Wednesday 1 July 2020 5:25 pm Apater Capital Talk

Hospitality venues raise the bar as pubs’ re-opening app-roaches

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City A.M. contributor

‘Two pints of lager and a packet of crisps’: no longer (for the time being, at least) a request delivered while waiting at the bar. Instead, a request delivered electronically by smartphone app from a safe, social distance.

Technology’s reach knows no bounds as Britain’s public houses – stereotypically bastions of resistance to digital accoutrements – are moving with the electronically-enabled times.

Britain’s hospitality sector re-opens from lockdown this weekend (4 July) as government guidance encourages venues to notify customers that they should order food and drink to be delivered to tables through mobile applications (apps). 

Some major pub chains have been using apps for years: Wetherspoons launched its well-regarded ‘Order & Pay’ app more than three years ago. Young’s is similar, with its ‘Young’s on Tap’ app enabling users to be ‘a secret DJ in the pub’ (add music to a pub’s playlist) using their smart-phone.

‘User experience has to be paramount’

But apps remain anathema (or certainly met with wariness) by some traditional venues, as with many non-digital small businesses.
What do smaller businesses need to bear in mind when launching an app? The three most important things to consider are usability, engagement and data safety, according to Victoria Morrison, global marketing director at technology communications company Hotwire, which advises companies on how to connect with their target audiences.

“User experience has to be paramount – people need to instinctively know how to use it without having to read a set of instructions,” she says. “In respect of engagement, an app can help people feel connected and informed. But most importantly, any app must take security seriously – take the time to explore security features and communicate these clearly within sign-up T&Cs. Choose where you need password protection and ensure all data collected within the app is treated in a GDPR-compliant way and erased from any third-party databases in a timely manner.”

‘The fewer “taps”, the better’

Getting your head around T&Cs, GDPR and the like – quite aside from the time and resource needed to actually build a fully functioning app – is a clearly a lot to take in for venues facing so many other pressures. Inevitably, though, there a growing number of tech-based businesses offering bespoke solutions.

One such company is Ubamarket – a retail platform launched in 2017 that provides mobile retail solutions to supermarkets including Budgens and Spar – which has developed a new app called uBARmarket. When entering a pub signed up to the technology, the app appears on customers’ phones as if it’s the pub’s own app. It is being marketed as ‘an instant app for the “new normal” in hospitality’. 

Chief executive Will Broome believes the sector’s forthcoming re-opening will see a marked acceleration of venues adopting technology for the safety of their customers and staff. He says: “Wetherspoons is already seen as having a very good app. But our app enables independent venues to instantly offer a highly sophisticated ‘order, pay, stay’ solution that not only increases efficiency but will also provide a personalised experience and ‘one tap’ ordering which, in turn, will increase sales.”

Like Morrison, Broome believes that ease-of-use is crucial to uptake. “An app must be quick, efficient, useful, fun and, above all else, easy to use – the fewer ‘taps’, the better,” says Broome. 

‘Driving behavioural change’

Another app possibility is OrderPay, which has Stonegate Pub Company (which has nearly 5,000 pubs and bars across the UK) as a client, as well as restaurant chain Five Guys. 

Like uBARmarket, the OrderPay app ‘re-skins’ as people enter a specific venue (removing the need for customers to download multiple apps) while it uses Bluetooth to enable bar staff to locate people’s tables (without need to input a table number). A “pared-back” app, OrderPay Lite, is in development for independent pubs.

OrderPay co-founder Richard Carter tells City AM: “Prior to the crisis, we thought the longer-term adoption [for ordering in a pub or restaurant] was likely to settle at around one in four or five people, but now it’s going to be much higher. The current situation means this is a vital way for pubs to function while maintaining distancing, and that is going to drive behavioural change, longer term. For some, going to the bar will always be an important ritual but for many, they won’t go back – ordering with a few taps of the phone, and having drinks and food brought to the table – it’s the future.”

Robyn Black, editor of Imbibe UK, which covers pubs, bars and restaurants, says: “The current situation will surely act a catalyst for the greater adoption of digital technologies in pubs, specifically around payments and also app benefits such as loyalty schemes and pre-ordering. But time will tell the extent to which people will settle into a routine of ordering by app when so many pubs are about socialising at the bar.” 

Check out similar Apater Capital Talk content by Ian Hall on APIs – the invisible wiring pivotal to digital transformation and the lockdown-accelerated e-commerce surge.