybody’s working life better is going to get more attention than management buzzword bingo or technical details that aren’t relevant to their day-to-day jobs.

To address this, it’s a very good idea to ensure that the “why” argument is used in all of your communications, and it may be helpful to create a short list of frequently asked questions with replies for your employees to refer to.

5) Listen

In addition to communicating the reasons for change, detailing the expected benefits and timescales, it’s important to listen to your employees as well. Formal or informal feedback mechanisms should be put in place to actively encourage feedback – positive and negative – and employees should feel their feedback is valued.

6) Look for “wins”

You’re bringing in new systems to make things better, so make sure you communicate improvements when they occur. If changes mean that X venue improved occupancy, or that bookings for venue Y went through the roof, for example, shout it from the rooftops. If employees see that the new system is genuinely making things better, they’ll be more enthusiastic about it – and that means you’ll be boosting morale as well as productivity.

Points to remember

  • Communication and training should begin long before any new systems are rolled out.
  • The more people extolling the benefits of the new system, the more successful your roll-out is likely to be.
  • Employees must feel their feedback is valued and they can make a contribution.
  • The key question to answer is WIIFM: what’s in it for me?
  • Deliver training according to job role and levels of expertise. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

We want you to make the most of our systems and realise the full operational benefits. Zonal offers comprehensive training customised to the needs of your business.

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On the floor or in the cloud? How hospitality businesses are transforming their IT infrastructure

In the pub and restaurant industry, trends don’t just affect what’s on your customers’ plates. They can affect every aspect of the business, often in very positive ways.

One of the most significant and important such trends is the move to cloud-based solutions, which are delivering measurable benefits to many restaurants.

From good to great

If your business is already superb at what it does, cloud technology can make a good thing even better. By moving some of your infrastructure to the cloud you can reduce hardware and software costs, cut maintenance and training costs and introduce the ability to scale your solution up or down according to demand.

Not only that, up-front costs are usually minimal, ongoing costs are predictable and the right solution enables you to take full advantage of available technologies.

Reasons to head for the cloud

For example, you might want to move at least some of your EPoS system to mobile devices such as tablets, or to integrate different data sources to provide detailed analysis of occupancy, yield, customer behaviour, inventory management and marketing effectiveness. Life in the cloud can also help you to make it easier for your employees to schedule shifts by checking rotas electronically.

Making the switch

For many restaurants, the first step is to migrate reservations and waiting lists to the cloud. Such a move can enable customers to check availability and book online or via their mobile, and it can be used to offer last-minute availability in the event of cancellations or unexpected lulls. It can also send automated reminders to help prevent the dreaded no-shows that blight many businesses’ balance sheets.

In many cases, the IT manager can then make a strong case for moving more operations online, especially when it comes to data integration. That can deliver incredibly detailed insights into occupancy and even individual customers’ behaviour, can identify more efficient use of resources and can even lead to more aggressive booking windows by identifying just how long a table of X people will be occupied.

Pause for thought

There are negatives too, of course. Some cloud-based systems are cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all operations. Many use their own branding rather than yours. Some contracts don’t fix costs in a way you’ll find acceptable, or charge a commission that can easily spiral out of control. And some vendors operate on a model where they own the data, so if you decide to cut loose and go elsewhere you can’t take your valuable data with you.

The biggest potential problem, though, is that your provider’s interests might not align with your own.

For example, if a platform is building its own brand in the consumer space, there’s a risk of your business becoming a cog in somebody else’s machine – something we’ve already seen in online retail and online ticketing, where the platform providers ended up dominating entire markets.

Making the switch

The right solution doesn’t do that. The right solution keeps you in control: control of your costs, control of your brand and, most importantly of all, control of your data.

Key points to remember:

  • Cloud-based solutions require minimal disruption and little initial investment
  • Make sure your provider’s interests are aligned with your own
  • Ownership is crucial, especially of the data your business generates
  • Data analysis can cut costs, improve efficiency and boost occupancy
  • The right solution gives you control of your costs, your brand and your data

Find out more about Zonal’s range of cloud-based solutions including reservation systems, loyalty programmes and marketing campaign tools.

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5 top tips on how to successfully manage party bookings at your restaurant

Whether it’s a rehearsal dinner, hen do, or Christmas party, hosting a group booking at your restaurant, pub or bar is a chance to attract many first-time diners, giving you a valuable opportunity to make a lasting impression.

It goes without saying, that group bookings are an extremely effective way to fill your venue and add significant additional revenue – if done right.

We’ve pulled together five top tips on how to make it more memorable for your guests, whilst highlighting the best that your restaurant has to offer:

Give your party bookers enquiry options 

45% of consumers prefer to make their booking online – compared to 20% who prefer the telephone. So, ensure your party planning experience is consistent on both booking channels – give your event organisers the option to select a range of dates on your online booking widget – just as they would on the phone.

It’s hard enough trying to get a group of people together, so why not make it easier for them by providing a range of date options if one particular date is not available.  It gives them the opportunity to enquire for another day and ensures you don’t miss out on large party revenue.

Party packages and extras 

With the shift towards customers seeking ‘experiences’ in the last 12 months, diners now want more than just a meal. So why not make it special and upsell party packages? Your guests get the benefit of your team’s wisdom, and you get to upsell extras such as a birthday cake or drink packages. Diners have a better experience and it gives you the opportunity to boost your profitability. It’s a win-win!

Take pre-orders electronically ahead of the party 

Organising menu options for a party of eight or more can be a huge hassle for the party planner and the venue. With guests unsure of what they ordered and kitchen staff having to accommodate a large number of orders all at once, the outcome can be a stressful and time-consuming situation for all concerned.

A way to overcome this headache is to take pre-orders electronically ahead of when the party arrives. Zonal’s party booking and pre-order solution, liveRES Events and Pre-Order, allows customers to log in to a guest portal where they can view menus and pre-order their food and drink prior the booking. What’s more, they can also pre-pay for their meal, saving everyone time working out what their meal costed. This not only reduces the time hungry diners are waiting for their meal but also helps turn your tables quicker and reduces the pressure on the kitchen staff. Again, it’s a win -win for everyone.

Manage deposits 

Deposits are used to help reduce no-shows, especially for larger bookings where a no-show could be extremely damaging for your restaurant. With staff potentially  unsure about the amount of deposit that has been paid and not being able to automatically reduce the deposit amount from the bill at the end of the night, paying and managing deposits can be a painstakingly monotonous task for both the party guests and the venue staff.

Our restaurant ordering system, Events & Pre-Order allows you to manage deposits electronically. You can send out deposit reminders and deadlines to guests allowing them to pay their share of the deposit, which is then automatically redeemed at the till, saving everyone the hassle of trying to remove the deposit amount off the final bill at the end of night.

LaTouche Finale 

A French term for the final touch, guests love it when there are little details and touches to make them feel special. With EPoS integration, you can connect customer spend and data giving you a detailed picture of each customer, so if they ordered a bottle of champagne the last time they visited, you could suggest it when they are in for another visit!

Discover more about how Zonal’s smart group booking and pre-order solution, liveRES Events, can help improve operations in your hospitality business.

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12 Questions to ask when evaluating reservation systems for your hospitality business

What to consider when you’re evaluating a new online booking and table management solution – and the key questions your provider must answer.

In one episode of the cartoon South Park, the Underpant Gnomes have a plan. Step 1: Collect underpants. Step 3: Profit! As for Step 2… well, there isn’t a Step 2.

Some IT projects are a bit like that. You know that the right platform can deliver measurable improvements. You’ve got the budget you need and the green light to go ahead. Now what? It’s a good idea to make sure you have a Step 2.

Making the case for change

We know that the right IT solution will improve things. The key is to identify what those things are, and what improvements you expect to see. For example, you might want real-time table management linked to reservations so that you can accept last-minute bookings online, or via a central telephone team. Or you might want to monitor conversion rates from email marketing offers. Or you might want to analyse your EPoS data to gain a better understanding of customer behaviour and spend.

This stage is crucial, because it defines the parameters your solution needs to work within. A system that analyses online bookings but not walk-ins isn’t much help if you have significant walk-in traffic. A system that’s built for a Windows PC in the reception area may not talk to mobile devices such as iPads. A system that doesn’t include purchasing and inventory management won’t identify potential savings in those areas. And an online system that doesn’t work on users’ mobiles is an online system doomed to failure.

Conversely, you might not need to upgrade your entire organisation at once. Simply combining two technology solutions such as online reservations and EPoS might tick all the boxes at the moment, with future integration planned for the much longer term.

This stage isn’t just important in terms of the project specification. It’s also important for overcoming potential obstacles to the project success. If key stakeholders in your organisation don’t understand the reasons for change and the benefits of change, they may prove difficult to convince – and that means they could make your project much more difficult to implement.

How much change can you handle?

No two organisations are the same. Some businesses spend months planning, testing and preparing for an IT roll-out. Others complete the entire process in weeks. That isn’t a reflection of their scale, either. Some of the largest, most complex businesses have the shortest roll-outs, while small, niche businesses sometimes need much more time.

And different businesses have different requirements. For some, it’s a move to an entirely new system across the entire organisation. For others, it’s an ongoing process where systems are upgraded according to priority. You might integrate EPoS and reservations now for example, with other integrations coming later.

In practice that means any solution provider offering a cookie-cutter, one size fits all solution should be pelted with bread rolls until they leave the building. As Abraham Maslow put it back in 1966, “it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” In other words, technology is simply a tool to improve your business. If the provider doesn’t understand your specific business requirements, their system is unlikely to meet those requirements either now or in the future.

Twelve key questions to ask about any proposed solution

In addition to the usual questions about hardware and software compatibility, scale, uptime guarantees and timescales, there are several key questions your potential solution provider should be able to answer.

There’s a good chance that some or all of these questions are relevant to your particular circumstances, so take a moment to consider each area:

  1. Do you share the ownership of the data? If you part company, what happens to your stored data?
  2. Is there a per cover fee in addition to the monthly fee?
  3. Do the online components support mobile platforms such as iPhones and tablets and use responsive design to ensure they work on all kinds of devices?
  4. Can the system generate tailored, personalised customer communications?
  5. Can the table management system link to your EPoS system in order to reduce operational duplication?
  6. Can the system deal not just with online bookings but with walk-ins and wait lists?
  7. Can reservation data and EPoS data be combined to establish a clear picture of customer behaviour, preferences and spend?
  8. Does the online booking widget reflect real-time ability?
  9. Can the online booking widget take deposits and is this method PCI compliant?
  10. Does the system allow you to set up separate availability and menus for different day parts and days of the week?
  11. Is the solution completely customisable with your branding, or branded by the 3rd party provider and inflexible?
  12. How will your data be migrated from your existing systems?

And finally… one key question to ask about the entire project

How will all this improve your business and your offer to your customers? How could you handle discounting better, drive increased frequency, and improve guest experience? How could you capture and use data to understand and respond to customer behaviour more effectively?

In short: what is your current state, where do you want to get to, and how can technology help you get there?

Points to remember

  • Always start by identifying the business need, not the technological solution.
  • Set specific objectives. Improving X by 15% is clear and measurable. “Maximising efficiency” isn’t. Ensure your new platform provider is clear on your objectives, so they can help you achieve your goals.
  • Think long term. Will the platform work on mobile devices, both for customers and your business? Who owns the data? Can it scale if your growth increases dramatically?

Any solution provider offering a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits all solution should be pelted with bread rolls until they leave the building.

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Chat with our sales team to learn about how Zonal products could benefit you.

7 Sobering Stats on No-Shows in Pubs and Restaurants

In an industry hard hit by the impact of COVID-19, restaurant no-shows are a MASSIVE problem for pubs and restaurants. With reduced tables, local lockdowns and a 10pm curfew, the impact of no shows now financially impacts the sector more than ever before. Once a few bookings fail to materialise, you are almost certainly now looking at a loss for the evening.

One restaurateur explains how no-shows can decimate the bottom line:

“…we don’t make any profit for the night. We only have 60-65 seats, so if 10-12 people don’t show up, the profit gets thrown out the window”

Joel Best, Sydney Morning Herald

The following figures show just how big the issue is, and how some restaurants and pubs are beginning to fight back.

1 in 5 – The average no-show rate in big cities

On average, 20% of diners fail to turn up for their reservations in big cities, according to an in-depth study on restaurant no-shows. This may be down to many factors, including the high level of competition and consumer choice, and a casual attitude towards booking commitments. Most shocking of all are anecdotal reports of people routinely booking multiple venues in advance to avoid disappointment, before making a last-minute decision on the night.

£16 million – What no-shows are costing the UK restaurant industry

A 2015 survey by a restaurant booking system put at £16bn the amount British restaurants are losing out on annually due to no-shows. As every manager knows, the pub or restaurant incurs costs whether the customer shows up or not, with staffing and overheads biting into the bottom line.

15 minutes – time to wait before declaring a no-show

So says the National Restaurant Association of America, which has published a brief guide to combatting no-shows. The organisation (sorry, organization) advises clear communication of your reservations policy, as well as dropping a courtesy call reminder to the customer the day before.They also recommend email confirmations, as a written reminder. These should be sent automatically to the customer as part of any online or tech-based restaurant booking system.

42% of restaurants are taking pre-paid deposits

In a recent poll of UK restaurants it was found that 42% were already taking and holding pre-paid deposits, to help insulate them against the cost of no-shows. Christmas Day and Mother’s Day are prime examples, but the operational challenges this tactic presents can’t be ignored.

Even so, restaurants requiring credit card details for reservations has become relatively widespread at the higher end of the market, and casual dining restaurants and pubs are starting to consider the idea.

1 in 3 venues feel guests are open to late cancellation charge

The same survey asked pub and restaurant managers about late cancellation, less of a bugbear than no-shows but still a significant cause of loss. Allowing customers to have the flexibility to cancel their booking via SMS gives you the opportunity to resell the table to another customer. Table management systems such as liveRES facilitate this service from as little as 4p per text.

32% of the business representatives agreed that ‘most guests would understand the need to hold a deposit or credit card details,’ to compensate the venue against late cancellation.

£150 – Cancellation fee at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Cancelling on Gordon Ramsay might leave you spluttering The F-word. Unless diners give a full 48 hours’ notice they lose £100 when cancelling lunch, and a whopping £150 on dinner bookings.

Another extreme example is the trend of naming, shaming and even banning customers who fail to turn up for bookings. Restaurants around the world, from Australia to America, have been known to resort to this tactic.

While probably cathartic, this approach has the obvious effect of undermining customer goodwill. Instead, taking credit card details and implementing a reasonable late cancellation fee may be a better way to go.

With liveRES, PCI compliant pre-payments can be taken during the book stage, whether it is £10 per head or a fixed amount if they do not cancel 24 hour ahead of the amount taken per booking is your choice.

7 million – Value of prepaid tickets sold by pioneering restaurants

A revolutionary solution to the restaurant no-show problem has been slowly making its way to the UK from across the pond – taking payment up-front. A number of restaurants in the USA and UK have started to redefine the dining out experience as a ticketed event – like a trip to the theatre or a sporting fixture. This means the customer loses their fee if they cancel, but the venue isn’t left out of pocket.

The future?

It’s yet to be seen whether similar no-show “fines” will catch on over here (our hunch is the UK dining public won’t have the stomach for such measures in the long run).

But what is clear is that pubs and restaurants do need all the ideas and tools they can get to protect their investment in each service.

Key points to remember

  • If up to 1 in 5 diners fail to honour reservations, overbooking tables on key trading days may not be such a radical idea after all
  • The total cost of no-shows to UK pubs and restaurants is estimated at £16 billion
  • Communication can help to reduce no-shows: With liveRES restaurant booking system you could send automatic email confirmation and SMS
  • 42% of restaurants are taking pre-paid deposits, while late cancellation fees are another way to recoup the costs. liveRES allows you to take deposits helping you reduce the number of no-shows
  • Restaurant ticketing is a more proactive trend, putting the onus on customers to book and prepay for their dining experience.
  • Cancellations are not refunded, insulating the venue against loss.

Discover more about how Zonal’s smart online booking and table management solution, liveRES, can help improve operations in your hospitality business.

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