How smart tech is futureproofing the F&B sector

There’s no denying that we live in an age of digital dependency: a user interacts with – taps, types, swipes and clicks – their phone almost 3,000 times a day. By 2020, there will be six billion smartphone users worldwide and almost 75% of the global population will be connected by mobile. We only have to look at the rise of disruptors such as Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats, to see how much of an impact this socioeconomic shift is having on the way we eat and drink.

Beyond these digital native businesses is a sector that is trying to embrace technology at a gluttonous rate. From field to fork, the food and beverages industry is starting to dine out on technological innovation but there is still progress to be made to ensure businesses are futureproofing themselves in this competitive and often volatile market. 

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The race for consumer loyalty and engagement

Today, revenue in the UK Food & Beverages segment amounts to around £10,500,000m. This is a figure that has risen steadily YoY since 2011 and is projected to continue to do so at an annual growth rate of 7.6% to 2023. 

Yet, we’re also seeing outlets hit by the slump in retail – Jamie’s Italian being the latest high profile casualty. The supermarket price war is continuing to pile pressure on production speed and cost, while the looming spectre of Brexit is causing uncertainty around trading tariffs. The upshot being that, while the picture may seem rosy, businesses in the food and beverage sector still need to work incredibly hard to drive and retain custom. No matter what size of outlet, businesses are striving to get people through the door, and provide them with such a great experience that they will come back again and again. 

Our lives are enabled by our mobiles, and consumer behaviour is dictating the way they want food and beverage outlets to embrace technology to meet those demands. We’ve seen the digital boom in areas like online shopping and takeaway delivery, but there are others too. One of the most innovative examples of technology usage in this sector is the Amazon Go concept store – a convenience shop that has no cash, checkouts or staff and relies on cameras to scan and weigh goods, deducting money directly via the customer’s Amazon account. Consumers are coming to expect this simple, convenient and contactless experience at every turn. 

Power to the customers

The game changers for the food and beverage industry has been the evolving habits of the consumer, as millennials and Gen Z have reached influential purchasing stage. These groups have been digitally wired and connected from a young age and bars and restaurants need to cater to customers’ need to stay connected via mobiles. What’s more, this need to be connected 24/7 presents bars, restaurants and cafes with a unique opportunity to boost customer satisfaction.  

We’re seeing elements of this already with many venues adapting to technological demand – from giving customers the power to choose background music via an app, touchscreen ordering, or installing entertainment screens for children. So much so that providing a strong WiFi connection is essential for today’s customer, and while this is now relatively common, the digital transaction requires one fundamental element to work effectively – power. When you realise that almost one-in-five people spend money at a food and beverage establishment just so they can power up, it’s clear that power is the foundation to connectivity.

Know your customers

What use is WiFi provision if customers have to rush elsewhere to charge their phone? It’s reported that 32% of people would drop whatever they are doing and return home to charge a flat phone battery, and that 90% of people have so-called battery anxiety when their charge is low. Food and beverage venues have the opportunity to capitalise on this demand for power whilst also giving themselves a distinctive edge over the competition. 

Many are aware of the digital demands of their customers and are making moves to adapt their services, but many are deploying technology solutions which are dumb in offering or will eventually become obsolete. Smart technology, which monitors, analyses, responds to, and predicts customer behaviour, will provide bars and restaurants with a unique advantage. Take smart wireless charging for example: the mass deployment of smart charging points creates unique touch points for restaurants and bars to engage with customers. A diner can place their phone on a smart charging spot and integrate with a loyalty app which can then send the diner an offer based on their real-time location, interests and needs. Placing a phone on a wireless charging spot could unlock the specials menu, process a drinks order or even notify the chefs of any allergies.

Not only that, but with the data that smart technology harnesses, outlets can understand their customers on a whole new level and this data gives management insight into space ultilisation, and the ability to identify specific high footfall areas, ensuring these spaces are well maintained and staffed. With the rise of e-commerce companies, it is a constant challenge for businesses in the hospitality industry to continue to encourage people to come in, sit down and spend money. This hyper-local data, means dwell time can be monitored in real time to feed into a more bespoke service for customers.

Be smart about technology

The food and beverage industry is undoubtedly embracing technology but organisations who deploy tech solutions for the demands of today are in danger of getting into an expensive cycle of rip and replace. To futureproof, the industry should look to smart technology which not only responds to and predicts customer behaviour, but also provides invaluable and actionable insights for improved customer service and loyalty for the long term.

By Dan Bladen, CEO and co-founder of wireless charging technology cloud management firm, Chargifi

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