2011 Resolutions: Freshen your Focus

By Abigail A. Lorden, Editor-in-Chief | February 11, 2011

If your New Year’s Resolutions typically loose their “oomph” by Groundhog Day, maybe it’s because the shadows of their past are haunting them. Failed resolutions often do so because we take the same old thing, and try it again… and again… and again, without changing the approach. This year, Hospitality Technology offers a fresh approach and new insights to four technology projects that have been on many executives’ to-do lists for too long. Sure, PCI Compliance and social media savvy rear their heads. But this time, if you approach these projects from a different perspective and arm yourself with new information, you may just hit your goal.

1. Menu Labeling: Participate in the Legislative Process
For many restaurant operators, the menu labeling issue has yet to hit your radar. For others, it’s been a challenge for several years depending upon where in the U.S. you operate. Currently, there exists a patchwork of state and local menu labeling laws, and those laws are different in each jurisdiction. What stands in California is different from what’s law in New York City, for example; and many other areas of the country are unlegislated. The disparity across state and local lines is both confusing and costly for multi-unit restaurant operators. That’s about to change with coming federal legislation for menu labeling that will replace current state and local laws.
 
The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law March 23, 2010, includes a provision that creates a national, uniform nutrition-disclosure standard for restaurants with 20 or more locations (unit count is based on brand affiliation, not number of stores owned). The specifications of exactly what must be disclosed (calorie count, serving size, etc.) will be set by the Food and Drug Administration, and they have until March 23 of this year to decide. Originally, the FDA intended to roll-out a two-phase implementation for compliance (for example, start with posting calories, but eventually you’ll have to add sodium and carb counts). In January 2011, however, the administration decided instead to put forth one set of specifications by the March deadline. “This is a little bit of a course correction,” explains Cicely Simpson, Director, Federal & State Government Affairs for Dunkin’ Brands (www.dunkinbrands.com). “And it’s good news for the industry because we’d like to do everything at one time.”
 
A final deadline for restaurant compliance with the law isn’t set yet, but many organizations are gearing up for the change with technology investments such as digital display boards. “Ideally, what the industry will ask for is an appropriate implementation period. We’re not likely to see anything [required] in 2011, but maybe by 2012. That’s speculative at best,” explains Simpson. 
 
What restaurants can do in the mean time is get engaged in the decision-making process. When the FDA’s proposed rule comes in March, there will be a 60-90 day comment period, and then the FDA will take public comment into account before issuing a final rule. “The public comment period is a great way to make sure their views are heard by the FDA,” says Simpson, and she encourages restaurants to get involved. “Different restaurant brands have different perspectives and it’s best that they all be heard.” 
 
The federal nutrition-disclosure standard was supported by the National Restaurant Association and more than 77 health and consumer groups, including the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association. The NRA believes the provision is a win for consumers and restaurateurs.
 
Simpson agrees: “For the industry, it provides one uniform national standard that gives business certainty. For the consumer, our guests will be able to walk into a restaurant and see consistent nutritional information, no matter where they are.”
 
2. Social Media: Make it an IT Issue
If you ask technology execs about who drives the social media discussion at their companies, most say it’s a marketing initiative. This year, resolve to be proactive instead of reactive in the social media conversation. “Social networking has revolutionized the way consumers make travel decisions, and it’s not just a marketing issue,” notes Daniel Edward Craig, author and hotel consultant (www.danieledwardcraig.com).
 
The real value in social media will happen when IT decision-makers start to take ownership of social media opportunities, and more specifically when they integrate social media tools directly into the point-of-sale. What’s more, social media is no longer mutually exclusive of mobility: targeting consumers on their mobile devices, via a geo-location platform like Foursquare, can have an immediate impact on their purchasing decisions. A new mobile application service called Topguest (www.topguest.com) partners with hospitality brands to offer loyalty points to guests for virtually “checking-in” online at 10,000 hotels, restaurants and airports. Hospitality brands that have already signed up for the partnership include: Hilton, Wyndham, Choice Hotels, Intercontinental Hotels Group and Kimpton, among others.
 
One hospitality operator has succeeded in linking social media activity directly to the point-of-sale. Desert purveyor Tasti D-Lite (www.tastidlite.com) rewards guests with spendable points through their TastiRewards program. When guests in the program “check-in” at Tasti D-Lite via Foursquare or Twitter, a point is automatically posted to their account. At 50 points, guests can cash-in their stash for a medium cup of coffee or a cone. The solution is powered by pcAmerica’s Restaurant Pro Express POS software (www.pcamerica.com). 
 
If you’re unsure how to take a leadership role in the social media discussion, start by introducing tools that will help the organization monitor its online brand. This will earn IT executives credibility in an area that’s largely seen as a marketing initiative. “A top priority in 2011 will be the adoption of a social media monitoring tool…to measure market share of guest satisfaction and identify areas requiring capital upgrades, training and technology in order to remain competitive,” explains Craig.
 
3. PCI Compliance: Target Areas of Specific Vulnerability
It’s a new year, and for payment card security, there’s a new standard. Version 2.0 of the PCI-DSS formally went into effect on January 1, 2011, and the majority of changes are aimed at resolving areas of confusion that existed with the previous version. While confusion may be alleviated, the overall burden of PCI Compliance continues to be a daunting one that involves all levels of the organization. Hospitality, in particular, is under hackers’ attacks: Information security and compliance specialists Trustwave (www.trustwave.com) report that 40 percent of their breach investigations are in the hospitality industry.
 
For your 2011 payment security efforts, Bob Russo, general manager of the PCI Security Standards Council (www.pcisecuritystandards.org), puts a few key areas of vulnerability in the spotlight. “Typically when we’re thinking about these kinds of attacks at hotels, we’re thinking about stored data; holding the data they don’t need to hold,” says Russo. “But one of those [Trustwave] surveys indicates that it’s shifting from data that’s stored to data that’s in transit. The good message is that hospitality is heeding the warning by not storing data that they don’t need. The bad message is that thieves have moved away from stored data to data in transit, by using some sort of malware.” The majority of breaches in this industry, he says, are still in the form of SQL injections and authorization attacks using malware. 
 
Further recommendation from Russo is to think about the fundamentals that you already have in place. “Process is one piece, technology is the second, and people are the third,” he says. The importance of people is often underestimated, not only in the case of human error, but also in terms of internal theft: 30-40 percent of attacks come from inside the organization, says Russo.
 
Russo has this advice for managers inside hotels and restaurants: use common-sense documentation and take a lot of photos. “When your POS terminal comes in, take a photo of it, store it in a filing cabinet and take it out every few months. Are there new wires you didn’t know about? Are the wires curly? See if someone has tampered with it. Turn the device over, and run your fingers across the back. If so, someone may have tried to install skimming tools.”
 
4. Table-side Ordering & Payment: Push for Progress
Tableside ordering and payment has yet to hit mainstream in U.S. eateries for several reasons, among them: high hardware costs, low battery life, and limited integration to the tethered POS. In addition, restaurant interest in tableside ordering and payment has historically been low, which does not encourage technology innovation. 
 
This is changing rapidly: According to Hospitality Technology’s “POS Software 2011” survey, 39.2% of restaurant operators named tableside POS for ordering and/or payment to be the “most interesting” POS platform innovation for their company this year (second only to enterprise-wide POS at 41.7%).
 
“From a restaurant standpoint, I think the industry needs to take a more serious and focused approach to payment at the table,” says Joe Tenzcar, CIO at Hard Rock International (www.hardrock.com). “It is ridiculous to me that so few POS vendors offer a feasible integrated wireless option. Many have tried with limited success for one technology reason or another.”
 
Several POS software vendors are developing new platforms, or adapting their current ones, for use on such devices: Revel Systems (www.revelsystems.com) has partnered with Network Intercept (www.networkintercept.com) to create an iPad POS system that verifies and encrypts all data and payment information; OrderTalk Inc.’s software (www.ordertalk.com) allows servers and guests to place orders via an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch while in line or from the table; Action Systems, Inc., maker of the Restaurant Manager POS (www.rmpos.com), has released a version of its Write-On Handheld software for iTouch; and in January, a new mobile POS system entered the fray called ISISPOS (www.isispos.com). The software is built on Apple Xcode to operate on the iPad, and processes orders and payment via Wi-Fi or 3G.
 
These consumer tools aren’t necessarily the Holy Grail solution, however, because they don’t have the durability needed for enterprise use. The resolution for restaurant operators is this: get vocal about your desire for enterprise tools that offer the small footprint, longer battery life and cost appeal of consumer devices, but are able to withstand a restaurant environment. 
 
Tableside devices come with a host of benefits, including the ability to post menu information and reduce credit card skimming (helping achieve several other resolutions). “Consumer awareness of identity theft and pure convenience are going to mandate this in the next 18 months; if the PCI Council doesn’t beat them to it,” says Tenczar.  
 
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