This month, The Caterer published its latest Hot Topic industry survey highlighting the role mobile ordering and payment solutions will have in the future of the hospitality industry. You can download the survey results here, or read on for the full article from The Caterer's Brendan Coyne
We are glued to our phones. We don’t like queuing. Make guests wait too long, and they damn your service on TripAdvisor. So why isn’t mobile ordering and payment mainstream? Is it time to ring the changes, asks Brendan Coyne
UK mobile commerce stood at £17b in 2015, according to Worldpay. The firm predicts that this will double by 2019 – yet you don’t see many people using their phones to order and pay at restaurants. Research conducted by The Caterer in partnership with mobile ordering and payment firm wi-Q suggests that change may be coming.
Around 20% of 159 operators surveyed – from small independents to large groups – already use an app as a customer engagement tool. Around 50% plan to use one. More than 90% see mobile becoming more important to their business, while a similar proportion are investing to improve customer experience and speed of service. Those deploying mobile ordering technology, however, remain few.
Fear of failure and of technology headaches are the main barriers. Respondents perceive mobile ordering as too complicated and too expensive, and they have doubts as to whether customers would actually use the facility. Also on the cons list was the big worry; whether mobile ordering will integrate into operators’ existing back-end systems.
Anyone who has been through a system upgrade or technology roll-out will understand such misgivings. Technical teething issues aside, staff may not warm to change. Spending money on proprietary technology can also backfire.
The integration issue in particular is a valid concern, according to some mobile ordering technology providers, who blame EPoS companies for holding back APIs (application program interfaces) and therefore hobbling market development.
But such negatives must be weighed against positives, such as faster, more accurate service and table turnaround, reduced pressure on wait staff, higher throughput and potentially improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Naturally, mobile solutions providers believe the pros far outweigh the cons. Graham Cornhill is founder and chief executive of Wi-Q. Cornhill – who will walk out of a bar rather than brave a big queue – founded the mobile ordering company when he couldn’t get poolside service on holiday. He says the survey findings reflect Wi-Q’s experience, but he accepts that he may have to wait a little longer before mobile fully penetrates the food and beverage sector.
He points out that most survey respondents are mulling over mobile apps. Given his HTML5-based product requires no app development, Cornhill believes that’s a mistake.
“People focus on apps, because that is what they see on their phone,” says Cornhill. But he reckons people are unlikely to load multiple ordering and payment apps onto their phone. He thinks a single universal solution is more sensible.
“I walked into a well-known coffee chain a couple of months ago. It had signs everywhere telling people to beat the queue, download the app. Yet there were 10 people in the queue. Nobody was using it. But everywhere has Wi-Fi. That is the first thing people ask for when they come into your bar or coffee shop. If you can hijack the moment they access Wi-Fi and force the menu onto their phone, they will use it,” Cornhill claims. “You will have cracked it.”
He also thinks chains such as McDonald’s are wasting money on touchscreens: “The hardware is already in people’s pockets.” But Cornhill says that McDonald’s is right to recognise that quick-service restaurants are losing “incalculable” amounts of money because people can’t be bothered to queue.
He thinks theatres, stadia, and airports are ripe for mobile ordering because they deal with high volumes of customers with limited time. But Cornhill agrees with survey respondents that mobile ordering does not suit fine-dining.
“There’s a place for ordering using your own device, and I don’t think it sits at the high-end,” he says. “If you look at the research, speed of service is clearly the key driver, so for quick-service environments, where things are time-driven, using your own device to order is a solution.”
Cornhill claims operators can buy his mobile ordering solution for less than a cup of coffee per day. While cheaper than expected by most of those surveyed by The Caterer, Cornhill believes cultural inertia is a bigger barrier than cost: many who profess an appetite for progress are actually fearful of systemic change, he says.
Cornhill concedes those barriers will remain until the market drives change. “Consumers will ask, ‘why haven’t you got mobile ordering here?’ That is when the market takes off,” he says. “But I think we are at least 18 months off that.”
What is wi-Q?
wi-Q is a mobile ordering system that also allows use of any payment system. It can be fully integrated into EPoS systems, but Graham Cornhill, founder and chief executive of wi-Q, says EPoS operators shun opening APIs for fear of losing business. He thinks that problem will recede, but for now, advises a ‘stepping stone’ solution, ie, putting a Wi-Fi-enabled printer next to the EPoS system, meaning customers can order and pay via their device. It also facilitates access to other menu information, such as allergen details. This functionality is increasingly important, given mandatory nutritional labelling.