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By Christina Volpe
Not too long ago, the term self-service technology meant one thing: kiosks. However like many other areas of technology, solutions and the way that people use them evolve; the limited boundaries of applications swell and new areas of use finally emerge. Such is the case with self-service technology, an application area that is growing up and taking on new roles in the hospitality segment. From online ordering to pay-at-table and everything in between, the new definition of self-service is being applied to any solution that allows guests to take control over their dining or hotel experiences.
"The introduction of self-service is allowing the industry to engage with the customer through new ways, allowing them to have more control of their own experience, often enhancing the offering and the speed," says Richard Tallboy, IT manager for the UK-based chain of pan-Asian noodle restaurants, Wagamama (www.wagamama.com). "For the hospitality industry, offering forms of self service enables us to reach out to wider audiences via non-traditional means and is therefore expanding the opportunities for restaurants to drive their business."
Hitting the Web
Online ordering is one area in which the new definition of self-service is being applied. Wagamama, for example, is one of many restaurant concepts with plans to make online ordering an integral part of its operations. The integration of a solution from MICROS (www.micros.com) called myCentral, will be used to drive take-out sales via a newly created section of the Wagamama website that is soon-to-be-released.
"The system will streamline our take-out ordering by allowing our customers to have a positive guest experience via our website, rather than having to call the restaurant to place the order and pay for it upon collection," says Tallboy. "With the new types of self-service technologies available, a customer is in control of their own order. They are entering their own requirements without relying on a waiter to correctly capture their needs, and can place their order from absolutely anywhere they have an Internet connection without the need to find a quiet spot to phone through their order."
In addition to adding extra service value to the customer, Tallboy expects this new application to streamline the chain's take-out order operation on the back-end.
"With the MICROS system and myCentral, as soon as an order is confirmed and paid for on the Web, the order details are delivered directly to the kitchen, completely streamlining the operation," says Tallboy. "The advantages in-house are numerous, including secure and immediate payment, reducing non-collections and hoax customers, and increasing visibility in the kitchen to take-away orders." Additionally, Tallboy notes that the online ordering application will allow staff members to focus their attention to dine-in customers.
Payment in the palm of their hands
Pay-at-table, the technology that allows customers to pay for meals without having to leave the table, is another area to which the definition of self-service is being applied. Many restaurants, like the Boston-based Legal Sea Foods (www.legalseafoods.com), is adding pay-at-table to its technology menus in an effort to bring added convenience to the guest experience.
"From the guest perspective, and a little from ours, when you think about the payment process it can take a long time," says Ken Chaisson, the VP of IT for Legal Sea Foods, describing the time that it takes for a waiter to make the multiple table trips required before a bill is finally settled. Legal Sea Foods is using the Pay2Go credit card processing system from PAR Technology (www.partech.com). "By using pay-at-table, if a guest is fluent in using the technology, then they can serve themselves much faster. Many people are pressed for time during lunch and shortening that payment process is beneficial. Some people who have never seen the device are gone in 90 seconds."
The new definition of self-service isn't limited to the restaurant segment alone, hotels are also applying redefined self-service tech to their operations in order to offer guests more choices. Hilton's family of hotels (www.hilton.com) for one, relies on multiple web applications through its proprietary customer information system, OnQ, in an effort to give guests more power over their hotel stays.
As part of the Hilton HHonors loyalty program, members can check-in online up to 36 hours in advance (thus slashing the time it takes to physically check-in upon arrival), view floor plans and select specific rooms through the suite selection function, and establish their preferences through pre-loaded profiles that are pulled from all of Hilton's distribution channels for a quick reservation booking process.
"A lot of people stay in the same hotel and you can pick up the last reservation. It is about anything that we can do to speed it along and give people a choice to decide what kind of room they want to be in, as fast as they could," says Tim Harvey, EVP and CIO for Hilton.
Applications of the future
Harvey notes that the future of self-service in the lodging segment won't be limited to website applications alone.
"The area that really jumps out at me is being able to use the HSIA from our room to offer more concierge-type services to our guests," says Harvey, such giving guests the ability to order room service and make special housekeeping requests. "The other interesting thing is carrying electronic concierge services into the area where we have a lot of food and beverage outlets, like the lobby bar." Guests can order drinks and food items through a touchscreen tabletop PC that would then print to the bartender and interact with the hotel's POS system.
On the restaurant front, Tallboy believes that self-service will soon be applied to back-of-house applications as well. "I believe that we will see a big increase in self-service within the back-of-house, allowing for the scheduling of holidays, shifts, and for the confirmation of schedules, etc."
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