Courtney Walton has worked in the hospitality and food and beverage industry for nearly a decade. As senior solutions manager for Oracle Hospitality, she is focused on driving food and beverage strategies in hotel, casino, and cruise markets and ensuring hospitality professionals are able to provide the best dining experiences for their guests. Walton shares with LODGING the ways in which technology can help streamline hotel F&B operations and reduce waste.
What are some areas in hotel F&B outlets and restaurants where technology can facilitate more sustainable operations?
When we talk about sustainability, a lot of people think of the plastic straw as the main enemy. But there is also a huge opportunity to reduce paper waste in the food and beverage market. In the past year, we saw California attempt to outlaw paper receipts unless requested in an effort to cut down on paper waste. However, one area of the restaurant where paper is still widely used is in the kitchen, particularly in food prep areas where printers are still the primary way for chefs and cooks to receive orders from the dining area. Many kitchens are starting to replace some or all of those printers with kitchen display systems, which allow the servers in the dining room to send orders digitally, saving paper and also greatly increasing order efficiency and accuracy—resulting in less wasted paper and food.
And while we’re on the topic, food waste in hotel F&B outlets is something that is easily preventable with the right technology. We’ve all seen the advertisements for companies that take the “unattractive” produce that is perfectly edible but too strangely-shaped for grocery store shelves and send it directly to consumers in their homes. In the restaurant kitchen, there is also a huge opportunity to reduce food waste—ensuring recipes are followed precisely and making sure that the correct amounts of ingredients are ordered from suppliers to meet the demands of guests—and this can be greatly facilitated by an inventory management application. More advanced applications can actually gather historical sales data from the point of sale and use that to help chefs and food and beverage managers know how much to order based on forecasted sales in the restaurant. And if a big event is coming up or a hotel is hosting a wedding, being able to adjust that forecast to account for a temporary increase or decrease in sales can be extremely beneficial in making sure that food doesn’t go to waste.
For full-service hotels that offer room-service, how can technology help streamline their operations and reduce waste?
In-room dining presents a great opportunity for mobile ordering. If the guest can order room service through an app, or even through the in-room television, the order can then be sent directly to the kitchen, instead of an operator having to pick up the phone and record the order manually.
When it comes to delivery, we’ve seen increased popularity of tablets and mobile devices. This allows the server delivering the food to present the bill to the guest on a tablet, where the guest can leave a tip if necessary, sign the check, and then have the check receipt emailed directly to their preferred email address, all without requiring any paper receipts.
And let’s not forget about picking up the finished tray—why not give the guest the option to push a button on the mobile app or digital ordering platform to indicate that they are ready to have their dishes retrieved?
What emerging technologies do you anticipate impacting the hotel F&B space in the years ahead?
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are two trends that seem to be taking all areas of the technological space by storm. And truly, artificial intelligence is really just using the scores of data that are gathered every day and making that data useful. Imagine being able to predict a guest’s preferences and offer them a customized experience based on a few of their historical activities within the hotel. For example, if in the first two days of my stay I use my digital key to access the gym each afternoon, and after, I grab a peach smoothie from the café, artificial intelligence could use that data to push a message to my phone via the hotel app at 3 p.m. asking me if I’d like to order my smoothie via my phone so that it’s ready when my workout is over. Because those types of activities are indicative of a healthy lifestyle, the app might also push a 10 percent-off promotional offer for a spa treatment at the resort’s onsite facility. We see a lot of this already taking place in the hospitality space, and this type of predictive hospitality will only get more “intelligent” as time goes on and as guests become more comfortable sharing their information.
What advice do you have for hoteliers rolling out new technology and onboarding staff?
The hardest part about rolling out new technology is embracing the change and convincing stakeholders to embrace it as well. Giving employees ample time to train with the new technology is really important, and tools like training videos partnered with “training mode”—which allows staff to play around on the workstations without sending real orders—can instill hotel F&B staff with the confidence they need to serve their guests successfully.