REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 6, 2000 — The challenge of doing business at the dawn of the new Millennium is deceptively simple: produce more, produce it faster, at a higher quality, and at a lower cost to increase profits. These pressures are felt acutely in the hospitality and food service industry where delivering a unique, satisfying guest experience must be balanced with improving operations, trimming costs and boosting the bottom line.
The Internet has become a fantastic tool for communicating,
says Gary Cooke, Microsoft’s worldwide industry manager — hospitality and food service.
The next wave of progress will be making it a tool that’s just as good for computing. We call our vision for this Microsoft .NET.
Reflecting Microsoft’s vision of empowering people and businesses with great software any time, any place and on any device, Microsoft .NET takes advantage of the increasing incorporation of advanced computer technologies, Internet connectivity, line-of-business applications and processes and Web services into nearly all electronic devices.
Restaurants and hotel guests want more choices,
They want to be able to communicate on their device of choice, whether it’s a cell phone, wireless handheld device or PC. And they want to communicate on their own schedules — not on the hotel’s or restaurant’s hours of operation. This same need for flexibility is also vital for hoteliers, restaurateurs and their business partners.
All of which makes the hospitality and food service industry an ideal arena for Microsoft to focus on as it develops Microsoft .NET services, according to Cooke.
The hospitality and food service industry operates at the crossroads of the commercial and consumer worlds. What better place to develop technology solutions?
Microsoft .NET is all about bringing distributed computing on the Internet,
We’re developing new and better technologies as part of a vision in which the Internet becomes part of the system rather than just the network for linking separate systems.
Meeting the Challenges of Hospitality
The challenges that the hospitality and food service industry faces are challenges that Microsoft is committed to keep front and center as it articulates its vision for Microsoft .NET, Cooke says.
“We hear about a broad array of challenges when we speak with and listen to our partners and especially the people who work in hospitality and food service on a daily basis.”
Challenges include doing business on a franchise model, which can complicate everything from deploying new technologies to making sure everyone across the system has bought off on an idea. Food service and hospitality businesses also contend with employee turnover that is considerably higher than in many other industries.
The industries are further challenged by globalization, developing and nurturing customer relationships and all of the issues that go along with managing, expanding and consolidating business locations.
“Particularly where you’ve got lots of different sites — as many restaurant and hotel chains do — you can get into situations where you have to work with lots of different systems,”
“It’s not uncommon to have different technologies from different vendors deployed at different sites to accomplish roughly the same things.”
Despite their variety, the challenges facing restaurateurs and hoteliers can be organized into five key categories, according to Cooke: deep and rich customer relationships; employee productivity; operating efficiency; connected commerce communities; and business value.
“Working with our partners, we’re developing solutions in each of these areas, with the belief that all can be addressed by software or services — any time, any place and on any device.”
“In terms of customer relationships, picture the Internet being used in a way that allows restaurants to develop additional revenue per customer,”
Cooke says. Enabling a customer to place an order more easily, using a variety of devices — such as cellular phones — so that the order is ready and waiting when the customer pulls up to the drive-through window. Or offering collateral products or services that appeal to the customer demographics of a particular hotel or restaurant.
Another key area — employee productivity — can be directly addressed through the Microsoft .NET vision, Cooke says.
“Turnover rates of 50 percent or higher are not unheard of,”
he says. High turnover creates an increased demand for training. Online, self-paced training could save businesses money and result in a more productive and efficient workforce.
“Online training will help employees add to their base of knowledge and build on their skill sets, which will result in a better informed, more knowledgeable workforce. Microsoft .NET concepts — Internet-based communications and access any time, any place and on any device — bring online training within reach.”
In addressing operating efficiency and connected commerce communities, Cooke says the future will feature scenarios where multiple parties — hotel/restaurant guests, suppliers, credit-authorization services and others — will collaborate on business transactions and communicate data across a broad spectrum of devices and applications.
“It will become commonplace for your business’s system to interact with other businesses, no matter what their technologies are,”
Thanks in part to eXtensible Markup Language, or XML — a technology standard that provides order in the way that information is transferred across systems so that different hardware and software can function together compatibly — Cooke says the day is arriving when independent entities can work together relatively quickly and efficiently.
“The Microsoft .NET vision is about computing on the Internet, and the capabilities of XML will really help it happen,”
An important feature of XML, according to Cooke, is that it can extend the life of legacy applications.
“You can put data into the XML ‘envelope’ and ship it across the Internet,”
“You can extend the useful life of existing solutions.”
Greater operating efficiency and an enhanced guest experience are key objectives of the Microsoft .NET vision in hospitality and food service, Cooke says. Using the example of the booking process at a hotel, Cooke explains how Microsoft .NET technologies can enhance efficiency — and increase profits — at nearly every point in the booking and check-in processes.
“Visualize multiple hotels owned by the same management company,”
“Five properties in one city, say. They may or may not share the same brand. I want to book a room at the downtown property but they’re full. The people who run the chain are going to want to book me into one of their hotels, so over the Internet they can check availability at all of their properties and notify me, the customer, of the nearest location that’s available for the dates I’m interested in. I get a high level of service from the hotel group and they secure the revenue from my travel.”
Also, if a guest stayed at one of the properties previously, the hotel will already know the guest’s preferences in terms of rooms, room service utilization and frequent flier programs. When the guests check out, if they plan to return, they can make reservations on the spot. The guest could also make dinner reservations at local restaurants, secure theater tickets and so forth — all over the Internet, either independently or with the hotel acting as intermediary.
That, according to Cooke, is only the beginning of the opportunities — for restaurant and hotel guests and owners alike — offered by the Microsoft .NET vision. Guests can save time and enjoy a better experience and restaurants and hotels can run their operations more smoothly, trim costs and achieve lasting business value.
Partnerships: New Technologies, New Scenarios
Partnerships forged between Microsoft and industry leaders continue to yield new and previously unimaginable scenarios throughout the hospitality and food service industries.
Meet Me In Saint Louis.Com: In response to the increasingly complex needs of the cluster of industries that includes hotels, meeting planners and related travel companies, Newmarket International of Portsmouth, N.H. developed MeetingBroker.com. As a business-to-business vertical hub for hospitality sales, MeetingBroker.com is fully compliant with Microsoft’s BizTalk framework and truly embraces the vision of Microsoft .NET.
“MeetingBroker.com lets a meeting planner in London determine how many meeting and guest rooms are available in a San Diego hotel on a certain day by simply filling out a request and hitting ‘Send’,”
explains Newmarket International’s president, Steve Giblin.
“The hotel’s sales rep in San Diego sees the lead come up on the screen and can go in and reserve space, make a booking and reply to the meeting planner in London. What used to require phones and faxes and postage and could take up to several days can now be completed in a few minutes.”
For customers in the hospitality industry, Giblin says the .NET vision offers value in areas that are especially key for them — reducing costs, and increasing the speed of doing business.
“Microsoft .NET will make it possible for sales people to work across the nation, and around the world, communicating in real time to secure inventory for customers,”
Giblin’s mission is to enable meeting planners and sales forces to have instant access to an encyclopedic array of real-time data that will let them assemble proposals and bids in a matter of hours.
“Putting together bids used to require someone to travel to the destination to gather information from a number of sources,”
“Now all that’s required is a high-speed connection to the Internet.”
Giblin says that the .NET vision has guided not only development of products and services for Newmarket International, but the company’s overall strategic direction as well.
“We’re pushing the entire company into Web services, which allows us to expand our client base,”
“Before, a customer had to purchase a product. Now they can download it. By dissecting our applications, customers can purchase services based on what they need and can afford at the time.”
Restaurants and Hotels in the 21 W.J. Kitchen, CEO of Ameranth Wireless in San Diego, says that ultimately Microsoft .NET will offer everyone quicker and better services and products.
“I think that Microsoft .NET will yield better services for customers, with fewer mistakes,”
“Cutting down on manual labor will reduce labor cost. It brings the power of the Microsoft platform to the handheld computer, and puts more power in the hands of those who work directly with customers on the front lines.”
“We’re developing software products that enable customers to establish real-time data connections among wireless handheld computers, PCs and the Internet,”
Kitchen says. The 21st Century Restaurant system for wireless ordering and payment processing features open architecture, meaning the system can work together with anyone’s application, and both are Microsoft DNA compliant.
The 21 st Century Restaurant system offers a way of doing business that has the potential to revolutionize the foodservice industry.
“In a restaurant, you’ll have wireless tableside ordering and bill paying, and a general increase in efficiency,”
“By inputting orders directly from the table side, wait staff will save time by no longer having to walk back and forth to their POS terminals, which will allow the restaurant to turn its tables more quickly – which increases profits significantly. The wait staff will be notified immediately when the food is ready in the kitchen, meaning hot food will be served even hotter.”
Kitchen imagines that this technology will benefit a wide variety of industries. For hotels, Kitchen pictures an equally revolutionary transformation.
“Curbside check-in is only the beginning,”
“From all manner of devices, and from your car, or right after you get out of your car, or even from the airplane, you can check in, generate the room key, schedule a wake-up call, make dinner reservations, set up an appointment at a spa, or schedule a tee off time if you’re a golfer. And all of it’s done electronically, so it’s fast, and gives you more time to do what it is you went there to do.”
The Value of Bacon : Michael Finley, vice president of product development for Atlanta-based Radiant Systems, believes that bringing home the bacon is more than a tired old clich
. One 200-site chain of fast food restaurants financed its investment in Radiant technology – including Wave, Radiant’s hosted suite of applications for operational management – with the extra money it made as a result of servers being reminded at the point of sale to ask customers if they’d like bacon with certain pre-determined items.
“They’re an exception, of course, but there are lots of opportunities out there for higher profits and lower costs,”
Finley says. He explains Wave — which is built on top of the Microsoft .NET platform — as a productivity enhancer that simplifies and streamlines technology so that restaurant owners and managers can focus on the business at hand rather than getting bogged down by the technology.
“For everything sold you have to buy the components, or ingredients, and pay for the labor, the cooks and servers,”
“With Wave there are comprehensive components for workforce management that let restaurants optimize what they’re selling and how they put people to work — forecasting how many employees they’ll need at a certain time of year so that they don’t over-hire, for example.”
Wave also does a certain amount of
for restaurant owners and managers.
“It increases revenue by doing things like suggesting what to sell, allowing you to optimize floor space, helping make sure the right items are in inventory, and suggesting items to get rid of because of low sales — all based on the data that’s coming in,”
“If you’re a restaurant owner, for example, Wave can help you understand that while steak dinners might be your biggest seller, they also represent your lowest margin of profit. Maybe appetizers are a lot more profitable.”
Another big step that restaurants can take with Wave, according to Finley, is that outlets in the same geographical area can work together to make maximum use of employee availability.
“On a Web model it’s all centralized,”
“It’s easy to schedule 20 stores at a time. Employees can use their cellular phones to know where to go to work. With this sort of technology available, it doesn’t make sense to not centralize.”
Computing on the Internet: A Business Value
The possibilities that the Microsoft .NET platform creates for adding business value, Cooke says, are practically endless.
“It will offer hotels and restaurants strategic flexibility.”
Businesses will be able to add technology when they need to. It will be easier to make solutions interoperate, which will help businesses get fuller value from their legacy systems,
In a nutshell, Cooke says, Microsoft .NET-based solutions will allow restaurants and hotels to run more efficiently and smoothly and deliver a better product or service.
“They will help a hotelier or restaurateur keep track of who the best customers are and why they keep coming back,”
“It will help them streamline business processes and trim costs. It will help them create a fantastic experience for their guests. And it will help the entire hospitality and food service community — businesses and customers — interact any time, any place, on any device.”