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Chris Jones, CEO of tech-company Digiterra, chats about why he thinks an app is a good idea for hospitality business owners:

Bridging the gap between the restaurant and guest with technology.

Sometime towards the end of 2019, I was scrolling through LinkedIn, when my eye caught an article which spoke about the hospitality industry potentially being in crisis. I have been in IT my entire working life. Along the way, I have done numerous projects with large hospitality groups – so my interest was piqued. 

Technology can augment business. It should be used to enhance the relationship between the provider of any product and service and the receiver of that product or service. Imbalance in any respect of this mutual relationship will naturally render the business unsustainable. This was the ‘rub’ this article picked up on. 

An industry in crisis

The problem essentially is that through too much dependence on technology, a rift has started to form between guests and hospitality providers. Through no fault of anyone, users all over the world have taken to technology to decide which restaurant to visit, which hotel to stay in, and when. This is super useful, or it wouldn’t have become so popular, but it has left some smaller providers baffled as to how to bring their guests back to them. As someone in the tech space, my question then was, how could we harness our experience in technology and hospitality to assist in bridging this gap? 

And so the idea of SmartGuest began to unfold. We need to provide a clear channel so that regardless of how a client finds you, your direct line to that guest is what ultimately remains. A way to ensure that your guests easily and purposefully find their way back to you. While this crisis has emerged across the restaurant and hotel industries, we decided to focus on restaurants first. Logically, restaurants are pivotal to hotels, so it made sense to start there. 

So much to lose

I don’t need to tell you how much investment goes into creating and running a restaurant. From conversations with clients in the industry it seems to be a 50/50 blend of financial investment and personal energy investment. 

Each restaurant owner’s story is different – but each wants to nourish guests and have them love the experience as much as they love creating it. Each is personally invested in a positive outcome.  One restaurant owner told me a beautiful anecdote about her restaurant’s chef, “With each dish he prepares, the final sprinkle is ‘love’, taught to him by his mother when he was a young boy.” 

So while all businesses need to be personally engaged by their owners, the restaurant owner and manager is quite unique. I think it’s summed up quite beautifully by Mexican-American activist César Chávez, who is quoted as saying, “The people who give you their food give you their heart.“ 

Quite!

So how can we help you share your personal passion with your guests? 

Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name…

Remember the American sitcom “Cheers” from the 80s? The theme song never left me. Sometimes there is comfort in being recognised. Being known, remembered and wanted. So that is how we thought we could bring the patrons back to your restaurant…by helping them discover a place where they are remembered and appreciated.

With all the valid buzz about how technology takes us away from each other and what matters, there are ways of harnessing its power to do just the opposite. An app is the perfect way to stay memorable to your clients. To stay connected. A direct link between you and them. Having a special launch? Let them know directly. Got something new and exciting on the menu? Tell them! Moreover, your guest can do the same…a quick message to ask you about pricing, menus, allergens, availability… And it’s all direct and free. No middle-layer between you at all. Reservations are easy, not relying on the good hearing of the person on the other side of the phone. SmartGuest has been created to help you create your own customer relationship management programme – without much effort or cost.  

“Loyalty – a strong feeling of support or allegiance”

Important to every organisation is loyalty. It’s the cornerstone of any relationship really – and it’s no different in business. Loyalty in the hospitality industry has long been replaced by convenience and the good opinion of others, and their ratings of their personal experiences. Rewarding people for loyalty has been proven as a success marker in business. New customers are exciting, and of course necessary. However research done by Reicheld in 1990 expressly shows that the benefits of keeping existing customers positively impacts on a business’s bottom line! Looking after existing customers is cheaper in the long-term than attracting new ones through pricey marketing campaigns. And we all know that happy and loyal customers are far more likely to tell their circles about a good experience, organically growing your business. An app is an easy and inexpensive way to integrate direct marketing and a loyalty scheme. 

How expensive is an app to develop?

It’s tough to answer this question, even for a software development company. How complex is the app? Does it need to be developed for Android and IOS? How many languages does it need to be in? How quickly would it need to be developed? And of course, what few people talk about, what are the costs to maintain and update it (a crucial aspect). It’s often a scary task to undertake, and something that many restaurant owners simply don’t have the time nor the upfront investment cash-flow to arrange. 

This is why we thought that taking a clean, crisp and modern app to the industry would help. We do the background work, and you simply tell us what you’d like to include in it (we make it easy by suggesting what to include). You own the app and your clients – and we own the responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of it. An affordable monthly subscription keeps it switched on…as simple as that. Your menu, your direct contact details, your photos and importantly, your essence. Branding and images and descriptions reflect who you are – and as is most crucial – the relationship with your patrons is and always be, yours.  

Does COVID get a mention?

I can’t very well be sitting in the middle of a pandemic and not be influenced by it. Perhaps many things that are developed this year and next will reflect these times. So too does SmartGuest. If it is something that your establishment needs, it is possible to integrate the health and safety requirements into the app. Some areas require a register of patrons – this can be done on the app. Some places periodically require shut-down, necessitating either delivery or collection for business not to close entirely. This is easily organised by customers with the app. You may not be serving them directly in a restaurant – but their loyalty may be the difference between your success and failure. Similarly, those who like to eat out will miss it – you can bring part of that experience to them and stay forever as a warm and comforting memory. 

A mobile restaurant app can be ready for you within the week Please do let us know how we can help you. We would love to take your restaurant and your patrons into the next era and keep you connected. Visit www.digiterragroup.com/smartguest or call us to chat. We will use these unprecedented times for good!

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