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OPINION

Technology, digital and product innovation the perfect future blend Michele Young, director of Foodservice Support Ltd (www.foodservicesupport.co.uk), an independent business which she set up in 2010 to offer creative and commercial solutions for growth to businesses in the food industry, shares with us her post-pandemic thoughts for the café sector.  NEW LANDSCAPE “What does the ‘new normal’ look like?” It’s a question I’ve been asked frequently by those who are trying to get a grasp on what to expect when life resumes to some kind of normality, post lockdown. This time last year there we were, lounging on our comfy chairs in coffee shops, sipping lattes, laughing and joking with friends, listening to the beats of the background music and generally enjoying the vibe we’d come to expect from our favourite coffee haunts. Roll on twelve months and, suffice to say, we all know that the impact COVID-19 has had on our industry over the last year will be long lasting. We’re social animals and one of the things we all have been missing the most is the human connection, social interactions and experiences, which bodes well for the return to business for our industry. We already saw how people reacted last summer after the first lockdown and now that we head towards spring and summer, and hopefully a gradual relaxation of the current restrictions, we’re all hopeful that consumers will place an even greater value on shared experiences and join us in our venues for their daily cup of joe. Whilst we can’t wait to “get back to it” there is also a degree of caution permanently instilled in us all around what we expect our new experiences to look and feel like in the future. The public expectation for safe and clean spaces will still be highly prevalent in everyday life for quite some time and visits to coffee shop

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environments will demand that assurity for safety, just like any other sector of retail or hospitality. So one of the focus areas for many coffee shop owners and operators, whether large chains or independents, will have to be to find the best service solutions to minimise the number of interactions at every part of the customer journey, so as to answer the need for being ultra-hygenic at all times. Now that we’ve all become accustomed to social distancing, queueing patiently, an increased frequency of takeout and using various mobile apps to view, order and pay for goods, we realise that these are indeed some of the new behaviours that are starting to shape the future. The integration of these technologies in all types of businesses is here for the long-term. DIGITALISATION The whole eating and drinking out experience has been “digitalised” in the last 12 months and the number of businesses which have introduced mobile ordering, online menus, mobile payment options, cashless systems, e-commerce, CRM platforms and rewards programmes is endless. For an independent coffee shop owner/operator, the thought of introducing all the required technology for a hassle-free and contact-free sales and marketing solution can be a bit daunting, but it will certainly form part of the criteria for future business. I read a number quoted by Mastercard that 75%

of all transactions across Europe are now contactless. The good news is that there are some very affordable new technology packages out there, even for independent operators. These are extremely user-friendly and offer a great first step into the digital ways of working and being able to hold a meaningful dialogue with your customers. For years I always looked at coffee shops as an evolution of the traditional local pub, where a regular customer would be greeted by name and in some cases the owner would even know his regular customers by name and by beverage order! I was in Nina’s Coffee Shop, an independent business in Kendal last summer and I lost count of the number customers who came into the shop and who didn’t even need to mention their order. Top service! Knowing your customers that well can add tremendous value and loyalty to your business or brand, but going one step further and being able to use artificial intelligence provided by some of these mobile apps - to predict and prompt your consumer behaviours - can ultimately help build sales even more. Customers want to feel appreciated for sticking with businesses and changing their behaviours especially during the lockdown periods. Now is the time start embracing these technology enhancements and integrate your loyalty or rewards programmes onto digital platforms in order to appeal to the new generation of digital first and digital savvy consumers.