A Room with A Bed Isn’t Enough- 8 Ways to Future Proof Your Independent Boutique Hotel

As an independent hotelier, you are always looking for ways to provide the best in service to your guests. You want to give them the best experience so that they come back to you when they require your services again, and the way to build loyalty and a great hotel brand.

Largely, customers are seeking a personalized experience, and they definitely want to remain connected from the booking process all the way to check out. Trends like mobile check-in and checkout are growing in popularity, and Wi-Fi remains a most-wanted amenity for guests of all ages.

Here are eight ways you can make your brand the greatest and get your customers coming back for more great stays.

1. Get Super Connected

In the old days, you would pick up that phone that sat on the little desk in between the beds, and you would call the front desk for help with whatever you needed. Or, you’d call the designated number for concierge, and get the help that way.

However, if your hotel has an app, consider taking a cue from Marriott and Hilton. They have the ability for consumers to complete the check-in process right from their smartphones, get into their room using a mobile key, and send out text messages with queries and requests to hotel staff members.

Connectivity is certainly growing as a standard by which hotels are measured. And of course, be sure that your rooms are equipped to handle the changing needs of today’s device-carrying travelers: some hotels even feature charging ports that are a welcome sight to those who may have left theirs on the plane.

2. Emphasize the Wi-Fi

Business travelers are getting work done. Digital nomads are meeting guidelines. Families with kids need the tablet for entertainment. The faster, the better!

The faster you can make your Wi-Fi, the better. Some customers are willing to pay an upcharge for higher speed, but this may be off-putting to some.

In the same vein, provide plenty of power outlets so that devices can be plugged in and charged with ease. Every member of the family has at least a smartphone-so be sure you are prepared.

3. Put A Focus on Local Fun

One way to really improve hotel guest experience is to help travelers experience the city like a true local. With the advent of Airbnb, this is now more important than ever. One huge example is the Unforgettable Experience packages that the Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria offers.

These include destination-specific activities right in the room rate. One such experience situated in Dubai includes dinner and a camel ride for two people. While you certainly do not have to provide camel rides, consider ways you can appeal to your guests by integrating local activities.

You might offer a rate that includes passes to a local attraction, or a dinner voucher for a favorite local restaurant, for instance. Experiences are now more important than ever to consumers, especially millennials, who currently hold them in higher value than “stuff.”

4. Improve Brand Experience by Making Training an Everyday Occurrence

There is no doubt that your staff already puts in 110% when completing their daily duties, and everyone from the GM to the housekeepers to the landscapers does their best. But there are some great ways that you can combine traditional training methods with technology to ensure that every agent and employee is up to speed.

For instance, suppose you have implemented a new Property Management System. Be sure that you are taking advantage of all methods available to teach and train employees. Have them take part in classroom training exercises, complete e-learning, or use an application that monitors your employees’ actions while they work so you can guide them as they learn the system.

Make a concerted effort to have every employee trained on new procedures, technology, and rules. Customers having to wait in line while an employee fumbles around is unacceptable and leaves everyone frustrated.

A well trained and informed staff will resonate soundly with guests. Your brand becomes synonymous with excellence.

5. Provide Personalized Customer Service

A hallmark of your brand can easily be personalized customer service. In a world where we are becoming more and more connected in the digital sense instead of the personal sense, it has become critical to treat your guests like they are the only ones in the entire hotel.

Not all guests should get the same treatment, and excellence is measured in different ways from guest to guest. Some want a speedy check-in; others like to stop and chat with you. Do your best to learn your customers’ name and greet them as such.

Demonstrate an eagerness to help. Remember the guests’ preferences. And be sure you and your employees are able to offer solid information about the local area such as good places to dine or interesting local activities.

Though your brand may not be as large as national chains, you can still treat guests like VIPs. Be sure your staff is trained to be attentive and treat everybody with the utmost of care, regardless of who they are. Guests leave reviews everywhere now: Google, Yelp and more-so when they feel special and cared for, others will know and book with you.

6. Make Booking Easy

You can do simple things that will hugely improve on your booking process and deliver guests the fast and easy experience they desire. Make the calendar part of your process easy by filling out the check-in and checkout boxes with today’s date, plus one day.

Lots of hotels have blank calendar fields and filling it in helps the user get one step closer to whatever dates they need.

You can include a progress measurement for the booking progress. People like to know how long a task will take before they can move onto the next thing, and a progress bar, steps till completion or other measurement method helps consumers move along and stay encouraged to finish the process.

Be sure your process does not ask consumers to log in or create an account unless they will be rewarded in some way (points, etc.). This just annoys the user with more tasks all for marketing reasons, not a great experience.

Every hotel is different, but at the minimum, just ask for full name, email, and phone number. You might also include special requests and time of arrival fields, too. Be sure that your website also offers security credentials, too-it’s peace of mind for users.

7. Guest Engagement

This ties into making guests feel like they are the only ones present in your hotel at any given moment. Guests that are disengaged are not as likely to return to a property and will more than likely discuss their experience online using any number of popular review sites.

Millennials are less likely to be engaged, says Gallup, but the silver lining is that guests who are engaged are less sensitive to price whether they demand luxury experiences or an economical stay. Therefore, guests that have an emotional attachment to a hotel are more likely to book at that property, regardless of budget.

You can encourage engagement by doing some easy things: Encourage them to provide feedback, and of course, treat them as the unique and varied individuals they are. Even though guests are there for different needs and experiences, they all desire great customer service that is delivered with a strong personal touch. Be sure you go over expectations with your staff to ensure the highest satisfaction among guests.

8. Provide Guests the Amenities They Want

There are amenities that customers really like, and then there are ones they can do without. Providing the right mix of amenities that add value to your guests’ stay is critical in making an impact. Consider changing the following:

  • Room Service-Customers are yearning more for good, strong Wi-Fi or a gym. Combine this with the desire to eat local cuisine and experience what the locals do, room service is desired less and less.
  • Valet-Many travelers, even those who stay at luxury hotels, prefer to park their own car.
  • Slippers and robes-Many guests prefer to just wear their own clothes and would not mind if hotels nixed the bathrobes.
  • Mini-bar-The mini bar is often expensive, and travelers do not want to pay the price. Plus, it is expensive to stock these.

Final Thoughts

Your independent boutique property can speak volumes for itself when you provide customers what they seek, which is a personalized, engaging experience, a connected stay at your hotel, bridges to the local cuisine, activities, and establishments, and of course an easy process from start to finish.

By integrating as much helpful technology as you can, and keeping staff trained to be attentive and friendly to your customers’ needs, you will surely notice more repeat business and your hotel will be established as a modern and beautiful place to stay for business, travel, or anything in between.

Restaurant Technologies That Build Brand Loyalty

Some of the most popular technologies that build brand loyalty may surprise you. After all, you likely already know about some of the more popular ones like mobile apps or email coupons.

But stay with us throughout this informative article to find ways that will enhance your brand and keep your customers coming back for more.

Restaurant Website Improvements

You might shake your head at how obvious this one is, but don’t underestimate the power of websites when you are building your brand. A well-designed, easy to read and mobile optimized website is going to be a huge win for your customers. It can absolutely make or break a business.

don’t underestimate the power of websites when you are building your brand.

One survey by Deloitte titled The Restaurant of the Future: Creating the Next Generation Customer Experience indicated that 85% of customers took a look at restaurant’s menu online as they were deciding whether or not to visit for the first time. The ones who do return are likely to spend more money at your establishment, also.

The critical component here is to make sure that your online menu scales to fit smartphones and works well on mobile browsers. Do not include any tabs or drop-down menus, as these tend to obscure text on your page. Use neutral colors that are easy to read.

Customers also really care about ingredients and what’s in what you are making. Do your best to list what each and every dish entail and denote if it is inclusive for a dinner with a dietary need: gluten free, wheat free, vegan/vegetarian to name a few.

Restaurant Mobile Apps

You can use these technologies for a wide variety of promotions and deals that will entice customers, such as menu viewing, food order placement, and even delivery.

The same survey we mentioned earlier showed that a great majority of those who responded-70%, in fact, looked for apps that delivered offers that were personalized.

Nearly half of diners in the USA enjoyed using on-demand food delivery that they access through the use of an app.

Customer loyalty programs, reviews, and other tools can also be performed through the use of an app. Most of the time, these apps are found in really huge restaurant chains, but it may behoove you to seek out a developer who may be able to create an app if your establishment has enough business, or is a regional chain, for example.

Using an app makes it way easier to attract new customers, too. After all, many people like to see what you offer first before they step inside. Be sure that if you do develop an app, you keep it clean and uncluttered.

Reward the customer when they open the app with a discount or free item once a dollar amount is reached. Engagement options are virtually limitless with mobile apps.

Restaurant Social Media

Here is a huge opportunity to connect with your customers using a method they already know about. The chances for you to interact with your clientele are numerous, and there are a few different and great ideas you can use to get your brand off the ground and into the heads of the people you want to bring in.

For starters, ask some questions. Show you really care about what people think. Occasionally inviting your diners to provide feedback might be a little scary, but you are able to tap into what your consumers are thinking and see where their minds are when they think about your establishment.

In this manner, you can find out ways to improve your operation and foster brand loyalty at the same time.

You can ask fun questions like:

  • What do you love about eating out?
  • What’s your favorite drink?
  • What charity should we sponsor?

You can also use Social Media to create a hub of information for your guests. Post news about your establishment, talk about specials and post photos of your new and tasty meals.

People will eventually see it as a place to get information and continue to come back as a means of finding out what’s new.

Chatbots for Your Restaurant

Chatbots are becoming pretty mainstream when it comes to the industry. They offer answers to all the basic questions without being super intrusive to customers.

They are designed to interact with customers in a way that is both meaningful and helpful, and they can be integrated with a variety of interfaces like Facebook, Telegram or Slack.

Customer retention and loyalty are critical to the solvency of a business, especially ones that are based in hospitality and/or service.

Therefore, it is necessary that you exceed all expectations especially when you are talking about customer service. When it comes to ordering some items, making a reservation, or even asking about ingredients, it is nearly impossible to make every customer happy which can give a negative image to your restaurant’s brand.

But using a chatbot means customers don’t have to make a call to the establishment. They can simply talk to an AI bot which can be programmed to make reservations, answer basic questions, order food and then takes the payment for said food.

This frees up your staff to focus all their attention on the customers already inside your restaurant. Plus, chatbots never close and work around the clock.

Augmented Reality in Restaurants

Imagine if your customers were able to project an image of a meal you create using their smart device.

That burger, sandwich, cupcake or steak might look pretty appetizing and entice them to order.

That’s what’s currently happening at Magnolia Bakery in New York, where customers can check out the catering menu by projecting virtual images of the pastries offered via their mobile devices. It has proved to be very popular.

This tech is making its rounds, and soon you might see more than a few hungry customers staring at their devices, visualizing what they would like to eat.

Large corporations like Coca Cola and even regional chains like Bareburger in NYC have paired up with AI companies to bring a new experience to customers and get them interested in what’s offered.

Put the Power in Their Hands

Touchscreen tablet menus are a huge hit with young customers, especially those aged 24-35. One study by Accenture Loyalty found that over half of customers in that age bracket are more loyal to brands that were letting them create something that was unique and tailored to their individual needs.

Tablet menus are indeed great. You can make it very easy for customers to create and customize just what they want to eat with just a few easy taps and clicks.

And unlike printed menus, you can utilize an endless amount of space to make your words count and tell diners all they need to know.

Some technology even includes prompts that offer popular add-on products and upsells to customers for different menu items.

Tablet menus are designed to stay right at the table while your customer dines. When they want another app or desire another drink, all that has to be done is touching the “reorder” button instead of having to wait for a server to come by again.

Plus, this method is great if your establishment tends to be rather noisy or features live music.

Simplifying Payment Experience

One great way to engage guests is to make their payment experience a breeze. The vast majority of guests desire a payment experience that is smooth and lacks any sort of friction. But only a few of us have the tech to make it happen. What can we do to change this and in turn boost brand loyalty?

The vast majority of guests desire a payment experience that is smooth and lacks any sort of friction.

Your POS system is a big factor here. If you have upgraded to an mPOS, you are able to process card payments right at the table as well as NFC mobile or “contactless” methods of payment. By using a mobile POS, you can scan a diner’s smartphone and take their Apple Pay or Samsung Pay to settle the bill.

Having this great tech can also help you make the payment process go a lot faster. If a guest is ready to leave, they really hate waiting around to get their check and then wait for the server to come back with their credit or debit card.

Tablet menus are great because guests can simply pull up the bill, pay at the table, tip their server and leave on their own terms, which is a huge win.

Text Messages

We shall close this article regarding popular restaurant technologies that build brand loyalty by going back to the basics and talking about text messages.

Text messages are great for a variety of reasons. You can get customers to sign up for text alerts by offering them a free product for signing up. By sending them a coupon that gives them a free app, dessert or other coupons, you increase the chance they will come back.

The chain Texas Roadhouse, for instance, garnered over 60,000 subscribers to its mobile subscription list over a year thanks to its loyalty calls to actions, says Retail Dive.

In Closing

What do you think? What technologies will build brand loyalty? Email us your thoughts (info@longitudebranding.com) or ask us a question – we’d love to hear from you!

9 Restaurant Trends to Be Ready for in 2019

Restaurateurs are looking forward to the upcoming release of “What’s Hot Culinary Forecast 2019” from the National Restaurant Association (NRA). The research is a detailed report from the annual survey of the American Culinary Federation membership. The survey is intended as an attempt to guide top menu trends each year. However, when it comes to the holistic restaurant strategy, there are many other things restauranteurs should also be watching for in 2019. This article will briefly explore 9 restaurant trends expected to be in play for the upcoming year.

The trends highlighted in this article are developments which were started this year. They provide a general direction which consumers are headed with their purchasing decisions. While there are many important trends that are top of mind for the industry year after year, such as food safety and waste reduction, the trends in this article are related to what consumers expect in their restaurant experience.

1. Fast Casual

Fast-casual dining is most commonly found in the United States. Such services do not offer table service and are found to be moderately priced right between fine dining and fast food. Fast-casual is on the rise because the food at these types of establishments is typically a higher quality than fast food with less frozen or processed ingredients. Consumers perceive such restaurants as a healthier option for their families when they are choosing to eat out.

2. Order Ahead – Quick Service Restaurant

According to the NRA’s research (2018), a quarter of consumers say that technology plays a role in selecting a restaurant. In addition, technology is a core factor in the order ahead or Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) setting. Consumers are continuing with the trend of turning to their mobile devices on the go. The order ahead technology has been well adopted by companies like Starbucks, Dominos, Dunkin Brands, and many others. While the adoption of ordering ahead is popular to consumers, it comes with challenges for the restaurant. Considerations for restaurants according to the QSR magazine (2018) are issues with the payment experience and vulnerability to fraud. Quick service restaurants who are turning to e-commerce must consider their payment strategies and fraud protection to avoid losses.

3. Kiosk Ordering & Restaurant Tech

Kiosk ordering is another play from the advancing technology in the restaurant space. While the idea of kiosk ordering is similar to order ahead apps mentioned above, actual physical kiosks are proving to be a value-add to restaurants into 2019. McDonald’s has been one of the early adopters of this kiosk strategy. According to their CEO in an interview on CNBC earlier this year, Steve Easterbrook told CNBC that “if people want to dwell, have a little bit more time, they can go to a self-order kiosk, they can browse through the menu…and perhaps customize the food to their liking.” Kiosk ordering has become a natural way for consumers to get what they want through a computer interface they use every day.

Even limited and full-service restaurants are integrating the kiosk experience into their operations with handheld tablet menus. These tablets tap into another key 2019 restaurant technology trend: self-payment.

In fact, a recent survey by TSYS found that 79% of today’s customers want restaurants to offer tableside payment because of the convenience factor and extra layer of financial data security (the customer’s credit card never leaves the table).

(For more ideas regarding upcoming restaurant tech trends for 2019 check out this webinar with Buzztime and Seven Rooms)

4. Alternative Foods

Food swapping or alternative food ingredient options will be an ongoing trend into 2019. Consumers are interested more than ever in their health and weight. As a result of weight loss marketing of programs like that of Paleo, Keto diets and others, consumers are switching foods on the menu. For example, they might ask for a lettuce wrapped sandwich rather than the bun or fresh zucchini noodles rather than pasta. Adopting the alternative food mindset allows restaurant brands to attract consumers who want the food the way they want to eat it.

5. Vegan Movement

It is not surprising that the vegetarian and vegan movement continues as a 2019 trend. The movement is growing and not going away anytime soon. With the continued focus on health, climate, and animal welfare this movement has traction. As the result of how these consumers work, restaurants should have a couple of options on their menu for vegans; however, truly passionate vegans and vegetarians tend to flock to restaurants that cater to their choices in food as a lifestyle commitment. If you try to offer vegan options as well as mainstream menu items, you’ll probably find little success in attracting the vegan audience.

6. Simple Foods

Restaurants should have menu options that clearly offer simple ingredients. Simple menus that are easy to understand and ingredients that are not too complex can attract consumers. While the meal might not really be a healthier option than your current menu description, it is perceived better if the ingredients are common names and easy to obtain outside of your restaurant. This trend is more of a marketing and positioning trend than one of the actual changes in the food you offer.

7. On-site Farming

On-site farming is becoming more and more common. As such, it made it to this 2019 restaurant trends list. However, most on-site farming restaurants are only offering garden produce in their restaurants. On-site farming can be an effective strategy for vegan and vegetarian establishments who offer fine dining. Where all of the ingredients are readily available, and consumers can see how they are treated, a premium price can be achieved to match the added expense. Again, a strategy for emphasis on quality selection.

8. Farm to Table

Farm to table is somewhat similar to the trend of on-site farming above; however, it includes dairy and proteins such as red meats, fish, and poultry as farms are off-site. Farm to table is a trend common in urban environments where the farms are not too far away from town. This strategy is an effective marketing strategy to attract consumers who care about quality and fresh ingredients. The reality is that all consumers really want the freshest and best food available at a fair price. Making sure your products are never frozen gives the consumer a peace of mind that their meal will be of the highest quality.

9. Wood Heat

Wood heat isn’t really much more than an alternative heat source. However, this trend is one that we are seeing more and more of. It started out in the United States with brick ovens being used by many pizza parlors. Wood heat is a heat source that takes time and work to create. As the result, consumers perceive this effort and translate it into quality. Wood heat can often also enhance the taste of the food being cooked from the smoke generated during the cooking process. While wood heat is a likely trend in 2019, it isn’t one that every restaurant in the country can adopt.

Trends are a challenge to predict as they can change rapidly due to the influence of new technology or techniques. However, these trends are the general direction consumers are guiding restaurants today and into 2019. It is clear that consumers are seeking restaurants that offer options that are generally easy to order, healthy, and fresh. Be sure your restaurant’s core message and branding are aligned to deliver on any of these three categories. The most important strategy; however, is to deliver the restaurant experience that your specific consumers want.

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