Cast your mind back ten years or so, and the very idea that someone would be able to book a table at your venue outwith trading hours and without speaking to a member of staff was a pretty alien concept.
But advancements in technology coupled with the introduction of iOS and Android smartphones in 2007 and 2008 and subsequent mass adoption of the mobile devices was to change everything.
Widespread use of smartphones and tablets in everyday life had – and continues to have – a major impact on businesses in the hospitality industry.
The importance of mobile technology to bar and restaurant businesses was highlighted by Stuart McLean, chief executive of Edinburgh-based EPOS provider Zonal, who said people are becoming more familiar with using their smartphones when eating out.
“With the sharp growth in online commerce, consumers expect to have instant access to everything online, including dining out; and with 30% of online table bookings made when a venue is closed, a responsive online booking facility is vital if operators want to get a larger slice of the cake,” he said.
Online bookings are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg.
Technology can benefit almost every aspect of running a bar or restaurant business, and operators are advised to look at the bigger picture.
Zonal suggested taking a “holistic approach”, investing in “solutions that will add real value and insight”.
The benefits of a fully integrated system are multiple, according to EPOS firms.
From managing reservations and tables to delivering efficient and accurate service, EPOS systems can play an important role in ensuring front of house runs smoothly – key to encouraging repeat business.
Hervé Bouchard, director of Glasgow-based Alliance Till Systems, said EPOS can bring a number of tangible benefits to bar and restaurant businesses.
“For speed and accuracy of service, ICRTouch’s PocketTouch is the professional paper-free way to take food and drinks orders,” he said.
“This revolutionary EPOS software for hand-held devices has been designed and developed specifically for the hospitality industry. At the touch of a screen, orders are recorded and processed straight to the heart of your kitchen from the waiting staff’s hand-held ordering device.”
The vital role systems play in linking front and back-of-house was highlighted by Gareth Powell, managing director of Intelligent Business Systems. The company’s Kitchen Video Management System is said to allow operators to “manage their entire food operation from kitchen to customer”.
“EPOS can help too with up-selling or ‘suggestive selling’,” said Powell.
“When staff take orders on a POS terminal, hand-held and tablet, on-screen messages appear automatically, prompting them to ask customers if they’d like to add items to their order. These same prompts and offers can be programmed to appear on customer-facing screens as soon as staff key in an order.”
And it’s not just during service that the benefits of a comprehensive EPOS system can be seen.
Edinburgh-based Intelligent Point of Sale recently completed an integration with Xero accounting software, which Intelligent POS founder Robin Knox said enables operators to “automatically transfer everyday sales to HMRC-ready spreadsheets and tax forms”.
“Together Intelligent POS and Xero make filing VAT and tax returns an easy and low-cost process, saving time and money for many clubs, pubs, cafes and retail outlets that can gain from a cutting-edge EPOS system.”
It seems a comprehensive EPOS system can benefit many different areas of a business.
But with technology advancing at such a rate, which features should operators look out for in a system to ensure it goes the distance?
A cloud-based system is the way forward, according to Knox at Intelligent POS.
“Not only does this accommodate businesses that are expanding and need to scale up the number of till terminals and locations, but it can also mean that updates are easy and automatic,” he said.
“For instance, it is possible to future-proof an EPOS system with Intelligent POS by downloading regular and totally-free updates from the app store.
“An EPOS system can perform many functions beyond simply taking payment, from stock control through to applying offers and loyalty schemes.
“But the stand-out systems are mobile and intuitive for the busy bar or restaurant environment, i.e. use iPads and are cloud-based so can be accessed by business owners and managers remotely and in real-time.”
Paul Hudson, global business development manager at AURES Technologies agreed, saying with a cloud-based system it is “easy to stay current and remain secure”.
“The technology provider applies updates once to the cloud and staff right across the client business access the system easily, always using the latest version and using the most up-to-date data,” he said.
With so many options now available, Bouchard at Alliance Till Systems advised operators to talk to suppliers before making any decisions.
“When you are going to purchase a system it’s crucial you have that relationship and trust in your dealer,” he said. “Let’s face it, you need to know you will be able to rely on their expertise and back-up.
“Find out from your dealer when and how often upgrades are available. At Alliance we typically update the software three or four times a year over a period of two years for major versions. And no, you won’t have to purchase a whole new system to upgrade to the latest version of the software.”