The Movable Feast
The ubiquity of mobile devices for both guests and staff, together with continual improvements in location technologies, has created new possibilities for serving guests and upselling. Nowhere is this more evident than in food and beverage. For many hotels, F&B is a low-profit or loss-leader product that could be moved to profit if just a few more sales opportunities can be found.
In bygone times, if a guest was hungry, her choices were usually just two: go to the restaurant or order room service. At a resort, there might be a third option to sit poolside and hope a waitperson might eventually pass by. In the lobby, a meeting room, or a non-resort pool, or using resort facilities like a spa or golf course or beach, she was often out of luck. And even in a restaurant, it could be challenging to get a waitperson’s attention when there’s a problem with her order, or even just to get the check.
Technology is addressing these issues, creating more choice and better service. Several innovative products I’ll review this week address different aspects for increasing F&B revenue, streamlining operations, and optimizing guest service. Each product uses some combination of mobile devices and/or location awareness technologies.
Reva Anywhere from Reva Hospitality is a full-fledged progressive web application with lots of functionality for ordering F&B, booking activities, and even incorporating delivery from local restaurants (for which the hotel can earn a commission). While there are quite a few vendors offering some combination of these services, what’s different is that Reva Anywhere can locate the guest precisely indoors or out – in the hotel, on the beach or golf course, or at a crowded cocktail reception. This means a guest can place an order from any location where the hotel is prepared to deliver it. The product uses standard locationing technologies (mobile phone outdoor location services, and Wi-Fi indoors) to get an approximate fix. The unusual part is that once the server and guest are within about 100 feet of each other, it switches to an inaudible acoustic communication between the server’s and guest’s devices, and shows the server a directional pointer to guide them to the guest’s device (and presumably the guest!) – within about three feet. Additionally, the app can support all common traditional and mobile payment methods, so it isn’t limited to in-house guests. Reva Anywhere is optimized for integration with existing systems but can also operate as part of a standalone suite of other Reva products.
Curant is a conceptually similar product, although it works only outdoors. Like Reva, it is designed to sell more than just food and beverage, and it is further intended to be used not only on property, but pre-arrival (where F&B may be less relevant but where spa, golf, and other activities may be). Curant’s objective is to make it easy for guests to order from their mobile phone anything the hotel wants to sell, easily and whenever or wherever they want. A guest on the beach who wants a cold drink and a tube of sunscreen can order it, with the drink order be routed to the bar and a server for delivery, while the sunscreen order is sent to the gift shop or beach activities hut.
A lower-tech variation is offered by Text4Service. It starts with a QR-code scan from a placard, which could be in a guest room, lobby area, meeting room, cabana, bar, or even a restaurant. Think something like “Hungry? Scan me!” in a public space, or “Scan to Order Now” at a bar or restaurant. Each QR code has a fixed location, so when the guest places an order, the kitchen gets both the order and the delivery location. The software also supports app calling and text messaging for communicating with the waitstaff. This could be a good standalone solution for room service, but might be ideal for public spaces where the QR placards can be permanently affixed. It could effectively convert the hotel lobby to an F&B opportunity in many three and four star hotels that offer room service or have a kitchen. Many such hotels are already willing to deliver a food order to the lobby or meeting room, but only if a guest asks – which most guests won’t do unless it’s offered. Limitations might apply in some situations, such as if the QR-code placards are movable and could be shuffled from table to table (or where the tables themselves might get moved). Further, some higher-end hotels might object to permanently attaching the placards to furniture or fixed structures. It’s also a standalone application (orders are delivered to the kitchen via a dedicated iPad or printer), so it would work best in low to moderate volume situations where integration with the Point of Sale system isn’t critical.
RoomOrders addresses the narrower issue of room service orders, enabling a guest to see the menu (with photos) and place orders from his mobile phone. A QR code in the room takes him to the menu. Room service in most hotels is very poorly merchandised – it is, unfortunately, still dominated by paper menus that may have food stains from prior guests, and no photos. At best, a digital room service menu with photos might exist, but is hidden behind a complex navigation menu on an in-room tablet or TV that the guest may not be willing to wade through. This is the problem that is RoomOrders’ core focus. The base product is free to implement, with a 5-10% commission on orders; a monthly fee applies for various marketing and analytical enhancements.
Dinggly is a cloud application that connects mobile push-button devices to staff mobile devices (notably wearables). In its simplest application, a restaurant can place a button device on each table, enabling the diner to summon staff whenever needed. Similarly, it could be placed in a meeting room to summon convention services staff, on tables in public spaces to request F&B outside of restaurants, or on a room service tray or trolley to request pickup. The appropriate hotel or restaurant staff receive alerts on mobile devices, such as a smart watch or dedicated wrist pagers, and they know which table or room needs support. The buttons can be customized, as simple as one button to request service, or for specific purposes such as to request the check or rate the service. Staff alerts can be routed to the appropriate person or group, and “picked up” by any group member so that others know the request is being addressed and won’t duplicate effort. The same infrastructure can be used to alert staff when an order is ready for pickup.
Each of these technologies, depending how it’s deployed, can be interesting in three ways: as an enabler of additional revenue, as a simplifier of operations, and as an opportunity to improve guest perceptions of service. F&B is, in my mind, a vastly undermarketed opportunity in most hotels, and it’s great to see some real innovation trying to address that problem!