Talking tech strategy at PUB18

Joe Cripps
 • 
Oct 2020
8 min read
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Where’s the future?

I have to confess I still haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049. But, I did just sit on a panel discussing the future of tech in pubs, as part of Pub18. Less dystopian, but just as exciting!

The panel included Fourth’s Mike Shipley; Mark Daniels from Wadworth; Steven Alton from Vianet; and me. I’ve put together a summary of each of the discussions that developed — questions courtesy of Matt Eley.

What does the pub of 2049 look like?

Changing working habits mean the concept of a fixed desk or office is being eroded — even TFL have noticed. Hospitality spaces will need to be dynamic. We’re likely to see the line between home, office, and bar blurring, whilst heads will be clearer as fewer of us will be on the plonk..

Will we be served by robots?

AI can easily outstrip the human mind in computational problems, but robots have the mobility of toddlers. This doesn’t mean to say that they don’t have their place in service operations:

  • Front of house: Kiosks and ordering ahead are service by robots. AI is delivering menu choices based on social profiles, whilst Deliveroo uses algorithms for it’s drivers.
  • Back of House: Auto-grills and burger flippers could ease staff pressures. Operators could broaden their offering without adding headcount, e.g. cocktail or pizza vending machines.

When will we, will we, will we be cashless?

Our panel thought very soon. But, a 2017 YouGov survey showed only 34% of respondents thought we’d be there within 20 years. Generational changes will aid uptake and QSR is blazing a path resulting in double digit like-for-likes.

Is there a role for virtual reality in pubs?

Gen Z “go out” more than twice as often as millennials, but they’re looking for novel experiences. VR could have a role to play with Innis & Gunn heading down the experience route, and The Four Thieves near Clapham -a Trail customer- installing VR in place of ‘the fruities’, change is definitely ahead!

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There’s a lot of tech out there!

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If it ain’t broken, why fix it?

When you’re doing well, it’s easy to put off decisions on tech. But if you’re not thinking about it, you can guarantee your competitors are. The new generation of consumers expects more. Technology can improve both the bottom line and sales — efficiency improves profitability. The Trail moto!!

Where should operators start?

Getting useful, actionable insights from tech can be difficult. Identify your business’ most important goals, what can you change and and what might some starter metrics look like. Enlist vendors for advice — you don’t have to commit — and avoid being tempted into a “one stop shop” option.

Building apps — is it better to build in house?

Pubs serve beer and food, software companies build software (and serve a duff pint in the main). Big groups may invest in-house, but teams will be happier using off-the-shelf tools,designed through collaboration with customers and users. Opting for a homemade app runs the danger of making workflow more complicated and time-consuming for your workforce.

Will tech detract from the customer experience?

The customer is, and always will be, “king”. The operator’s goal is to support happy, motivated staff in serving the right customer, with the product at the right time and the right price. Tech is part of the solution; the service profit chain is a great example of how simple tools support the customer experience.

Do you need a dedicated person?

Acknowledging and responding to feedback via social media is essential: define a process and find a trusted owner. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean nominating a full-time member of staff. There are plenty of experts and great agencies out there, and even AI options. If you choose to bring it in house, look for the digital native in your existing team. Empower them.

Which social media channels are best?

A multi-channel strategy is, usually, best. Choosing those channels depends entirely on who your audience are and where they hang out. Young people, tend to avoid Facebook as their Parents are on it! Millennials and Gen Z are all about Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. Or so I’ve heard.

What’s the next big thing?

The push for unique experiences, driven by social media sharing is key. Pubs need to cater to a diverse and novelty-hungry set of punters. Although Tripadvisor is losing people’s trust, ratings are a bedrock of trade and will no doubt improve via trusted social networks. Menu suggestions based on social media data are on the rise — they know where you live and what you drink!

Summary

The industry is on a big drive to give customers additional reasons to be in the pub — to socialise, work, play, stay and crucially spend those all important pounds — digitally or otherwise.

For some, the rapid technological advancements and their infiltration across all sectors can be intimidating, but this shouldn’t be cause for worry. We’re confident that pubs and bars can stay ahead of the game by embracing what tech has to offer, in just the right amount and at the right time. We’re still some time away from 2049 after all.

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