Lessons From 25 Years of HT

We’re taking a look back at HT’s history to gather some key takeaways for the coming year and beyond.
Robert Firpo-Cappiello
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Hospitality Technology magazine was launched 25 years ago with the goal of delivering fresh business intelligence and insights to hotel and restaurant operators and IT professionals. Happy birthday to us!

While much has changed since 1997 — when Motorola was touting what it called “personal cell phones,” AOL was offering subscribers “unlimited internet use,” and IBM’s Deep Blue made headlines when it vanquished chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov — we can’t help but notice that the seeds of today’s digital transformation were already sprouting. 

We also note that, amid constant change, the fundamentals of hospitality — people serving people — remain the same.

The Rapid Evolution of Technology

The first big game changer that drew a clear line between “before” and “after” for hotel and restaurant tech was the advent of the smartphone.

“Fifteen years ago when the first iPhone was released, a tidal wave of new consumer behavior began to take shape, massively influencing the way restaurants operate and serve food,” says Angela Diffly, Co-Founder, Restaurant Technology Network.

QSR Magazine Names RTN Co-Founder A ‘Digital Disruptor’

“The introduction and widespread adoption of the smartphone allowed customers to search, find, order and review all from their personal device. Restaurants need to meet consumers where they are,” notes Anna Wolfe, HT’s Senior Editor - Restaurants.

In addition to changing the way restaurant guests interact with brands, the smartphone has had a significant impact on hotels as well. “Today, when hoteliers discuss the need to upgrade their guest’s mobile experience, they’re referring to a mobile app or mobile website that has been so well designed and integrated with backend systems, that guests never need to speak with a hotel associate (unless they want to) because check-in, requesting sundries, asking what the pool hours are, making spa reservations, ordering room-service, purchasing items at the grab-and-go market, and more can all be done via one’s mobile device,” says Michal Christine Escobar, HT’s Senior Editor - Hotels.

The second seismic shift in hotel and restaurant technology, of course, was more recent. “Fast forward to a few years ago, when the pandemic’s radical shift turned tech into lifeblood, sustaining restaurants in ways never before imaginable. Digital native lightning adoption, paired with mind-boggling tech innovation, has fueled big wins for restaurants,” notes Diffly.

Aligning Tech Budgets With Brand Initiatives and Values

What we’re seeing now in response to the rise of mobility and automation is a need to align technology budgets with a brand’s initiatives and core values — what McKinsey has called “tech-enabled business leadership.” 

Whether it’s the adoption of robots for hosting, seating, and co-automating at Chili’s (as Wade Allen, Senior VP, Head of Innovation, Brinker International, shared at MURTEC), or hotels substantially increasing their rates of adoption of customer-empowering tech such as mobile reservations, mobile check-in/out, mobile room key, and check-in/out via kiosk (as reported in HT’s 2023 Lodging Technology Study, debuting later this week), hospitality brands are not simply chasing shiny new use cases, but deploying tech to truly deliver on their core mission.

5 Lessons for Hotel & Restaurant Operators

Here, some key takeaways from HT’s first 25 years:

Integrated management platforms— whether it’s restaurant POS or hotel PMS — are what operators especially need/want. Even amid radical technology advancement, industry standardization remains elusive. And that’s a big deal. Because without a way to integrate all this new tech, restaurants lack the ability to procure the tech they want, integrate it the way they need, and maximize investments across the enterprise,” notes Diffly. “This is why the Restaurant Technology Network (RTN) exists. It’s a long, overdue endeavor, but it’s working. Since inception just four years ago, we’ve created five restaurant industry technology standards, and countless docs to enable best practices and overall tech guidance.”

71% say the ability to integrate with other systems is driving their POS purchase decisions, according to HT’s2 2023 POS Software Trends Report.

E-commerce is just getting started. As Vadim Parizher, Vice President of Technology, Taco Bell, recently shared with HT on our webinar series, The Point, “Customers are clamoring for the mobile experience, the web experience, and ordering from wherever they are.” The e-commerce “experiment” that launched in the ‘90s has truly become the foundation of the customer relationship.

Connectivity must keep up with digital transformation. As restaurants and hotels think outside their walls, connectivity must stay consistent. “Technology has evolved to meet consumer demand, to drive efficiency inside the four walls and beyond, and to boost the bottom line. All this has paralleled the availability of robust networks,” says Wolfe.

Loyalty is more than just giving stuff away. As Skip Kimpel, Principal of Independent & SMB Consulting, New Business Development, ConStrata Technology Consulting, recently shared on an episode of The Point, brands must reimagine the concept of loyalty beyond discounts and freebies to include personalized experiences. “That’s the world we live in now. The more the restaurant knows about you, the better they can serve you. If you’re willing to share some details about yourself — your food preferences, your birthday — they can leverage that to personalize your experience.”

Cybersecurity must be at the table from the start. A challenge of digital transformation, unfortunately, is increased exposure to potential hacks and breaches. A major evolution we have observed, and welcome, is a growing understanding that cybersecurity is not simply a line item — it is a critical consideration that must be baked into the early stages of any tech initiative, so that as the initiative takes shape, so does the necessary security process.