Just a few years ago, buying a legacy POS system for a 150-seat pub would have set you back anywhere from $25,000-$35,000 or more plus punitive annual service contracts. The hardware was clunky and static and most of the back-end software felt like it had been designed to frustrate rather than help the operator. Roll forward to 2016 and the total outlay for the same size pub is probably less than $5,000, requiring maybe six iPads loaded with intuitive software and a €100-€200 monthly license fee to a cloud-based provider including regular updates.

There is no doubt anymore about the pace at which technology is moving and changing the way we operate our pubs and restaurants every day. From cloud-based POS and scheduling software to social and digital media, there are a host of online tools available to us that can make our pubs more efficient, more profitable and more customer-friendly….if we choose to use them.

However, with all the operational distractions every day, there’s a danger that we get defeated too early in understanding how this technology can work for our pubs. But here’s a fact, technology is only ever going to play a bigger part in our industry and we are all better off by seeking to understand and leverage it.

Technology and Your Customers

As customer loyalty and insights becomes ever more crucial for the success of your pub, keeping in touch with your customers in a meaningful way has become critically important. It’s just not enough anymore to post about your event or new menu on Facebook and expect people to turn up, you have to be able to give them a compelling reason to do so and an easy way to commit. So, at the very least, it’s important that your website is mobile-friendly and that you are engaged with online ordering and reservation service providers. But the downside of working through online providers of these services is that only they are capturing the customer insights and loyalty, not you or your pub.

Investing in a Mobile App

So, just as you looked at the prospect of investment in your new website ten years ago, it may be that you want to look at investigating what a custom app could do for your pub. The cost of developing a fully-branded app for your pub has dropped significantly in the past few years as companies like MojoBistro, BuildFire and OpenDining have simplified the process of building, launching and managing a custom mobile app for a very affordable monthly fee. Of course, there are still conflicting opinions as to whether your customers will want to download an app for your pub and keep it updated, but if the entry cost for a mobile app is affordable, is it worth an experiment?

In 2015, a Judo Payments survey in the UK found that 71% of consumers are more likely to return to a restaurant if it offers a loyalty scheme, that 65% of them would download a restaurant’s app to access offers and deals, and that 80% would return to a restaurant to benefit from in-app loyalty schemes. Those are strong numbers by any standards.

The benefit of the app to your pub is based on how well you market it to your existing social media database and how you integrate operational considerations like waitlisting, payments and loyalty programs. But you have to imagine that it can’t be a bad thing for your pub to be in your customer’s pocket or handbag 24/7, or to put it differently, on a device that they consult over 150 times per day. Consider this…Starbucks introduced its US mobile app in 2011 and in 2016, over 21% of total transactions will be paid for using the app, roughly $1.2 billion in revenues. Make no mistake, as a way of recruiting and retaining customers, mobile apps are here to stay.

Conclusion

Mobile apps engage with your customers in a far more personal way than social media or websites. When was the last time your website or Facebook page told you exactly who has just walked through your front door? When was the last time your website or Facebook page sent a free pint of Guinness offer to a customer as they walked by on the other side of the street?

Just a dozen years ago, it was a struggle to persuade a pub owner to put up a website. I well remember being asked by one client why on earth he would need a website when he had a great sign on the front of his building. Today, the analogous question for him to ask would be why on earth would he need a mobile app when he has such a great website and social media presence. The answer is that he won’t know the answer until he takes the time to understand and weigh up whether this is an opportunity for his pub or not.

By Donal Ballance www.ballancehospitality.com.