SAN FRANCISCO—There was a time when great service at a restaurant meant a friendly smile, an attentive—but not too attentive—server, and hot, well-prepared food. These days, good service still means all of those things, but it can be augmented with technology. Guests can sit down at a table in a restaurant or in an F&B area, order on a tablet and pay for their meal that way, too—even splitting the bill between several different cards if they want. Technology has made the guest-facing aspect of serving food easier—so why haven’t more restaurants and hotels moved toward doing the same back-of-house?
“Food operations is the last major part of the technology upgrade cycle that began with POS systems and has included everything from online marketing software, to plasma screens and iPads, to display menus,” said Aaron Cohen, co-founder and VP of business development for CoInspect, an inspection application that makes it easy to manage compliance, brand standards and daily operations across any organization.
However, he said, that’s all about to change. “As we speak, 90% of the restaurants in America use pen and paper as their core safety and standards management technology; I think this number will be 10% in five years,” Cohen said.
And, he noted, the industry will be better off for it. Checklists are important, of course, but all involved entities need to be able to access those checklists to make sure safety and standards are being met. Additionally, a written checklist might work for one property, but it doesn’t allow an owner to assess trends across multiple hotels or restaurants.
“In the technology industry, we refer to written data as unstructured. This means we can’t access or analyze it,” Cohen said. “Every day, hotel managers check rooms, restaurant managers check tables, and chefs have to ensure that the refrigeration standards are up to code. Almost all of that data never gets structured. So, is there a correlation between revenue and room cleanliness? With unstructured data, we can’t analyze that. Are same-store sales higher at restaurants with nicer landscaping, cooler air conditioning, or cleaner floor mats? We don’t know,” he said. But with a mobile application like CoInspect, managers can.
Reflecting on the fact that many restaurants have upgraded guest-facing technology, Cohen said, “Hospitality is an enormously customer-focused industry. Compare a DoubleTree hotel to, say, CVS or Comcast? The service experience is usually vastly different. However, sometimes the industry thinks a better menu app or a cool self-check-in feature will impress guests more than simple execution. Most people want delicious food, consistently prepared and served expertly.”
However, he said, back-of-house inspection tools play a huge part in that guest satisfaction. After all, a meal isn’t going to be pleasing if the chicken has spoiled because the temperature measurement on the restaurant’s refrigerator or freezer is off, or because employees aren’t properly handling and preparing the gluten-free menu item that the guest with Celiac disease requested. “The best way to ensure performance is to measure standards with checklists and measure the outcomes,” Cohen said.
There are several benefits to upgrading technology. Among them are creating shareholder value, and increasing productivity, accuracy, quality and compliance in the workplace. “Standards management software lowers labor and food costs through higher efficiency and less overtime for managers,” Cohen said. He also added that there is a reduction of food spoilage in high-customer-volume restaurants.
The other major benefits have to do with employees: Namely, boosting employee engagement and reducing employee turnover, which is a major ongoing challenge in the hospitality industry. The modern American employee—especially millennials and Generation Z, the latter of which has never lived in a world without laptop computers and mobile phones powered by the internet—is used to a digitally connected world. Shopping, banking, connecting with friends—today’s digital natives do everything via smartphone or app, so there’s a disconnect when a workplace expects them to complete tasks via pen and paper—or even Excel spreadsheets.
“Younger employees (millennials and Gen Z) expect to use their phones for everything,” Cohen said. “Not only must the hospitality industry upgrade its operating technologies, but these employees need access to benefits, payroll and training modules online.”
What should hotels and restaurants be looking at when choosing an application to upgrade their back-of-house food and beverage operations to the mobile world? Cohen said there are several key criteria to focus on. First, a user-friendly interface. “Ease of use for the employee is key,” he said. “If people can’t use it, what good is it?”
Second, ease of change management. Cohen said that owners should ask themselves: “Can this be easily implemented across our enterprise, or do we need complex integrations with different vendors and many interactions with the technology company?”
And, finally, flexibility. “Companies have individual priorities and don’t want to have to adjust their systems for the sake of the software,” Cohen said. “Good technology solves problems for companies and should never be the opposite.” HB