The digital pub - how technology is important for pub operators and their customers

How do you use digital technology in your pub? Is it part of your back office support, helping you with everything from stock control to staffing? Do you use it for marketing, to attract customers to the pub and remind them to come back? Or do you use digital technology for customer service, such as by allowing customers to browse your menus from their phone and even order directly from an app?

There are digital solutions that can help across all areas of your business; and drive efficiencies and cost savings for you too. Over the last few years many pub operators have embraced digital technology and seen really positive results. Yet, much of this is hidden away behind the scenes; not front of house.

This is changing in response to customer demand. Where once a free WiFi connection was enough to keep Millennials and younger customers happy, now customers increasingly want the convenience of other digital tools to enhance the customer experience.

In this post we’re going to explore some of the technology you could introduce to your pub to improve customer service. We’re not suggesting that this replaces good old-fashioned personal service from you and your staff, but many of the ideas complement what you do already; and will help attract more customers and increase revenue. Here’s how:

Mobile Technology Can Be Great For Pub Businesses

Do you find customers who spend all their time on their mobiles annoying? You might think they’re bored or anti-social, and wonder why they’re visiting your pub when they could be anyway else doing the same thing. Instead of being irritated by them, think of it as an opportunity!

Going to the pub is still a social activity, but part of the experience now includes checking your phone, posting on social media and interacting digitally as well as physically. Mobile technology has changed our behaviour significantly in the last decade, and this is especially true of younger customers who have grown up always being digitally connected.

For pub operators there is a great opportunity to use mobile technology to drive sales. Mobile apps that use geo-location technology can be used to send discounts and offers to a customer’s phone when they walk past your door or come into the pub. Digital loyalty schemes can go a step further by collating data on your customers, so you can personalise your offers and target customers in a much more relevant way.

There’s the chance to upsell to customers on the basis of their previous purchases. For example a customer who buys a mainstream gin could be offered a discount on a premium gin to encourage them to try something different and spend more in future.

There are numerous marketing opportunities too. Simple steps such as claiming your pub’s Facebook Places Page means you can merge it with your business’ page and make the check in function much more engaging for customers. Instead of seeing a Places avatar, they will see your profile image and more information about your pub, all aimed at attracting more customers.

Having an Instagram profile has become more and more important for pubs and restaurants as many customers want to share photos of food and their nights out. If your pub has Instagram, customers can tag your business when they upload their photos.

Self-Serve Digital Options

Going a step further, what about letting customers browse menus, order food and even pay through a mobile app? Your kitchen will then receive the order as soon as the customer has made a decision, perhaps even before they arrive, so they’re served quickly and efficiently. In busy popular pub restaurants that can mean more covers per service, and no need to chase after customers who forget to pay the bill! 

Another benefit could be for pubs offering a takeaway service. While Just Eat and other digital apps provide a way for customers to order online, your own app cuts out the middleman, and can be used in house too, and across multi-sites.

You can also use the app to upsell. So if a customer doesn’t order dessert a timely notification could be sent to remind them that your pub’s signature pudding is on the specials board today.

Going Contactless

Another innovation that can speed up your customer service so that your staff can get on with serving other customers is contactless POS card payment machines. Most newly issued credit and debit cards have contactless technology, and customers are increasingly happy to making quick and convenient payments in this way.

During busy times it can make a real difference, especially if your pub only has one or two POS terminals, and customers really appreciate the option. Contactless payment cards are also paving the way for greater adoption of mobile payment technology. As confidence in these types of payment options grows, expect customers (particularly digital early adopters) to want to pay using eWallets like Apple Pay.

Customers might not even want to use their mobile. Wearable tech is being explored by the payments industry, with the Apple Watch leading the way. Other wearable payments tech include contactless key fobs and even a contactless ring: if some of your customers are tech nerds, they might already have this type of payment technology.

Making Technology Work For Your Pub Business

To get maximum ROI from any of these technology ideas there are two things you need to overcome. First you need to ensure you have excellent connectivity! If your WiFi is too slow and doesn’t have enough bandwidth for multiple users, it can quickly turn into a frustrating customer experience and cause a much larger headache.

Placing orders and making online payments in your pub is particularly sensitive. If your app is slow your customers might worry that their payment isn’t secure, or that the order hasn’t been placed correctly. They may also try again and duplicate their order and pay twice. So make sure you have the capacity and the right technology to deliver an excellent digital customer service.

Secondly, you will need to raise awareness by letting customers know about the digital technology available to them. Marketing materials in your pub can promote everything from your social media handle i.e @runapub, or your bespoke pub app, to the digital payment methods your pub accepts. This awareness raising process may also involve educating customers about the technology, reassuring them that the tools your pub uses are secure, and of course promoting the benefits to them.

It’s also important to remember how quickly digital technology is being adopted. While your customers today may be slow to embrace some of these tools, it could just be a matter of months before they become ubiquitous. For innovative pub operators this is a great opportunity to get ahead of the curve, and meet customer demand now and into the future.

If you’re thinking of introducing digital solutions into your pub business, speak to your BDM about how to get the most from them.