Digital channels should enhance rather than replace traditional operating models, PizzaExpress IT director Siobhan Fagan has said.

Speaking on MCA and BigHospitality’s Hostech webinar, Fagan said it was important to remember that hospitality remained an experience-led business, rather than a technology-led one.

She also said as data-capturing capabilities become more advanced, operators must focus on usability over sheer quantity of information.

Consumers had embraced enhanced mobile order and pay, and click & collect, which she said “take away that bit of pain” from the service journey.

Fagan said: “The important thing for us is that we are an experience-led business, and you come to PizzaExpress to eat delicious pizza and have a great time with your friends or family,” she said. “I think there will be opportunity to look at order a table, but for us it will be in a way that enhances, rather than dictates the customer experience.”

Though the company was already omnichannel before the crisis – with a retail business, delivery and click and collect capabilities – she said its development of takeaway and move into semi self-service will see it better prepared to meet a permanent shift in consumer behaviour.

“The difference we now see is that customer behaviour will have changed significantly, and it won’t go back,” she said. “Click and collect and delivery will continue to be as important as they have been during lockdown, and customers will be more akin to adopting technology now.

“We launched pay at table just as we were going into lockdown, which for us was a real opportunity to take away that bit of pain in the service journey by self-serving.”

Discussing the potential for advancements in machine learning, AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve hospitality operations, Fagan told the Hostech webinar that Pizza Express was considering the benefits of solutions across all three areas.

Whilst she sees opportunities for machine learning to help with sales forecasting and AI to help with recruitment, she highlighted the capacity for the IoT to assist processes on multiple fronts.

If the use of connected devices could provide data on the performance of a fridge or oven, businesses could consistently monitor the effectiveness of equipment, predict when it might break down, and take away some of the tasks from teams – who would subsequently be able to spend more time front of house, she said.

Though these developments are “definitely something Pizza Express will want to look at” in the future, she added that there may be some way to go before restaurants can productively reap the benefits of IoT.

“We have to look at how we actually use that data and not drown in it,” she said. “We need to use it in a way where it can actually have an impact and help a manager better manage their site or help us understand the pattern of our equipment.

“At the moment it’s one of those technologies where you can see it on the horizon, but it’s not quite riding over the ridge yet.”

  • This article is part of MCA and BigHospitality’s Hostech series