How a digital revolution is changing the way bars work

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Matt GraywoodThe digital revolution is upon us, says Matt Graywood, chief operating officer of Preoday, the specialist in mobile and online ordering and promotions technology

New trends across the hospitality industry are drastically changing the way customers interact with businesses. That includes bars, restaurants, theatres, gig venues and, really, anywhere that customers make food or drink purchases. It seems like a generation ago that the only bar-to-customer connections staff had, other than actually being at the bar, would be customers phoning up to find out if they were open. That time has passed.

Now cafes, restaurants and bars around the world have Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and so much more. They are forming relationships with customers and influencers long before the first pint or “painkiller” has been served that afternoon.

One technology that has the potential to change things dramatically is digital pre-ordering. A select few platform operators have taken hold in this sector and are offering white-label click-and-collect or delivery services to anyone from independent cafes to large bar chains. Previously having an owned mobile ordering app was associated only with multinational corporations like Starbucks yet, across the UK, bars, restaurants and food outlets from Six Storeys to Hungry Monkey, from The Brewery to Tanner & Co, have incorporated pre-ordering into their systems. Through it they are gaining ever more loyal customers, reducing queueing times and improving the customer experience.

We have to remember that our customers have changed more in the last 15 years than the 100 years before that. Money is digital, people are connected 100% of the time thanks to smartphones and, as a result, expectations have changed. Nobody waits in line at a taxi rank, parcels are collected at convenient locations on the way to work and films are instant.

Why should bars be any different?

The way that we like to party or socialise is shifting. We used to be willing to talk to strangers in a queue for 45 minutes in the cold just to get inside a bar, and then waste another hour getting the first round in. Cut to 2017, there are smartphones tweeting, snapping, pinning and swiping wherever you turn and the punters waiting in line are consequently lit up like a Christmas tree.

As the technology in our pockets and on our wrists changes, the ways we behave adapts accordingly. Gone are the days of taking your friend for his word on that fun fact about the space-time-continuum at the bar, everyone within earshot is “Googling” it, the mobile-first generations have access to all the fact checking they want, instantly.

By the time you get to the bar, you have forgotten what you wanted, but at least you can pay with Apple Pay, Android Pay, Monzo, Revolute, anything but cash, who wants to carry that around? Look at Sweden, a country where everyone is happy and a government slowly but steadily getting rid of cash.

Britain is of course synonymous with knowing how to queue. We have specialised in queuing for years and the average Briton spends over five hours a month queuing, but that time is coming to an end. The trend can already be seen in other sectors that are arguably leading the way, retail for instance. In 2015 Deloitte predicted a 20% increase in such services for retailers across Europe. From Argos to Debenhams, it is now everywhere.

For bar owners, shortening that queue time by a few minutes can be the difference between serving a round for a group of customers or watching them nip down the road to the next place. Guests don’t need to wait until they’re inside to tell if a queue is long, they can check Twitter for that.

Pre-ordering allows a group of friends to order their first round en route to prevent exactly this. Because of it, they won’t take one look at the bar, panic about the queue and head to the next place. They will arrive happy in the knowledge that their drinks are ready, they can collect them from the preassigned location – or even have table delivery and then enjoy their evenings.

Don’t forget that these new technologies are of course great for the consumer, but they are also a revelation for the bar owner. When this first group of early adopters is pre-ordering its drinks from the bus, you have your first upselling opportunities such as promotional deals for a larger glass of wine can be seen miles before they step foot into the bar, half-price nachos for your first pre-order can be pushed – the opportunities are endless. You can also use the data the platform collects to maintain customer contact beyond the evening, tempting them with marketing offers that keep them coming back for more.

Of course pre-ordering isn’t going to be everything, but it is a catalyst, attracting a group inside. From there you can entice them with further tech trends like digital smart tables from which they can order more food and drinks from, happy-hour prices that change depending on the karaoke track, or even the great drinks and service you are already renowned for.

Bars are going to change a lot as they undergo their own digital revolution, but the combination of traditional greats like top-end service with these new technologies will forever improve customers’ experiences and make loyal returning customers out of them for years to come.

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