Digitalisation dominates the agenda. This is not only true for business, politics and administration, but increasingly also for gastronomy. Accelerated by the pandemic and the desire of many guests for digital menus and online ordering, more and more establishments are finding themselves in the virtual world. But how many restaurants are actually already using digitalisation, who are the pioneers and what tools are they using? METRO, with its Hospitality Digital (HD) unit, has been actively promoting the topic of digitisation in the hospitality industry for years - and can therefore provide first-hand insights.
Look forward to an interview with HD's Chief Integration Officer Malcolm Starr, a look into the digital restaurant and, of course, selected facts and figures on digital gastronomy.
Enjoy the read!
Interview: “DISH is becoming an integrated ecosystem for the gastronomy sector”
The digitalisation of the restaurant industry has gained increasing momentum in recent years, not least due to the Covid pandemic. More and more guests are using the digital interfaces to their restaurants to get information, reserve a table or order online right away. METRO subsidiary Hospitality Digital (HD) has been actively supporting restaurateurs in this transformation since 2015 with various digital tools and solutions to optimise processes and increase efficiency. Reason enough to talk to Malcolm Starr, Chief Integration Officer at HD and responsible for the rollout of the new DISH POS solution, about the state of digitalisation in the hospitality industry and the potential of DISH solutions.
How does the state of digitalisation across the gastronomy sector look like today?
Digitisation in the hospitality sector has been running for a couple of decades already. The main models launched around the turn of the millennium like “Open table” and “Yelp” were based on listing style and charged high commissions for restaurants. Consequently, smaller businesses were not able to afford such services over their financial restraints.
When Hospitality Digital (HD) was founded 2015, we conducted a study across a few countries including Germany, where we found that under 50% of the hospitality space had an online presence and thus had very little exposure to online reservations. Indeed, all hospitality operators knew about Google but many at the time were a bit put off going online by the complexity of setting up their own branded websites, let alone integrating services like reservation which were costly. What most wanted was a simple site with a few features including where they could be found, how to contact them and what they offered.
Based on these learnings, in 2016/17, HD launched the first digital tool to enable restaurants to build their own website practically, with simple page structure, easy to configure. Today over 250,000 hospitality businesses rely on this easy tool to have their digital presence visible across the web and mobile, particularly optimised for Google search and map searches. From the very start we also added a reservation function which can also be used by restaurants who have their own sites as a simple App. This has helped our customers receive already over 10 million reservations to date.
Did Covid-19 accelerate the gastro digitalisation process? Are restauranteurs nowadays more open to applying digital solutions?
Obviously Covid-19 has been one major disruption to the hospitality sector. Not only did this keep people away from restaurants but it forced both restaurants and their guests to think differently about how to connect with services. Being found online easily and offering delivery services have been a key to unlocking the digital space.
During Covid-19, reservations were greatly impacted, thus we added other functions to help our customers such as Food Ordering and Guest Management, which were widely appreciated. Now as dine-in is becoming popular again, we are seeing the reversal effect with restaurants needing more reservation services with a huge increase in reservations over the last year.
Moreover, what we have also observed is that restauranteurs are increasingly looking for more integrated services to help them manage their day-to-day operations more efficiently.
Overall, I’d say the pandemic was an accelerant which had fast forwarded the digitisation in gastronomy by 5 years as almost all restaurateurs have realized digital tools are a must-have for their business.
How do the current challenges such as staff shortages and inflation influence the gastronomy digitalisation?
The essential benefit of applying digital tools for restaurateurs is to optimise their processes and raise the efficiency and focus on serving their guests. For example, without digital means the restaurant would have to look after every step manually from taking the inbound phone calls, making a note and posting it in a diary, arranging the seating for the day, taking into account the no-shows, all the way to hosting guests as to where to sit, what to order, how to pay. All requires close attention and is labour-intensive.
In comparison, guests can find an restaurant online and make the reservation by themselves. The reservation tool helps to allocate seats and can send automated reminders to reduce no-shows. Once the guests sit down, they can order directly from a digitised menu and pay directly from their table using digital wallets. In addition, we offer all the digitally integrated processes including staff management, take-aways, kitchen and bar management to further reduce the burden on restaurateurs.
In short, digital tools release restauranteurs from otherwise time-consuming processes to focus on providing a great service and experience for their guests. In a time of high inflation and staff shortages like today, this really helps to keeping this sector going.
Are there first movers when it comes to regions or restaurant types in terms of digitalisation?
When it comes to basic services such as websites, reservation and food ordering we have seen a great uptake especially from major metropolitan areas, where there is also a greater gastronomy density compared to more rural regions.
Regarding restaurant types or segments, we focus early on smaller customers such as the independent restaurant, the café, bar or bakery and then fast food segments. To date this has been a good success and we believe this is also where the most focus on digitisation is needed.
What is the USP of HD’s DISH tools?
There are a number of individual digital services and solutions on the market for gastro businesses. Sometimes they are quite fragmented and not really making the restaurateurs’ job easier. What we at HD concentrate on is integrating services into one eco-system to help our customers deal with the complexity more efficiently. For example: DISH Reservation works incredibly well with the DISH Website. Likewise, with our new acquired Dutch company Eijsink, we are integrating the reservation functions directly into the DISH Point of Sale (POS) and payment solutions. Additionally, whilst we have our own DISH Order solution integrated into our products, we will be integrating other food delivery platforms as we believe that each channel is important to our gastro customers.
Another aspect is that when we launch in a new market (DISH is running in 16 countries worldwide), we are fully certified in compliance with the local fiscal regulatory requirements. This clearly benefits our customers as it means the tool is readily available for them to install. Therefore, integration and ease of use are the key DISH USPs.
How does HD develop its digital solutions in terms of processes?
Firstly, we listen to the needs of our customers and try and understand their basic pain point. Once we understand the need we spend a lot of time with customers trying to understand their specific requirements and with product experts that understand how to formulate requirements for technical teams to implement.
The product teams work as part of an agile development cycle where we constantly develop new features and test them internally but also with our customers.
Only when we have buy-in from customers and our own people do we start thinking about how we might implement the product or service. It is an entirely iterative process whereby we exhaustively evaluate and add new features and functions over time to build exceptional digital products.
DISH POS is to complement the DISH package as the latest centrepiece – why did you choose France as the first country to roll out this solution?
METRO France is a very dynamic and forward-looking organisation that has been deeply invested in promoting and working with HD digital solutions. In the roll-out of DISH POS, METRO France have been very keen to help us develop a French local service. As I said earlier, such local perspective and insight is crucial for our design and development processes. On the other hand, METRO France’s strong competence in its sales force will provide big local support in promoting the tool towards the target customer group, which will be essential.
We have the clear ambition that DISH POS will be rolled-out to all countries where DISH is currently active over the next 24 months.
As the French pilot kicked off already last autumn, how was the initial user feedback?
Actually, we started providing the POS pilot solution to a small number of selected French customers back in October 2022 and the feedback from them has been fantastic. Typically, in such phase, more optimisation is needed and we are learning constantly, nevertheless, test customers have been appreciative on the overall quality and the features we provide.
Do you expect digital tools like DISH will become commonplace across entire restaurant industry in 5 years?
Absolutely, I am sure DISH will become the digital standard of the gastronomy industry’s future as customers demand integrated digital solutions. DISH is becoming an ecosystem of tools that will link various services together. With this, I believe we can help not just restauranteurs, but also other partners as they join this ecosystem that empowers and benefits our customers transforming businesses digitally.
Insights "Digital Restaurant"
How a digital restaurant looks like? As its interaction with guests starts very often online or via mobile app, a dedicated website is certainly necessary to boost the restaurant’s digital visibility, crucially with enhanced presence across the major search services like Google. Also, it’s a must for the website to offer online reservation service towards its guests which also enables the restaurateur to track, plan in advance and even send reminders to guests to reduce the no-show rate.
The ordering button is ideally integrated into the website as well as major search engines such as Google Maps for the restaurant to fulfill take-away or delivery processes efficiently. All these digital tools are provided by Hospitality Digital (HD) in its respective DISH solution subscriptions to empower restaurateurs to manage orders independently, without being charged commissions by third-party platforms for each order or delivery transaction.
Apart from reservation and ordering, the digitalisation also contributes to the optimisation of the service process inside the restaurant. A seamlessly integrated POS system connects the dine-in guests, staff, kitchen and back-office. The dine-in guests can place orders easily with their mobile devices by scanning the QR code for the digital menu, and after their stay they can choose to pay with various digital payment methods. The kitchen or bar staff sees the orders automatically on displays and thus can easily keeping track on preparing the drinks and meals. Finally, the restaurateur keeps track of the turnover, earning, profitability and favourite dishes in real time directly on the dashboard.
Such POS system is now being provided by HD’s latest DISH POS solution, which is already running in the Netherlands at about 3,600 gastronomy establishments and being currently piloted in France. In the future, DISH POS plans to add an extra function that checks the inventory and orders replenishment automatically through the contracted food service distribution providers such as METRO.
Facts and Figures
How many restaurants are already using DISH tools, who are the frontrunners and which tools are applied most broadly by the restaurateurs? We have compiled a selection of insightful infographics about the digitalisation across the gastronomy sector.