Greggs, Leon and Wagamama are just the latest to join the self-ordering revolution, with the latter’s new grab and go concept Mamago one of the most hotly discussed openings of last year. To share their early exeperiences and more, MCA brought together marketing, IT and digital leaders from across the sector to consider how new technology can help, and sometimes hinder, the customer experience

The transformational power of technology is making a clear impression on the high street, with grab-and-go operators following McDonald’s lead and introducing self-service kiosks.

While this kind of hardware does not work for everyone, digital order and pay solutions are being used to streamline the customer journey, as well as find efficiencies in their own operations.

Meanwhile, loyalty is seen as an attractive bolt-on to drive footfall and tailor offers and rewards to repeat customers.

Yet in a competitive and emerging marketplace, a catch-all tech solution which satisfies the all-important expectation of a frictionless customer experience is not always easy to come by.

To deliberate over these issues, MCA brought together some of the leading IT, digital and marketing professionals from the eating and drinking out sectors, in association with Punchh, for our third roundtable discussion.


Tony Taylor, IT & business change director, Greggs

We’ve got a pilot shop where we’re trialling a number of things to try to understand the customer journey and what customers want from Greggs.

We’ve got a hybrid model with a mix of self-selection and stuff from behind the counter, which makes it challenging sticking a kiosk in. We just use it for customisation, and we’re encouraging people to continue the rest of their journey and pick up whatever else they want. Customers are using it, but it’s adding additional pressures because you always need to have people available at the back.

There’s a multitude of challenges, but the initial signs are our customers want to use it, they’re not as surprised by the journey as maybe we thought they would be.


Rebecca Di Mambro, head of marketing, Leon Restaurants

We are opening our first restaurant in Leeds which will be our first to trial digital ordering kiosks. We don’t have the national awareness of McDonald’s or Greggs, so we’re asking people to adopt ordering they’ve never done in Leon, but it’s also in a new market so we can’t take for granted that they know the menu.

We’re putting three in and trying to funnel customers through that journey, but we are very open to it being a trial and test-and-learn site. Then we’ll look in the new year to see if we would transform an existing London site. We discourage customisation, and are aware of the risk of building it into the kiosk. We know the likelihood of people taking that option, because we’ve the much higher volume of personalisation in delivery.


Guy Scott-South, operations excellence manager, Pizza Hut Restaurants

Traditionally we were a table service restaurant business, and two or three years ago started introducing a counter service model inspired by Nando’s, which younger customers prefer. This means order and pay at table is much more significant, so we’re trialling a new EPoS system and looking to integrate into that.

So many people have access to a smartphone and use aggregators, it seems a natural step to use an app to order. The challenge is, does everyone want 20 apps on their phone? What we’re looking at is a captive portal solution, as well as a website solution, so people can just go in through a link, or when they log onto the wifi. I think if someone can get lots of restaurants behind an ordering aggregator for restaurants, that might be interesting. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone like Just Eat or Deliveroo decided there’s a market for restaurant ordering.


Matthew Hickling, head of IT, New World Trading Company

Kiosks don’t lend themselves to our traditional table service model, but we do have certain outside areas, where you don’t expect table service, where we’ve offered guests to pay on an app, and do a reasonable amount of business during the summer in those outside areas.

Probably the operators like it more than the staff, because they see a rush come in from nowhere. It comes in over the cloud, rather than it being four-deep at the bar. We need to redesign certain areas and put in better service areas to deal with that rush.

Adoption has been OK, not fantastic. It’s certainly done nothing in the standard restaurant model, the table service people don’t seem to use it.


Ross Farquhar, chief marketing officer, Wagamama

We’ve just closed our app. Demand for order and pay is high, but there was a cost to the guest, in terms of space on their phone, adding an email address and creating a password. The app didn’t feel like it was the best way of delivering that functionality, particularly as tech has moved on and you can deliver order extras and pay at table through progressive web applications and URLs.

Our grab-and-go pilot Mamago is our first foray into kiosks. I have no idea whether they’re going to prove successful. I really hope people will be able to navigate it in less than 90 seconds. We’re a business entirely focused on table service so this is completely new for us.

You have to be really careful with hardware in a table service format. What we’ve heard is having bits of tech on the table changes the feel of the experience quite significantly. There’s a whole cohort of guests who really don’t want to see iPads.


Kieron Williams, head of IT, Brunning & Price

With our older demographic, who want to stick around and enjoy the environment, we’ve gone back to table service. Where we see an opportunity for the app is in the summertime outside. If people have the opportunity to order things, they will just keep consuming, but often they can’t be bothered to stand in the queue at the bar.

In terms of loyalty, we’ve had a very traditional meal ticket sort of thing, which is quite unsophisticated and quite pubby. We need to move that on. We don’t necessarily want it as a means of marketing and generating a huge database. It’s literally just a convenience thing and it’s getting people back. We’re looking more at some sort of digital wallet type idea as part of the app.


Richard Whitehouse, head of digital transformation, Mitchells & Butlers

We’re seeing customers increasingly turn towards digital solutions, not because they’re particularly loyal to an app or kiosk but because it’s easier. I think the challenge for us is with different dining occasions and different brands.

We’re due to launch kiosks, which is about missing the queue. If we can get guests to go to the kiosk, take a ticket and take their meal into the bar, it’s a sale we wouldn’t have lost.

We have order at table apps in All Bar One, O’Neill’s and Ember Inns and have seen some good results. Guests tend to spend more which is a means of incremental growth.

Our approach to loyalty has probably been a bit more subtle, and is tied to our CRM [customer relationship management] programme around giving the guests the right offer, at the right time, at the right price. If we can get your data and personalise the offer more subtly, it generates loyalty in its own right.


Helen Winnett, head of IT, Casual Dining Group

We’ve just launched an app in Las Iguanas for payment, which we’ve tied in with loyalty as well, so you get points for everything you spend, a bit like the British Airways loyalty programme. We are reasonably pleased with the take-up since we launched.

The other pre-order/pay application we have delivered is click and collect for Bella Italia. The clever thing about this is that the order goes all the way through to the Zonal till, so there’s no intervention by the team in order to process the order. Operationally, end-to-end it’s quite slick.

One of the challenges we’ve all got in delivering these solutions is to ensure that it works well for both the customer journey and the EPoS, stock & billing process, which means marketing & IT departments working closely together.


Bruce Craig, IT director, Carluccio’s

We haven’t done any automated pre-order as yet, but with our slightly older demographic it is probably an opportunity to reach the younger generation. I think we will probably start with mobile payments. It absolutely needs to be integrated into PoS and make the entire journey as frictionless as possible.

In terms of ordering, I can see we do have an opportunity with our reservations platform to give larger groups the opportunity to pre-order set menus. With our retail business, there are all sorts of opportunities for cross-selling. We have tablets out in the restaurant so could potentially automate some upsells.


Mark Robertson, head of IT, Benugo

We’re looking to reduce our cash handling. Across Benugo we are around 72% card transactions, so we’re asking if we should cut tills down and make certain tills card-only.

In the grab-and-go areas of our high street stores, we could probably do something with kiosks but you could lose upsells at the counter. We are also looking at what we can do to improve the customer transaction time. If you queue nine deep, the walkout is potentially quite high.

Technology can’t be disruptive to the operations. For us, customisation would cause chaos.


Bebe Oladipo, head of IT, Azzurri Group

In restaurants you need to think about labour and everything that technology does, because a piece of tech doesn’t automatically save labour.

A handheld can make ordering that second drink easier, but you have to change the way you operate.

With Coco di Mama, which is grab-and-go, we might see the same customer four times a day, so we are working oen a loyalty app which we hope to pilot next year.

In ordering I think we have the same challenges, it’s around the customer journey and not using tech to disrupt. It should be quite seamless. The human interaction can’t ever disappear.


Strahan Wilson, chief financial officer, Côte

Individually, our visit frequency is around three or four times a year, and very few people are going to download an app to use it that infrequently. And yet all of us would like to have a platform from which we can talk to our guests.

It strikes me the only way this will work is if we actually combine and have one single app that can effectively re-platform when we go to each of our restaurants.

Can we create an Android-type platform that is not-for-profit, that exists without shareholders, which isn’t Deliveroo or Uber Eats? The idea would be that it functions as a single app when you’re outside, and as soon as you walk into the restaurant it recognises the brand either through wifi channels or beacons, and it gives you the platform to be able to talk to your customers. So you can do ordering, you can do payment, you can do reviews.


Rob Trippett, head of IT, Brasserie Bar Co

We shy away from order ahead, but we’re really interested in pay at table, because when that person leaves, that bad experience of not being able to get a waiter to take the payments is the last experience they have.

I like the idea of using customer wifi to identify the person and link them with a booking. Then we can allow them to not just pay the table, but provide them some sort of loyalty rewards.

We don’t want them to download an app because it’s just not going to happen for the majority of people. I love the idea of an independent, not-for-profit app that all of us can plug into – if you can persuade the customer to download it.

We’ve talked about loyalty by stealth, using CRM or basket analysis, to understand what customers buy, and reward them without them having signed up.

It’s trying to find a balance where you can fulfil the needs of the majority of your customers in one solution.


Shyam Rao, CEO, Punchh

We’ve seen that customers will download apps, but the app needs to be meaningful. You have to remember your loyalists, and 20% of your customers probably drive up to 50% of your revenue. If you can grab those 20%, that’s worthwhile.

In a marketplace-driven environment, where consumers get loyal to the Deliveroos of the world, loyalty is a really important wedge to own your customers.

The idea of this non-profit I think is really great. But the question with any aggregator ultimately becomes, who owns a customer? And so, if two brands want to market to me at the same time, who gets priority?

That’s why owning that channel to the customer directly is really important.