For electric vehicle owners in British Columbia, Tim Hortons is now fueling road trips in more ways than one. The company has announced the expansion of its electric vehicle charging station pilot launched earlier this year in Oakville, Ontario, by unveiling six new charging stations at restaurants throughout British Columbia.
Tim Hortons announced the pilot in February in an effort to study the technology, its usage and opportunities.
"We have been thrilled with the results of the pilot so far. Usage of the charging station in Oakville has surpassed our expectations and we received many calls with requests to expand the pilot," said Paulo Ferreira, Senior Director, International Strategic Restaurant Design and Building Standards, Tim Hortons. "With more than 3,300 eligible restaurants across the country, we continue to look for opportunities to expand the pilot and contribute to the EV infrastructure."
The BC expansion, supported by the Province of BC's Community Charging Infrastructure Fund and Koben Systems Inc. (KSI), placed charging stations strategically in Nanaimo, Langford, North Vancouver, Burnaby, Abbotsford and Coquitlam to create paths within the province, allowing guests to travel from restaurant to restaurant strictly on electric power.
Tim Hortons offers charging stations as a courtesy to guests at six locations. As of March 31st, 2013, Tim Hortons had 4,288 system-wide restaurants, including 3,453 in Canada, 808 in the United States and 27 in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Panda Express announces the launch of Panda Rewards, its first points-based national rewards program.
It utilizes a personalized points-based system that rewards members with ten Panda Points for every dollar spent on qualifying purchases. Once 200 Panda Points have been accumulated, guests can start redeeming their favorite Panda menu items. Each month, guests' first qualified purchase will unlock a surprise Good Fortune Gift ranging from bonus points to special discounts or even free food, along with a unique digital fortune cookie message to be collected. Panda Rewards members will also receive a birthday gift of their choice.
"Sharing good fortune is an important value at Panda, and we are delighted to launch our first rewards program nationwide as a heartfelt expression of gratitude towards our loyal guests for their continued support throughout the years," said Andrea Cherng, Chief Brand Officer at Panda Express. "We look forward to engaging our guests in a playful and meaningful journey of good fortune as they collect unique prizes offering exceptional value every time they dine at Panda."
The more Panda Points members accrue, the better the rewards options. The rewards range from a free upgrade to a premium entrée, a free drink of choice to even a free Family Meal. Guests have a personalized experience to choose their preferred reward from multiple options. What's more, Panda Points do not expire unless there are no qualifying purchases in 12 months.
Panda Rewards members can earn and redeem Panda Points when ordering through the Panda Express mobile app or the PandaExpress.com website, in-store, or the drive-thru. Those ordering online that have logged in as a Panda Rewards member will automatically receive Panda Points for their purchase. For in-store and drive-thru orders, guests can easily access and present a QR code in the mobile app for a Panda associate to scan. Alternatively, guests can also enter a unique rewards code found on their receipt from an in-store order that can be entered in their account up to seven days from purchase in the app or online to earn Panda Points on that purchase.
Wendy's and Google Cloud announced an expanded partnership to pilot an artificial intelligence (AI) solution,Wendy's FreshAI. The technology has the potential to transform Wendy's drive-thru food ordering experience with Google Cloud's generative AI and large language models (LLMs) technology.
Demand for Drive-Thru
With 75 to 80 percent of Wendy's customers choosing the drive-thru as their preferred ordering channel, delivering a seamless ordering experience using AI automation can be difficult due to the complexities of menu options, special requests, and ambient noise. For example, because customers can fully customize their orders and food is prepared when ordered at Wendy's, this presents billions of possible order combinations available on the Wendy's menu, leaving room for miscommunication or incorrect orders. Google Cloud's generative AI capabilities can now bring a new automated ordering experience to the drive-thru that is intended to enhance the experience that customers, employees and franchisees expect from Wendy's. As HT reported last month, one Wendy's franchise, Wenspoke, is expanding its use of AI in the drive-thrus.
"Wendy's introduced the first modern pick-up window in the industry more than 50 years ago, and we're thrilled to continue our work with Google Cloud to bring a new wave of innovation to the drive-thru experience," said Todd Penegor, President and CEO of the Dublin, Ohio-based QSR. "Google Cloud's generative AI technology creates a huge opportunity for us to deliver a truly differentiated, faster and frictionless experience for our customers, and allows our employees to continue focusing on making great food and building relationships with fans that keep them coming back time and again."
Pilot Near HQ
In June, Wendy's plans to launch its first pilot of Google Cloud's AI technology in a Columbus, Ohio-area, Company-operated restaurant, using those learnings to inform future expansions to more Wendy's drive-thrus. The pilot will include new generative AI offerings, such as Vertex AI and more, to have conversations with customers, the ability to understand made-to-order requests and generate responses to frequently asked questions.
This will all be powered by Google's foundational LLMs that have the data from Wendy's menu, established business rules and logic for conversation guardrails, and integration with restaurant hardware and the Point of Sale system. By leveraging generative AI, Wendy's seeks to take the complexity out of the ordering process so employees can focus on serving up fast, fresh-made, quality food and exceptional service.
Today's update builds upon Google Cloud's and Wendy's long standing partnership to enhance the Wendy's restaurant experience. Since 2021, Wendy's has leveraged Google Cloud's data analytics, AI, machine learning (ML), and hybrid cloud tools to make it faster, easier, and more convenient for customers to access the brand.
Birch Chooses Mews to Manage Its Multiple Revenue Streams
Mews has been chosen by Birch to propel their lifestyle brand into the future.
With two stylish properties immersed in green spaces just outside London, Birch identify less as hotels and more as playgrounds for modern travelers to take a break from city stresses. Both properties offer membership clubs, combining wellness centers, lidos, co-working spaces, and a rich selection of daily events and activities for members and guests to enjoy.
“We were looking for a hospitality cloud that is forward-thinking, agile and willing to work with us as we evolve,” said Brian Gore, Commercial Director at Birch. “In many ways, we are a very complex product, with programming and F&B being just as important revenue streams as rooms. Mews provided a robust and accessible open API environment for us to join the dots with.”
At Birch – named Hotel of the Year 2020 by the Sunday Times – everything revolves around guests, so keeping track of customer experiences is imperative. With access to 750+ integrations in Mews Marketplace, Birch benefit from a smoother customer journey and better customer management. Their tech stack has multiple expert solutions, including the likes of Peoplevine, Sevenrooms, Ideas and SynXis.
“Birch is a great culture fit for our company – we share the values of caring about the planet and creating meaningful experiences,” said Matt Welle, CEO at Mews. “They’re a young brand with a lot of ambition, and we’re looking forward to sharing our unique take on hospitality with their ever-growing community.”
“The team at Mews has been extremely accommodating with our needs. Their incredible support team has guided us through exceptionally speedy onboarding in a matter of weeks. We felt there was always someone to answer our questions and advise us,” continued Brian Gore, Commercial Director at Birch. “The results have been spectacular: less clunky operations, with integration with other management systems resulting in a smoother booking process and fewer human errors.”
With ambitious growth plans in place, the brand will continue scaling their business quickly and dynamically using smart technology by Mews.
Seneca Resorts & Casinos Selects ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions to Enhance Property Safety and Boost Guest Check-in Convenience
ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions, a provider of advanced security technology for the hospitality industry, has been credited with increasing both guest safety and convenience with the implementation of several of its advanced technologies at Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino and Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino. Now equipped with VingCard door locks enabled with Mobile Access and supported by the latest in online-based access management, the two resort and casino locations are able to achieve the industry’s highest standard in property security while still maintaining a seamless and hassle-free stay experience for each visiting guest.
Owned and operated by Seneca Gaming Corporation, Seneca Allegany and Seneca Niagara with advanced RFID-based VingCard door locks can significantly protect the safety of guests and staff from the risks of unauthorized room access. Designed using the industry’s latest data encryption protocols, VingCard door locks can prevent guestroom keycards from being cloned which is often a tactic used by those seeking to steal valuable items or otherwise cause harm. While also created to withstand multiple forced entry attempts, VingCard locks nonetheless feature a sleek and attractive appearance that can blend in seamlessly with the interior design of the two casino resorts.
With today’s guests seeking faster and more responsive service, the presence of VingCard locks further allows both properties to provide their guests with the various benefits of Mobile Access. Using just their own personal device and without first having to wait in line at the front desk to check-in, guests staying at either location can instead gain instant and secure access to their guestrooms the very moment they wish to enter. With Mobile Access, the casino resorts can also further enhance building and guest safety thanks to the solution’s incorporation of ASSA ABLOY’s Seos credential-issuing technology. This advantage means that digital key and room number information are always delivered to guest devices using highly encrypted communication channels. The same high level encryption is again used when a guest presents their device to the appropriate door lock reader, ensuring that only those with legitimate authorization are able to gain room entry.
“Seneca Gaming Corporation always strives to provide our guests an enjoyable and relaxing stay at each of our properties. The peace of mind that comes with enhanced security is consistent with our ongoing commitment to adopting the industry’s latest capabilities in order to meet and exceed our guests’ expectations,” said Kevin Nephew, President & CEO of Seneca Gaming Corporation. “ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions has both the technology and responsive support needed to create an environment that’s always safe, using advanced solutions that enhance the overall experience at our world-class resorts.”
For both locations, VingCard locks and Mobile Access are supported by ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions’ online-based access management technology. This significantly provides casino resort staff with additional enhanced security capabilities that further minimize the likelihood or level of damage caused by a potential threat. Features include the ability to receive real-time alerts for any issues requiring immediate attention, such as a door that has been left ajar or a keycard that is being used on multiple doors in an effort to gain access. If a key is suspected of being stolen or used inappropriately, employees can instantly cancel the credential before any harm occurs. The system further features the ability to grant or block off access to specific onsite areas as needed, and by individual key or for certain types of groups. Should a security-related issue take place, staff can additionally access door lock audit trails remotely and in real-time, ensuring that they have ready access to the information they need to make informed decisions on the best course of action.
NYU SPS Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality Collaborates with Boston Consulting Group on Survey to Gauge Sentiment and Prospects for Today’s Hospitality Industry
The resulting white paper, titled “Hotel Borrowing Costs are Rising – But So Are Occupancy Rates,”projects positive outcomes based upon rising demand that will bolster key industry metrics, such as occupancy rates, average daily room rates (ADRs), and revenue per available room (RevPAR), while new construction is down to 2015 levels.
For the past three years, the Tisch Center of Hospitality and BCG have collaborated on critical research on the latest industry challenges and opportunities. Leading hospitality brands and organizations have come to rely on the insights from NYU SPS/BCG collaboration to help better inform their current and future business decisions.
“We expect this year’s report will arm industry stakeholders with valuable information to help move their businesses forward,” said Sean Hennessey, associate professor at the NYU SPS Tisch Center of Hospitality and contributor to this white paper. “While inflation increases operating costs, it can also help accelerate room rate growth. Further, interest rates rise in an inflationary environment, which affects the feasibility of new construction. On balance, the profitability outlook is attractive,” added Hennessey about the survey findings.
“Uncertainty, inflationary fears, and elevated interest rates will likely be with us for a while,” said Tom McCaleb, managing director and partner at BCG “All can have a chilling effect on hospitality investment. Despite these concerns, our latest work with the Tisch Center shows that strong room demand will keep the hospitality industry an attractive investment for the foreseeable future.”
While the NYU SPS/BCG analysis is far from gloom and doom for the hospitality industry, here are a few top-line results from the survey:
Guest Demand: A Major Source of Optimism
More than 70% of survey respondents anticipate demand will at least somewhat increase by the end of 2023, and 42% expect significant increases in 2024.
Hoteliers are looking for nominal revenue increases of 4.6% to 5.1% in 2023. Those expecting a significant increase in demand anticipate revenues to rise by about 12%.
Real growth rates seem likely to exceed the rate of inflation. The revenue increases will be driven by both volume and price.
Hoteliers expect room rates to rise by 8.3% to 8.8% over the next 18 months, expanding gross margins by about six percentage points.
Interest Rates: The Biggest Threat for Investors
Even though hotel industry participants expect the inflation rate to drop below 5% by the end of 2024, they are nonetheless wary.
High-interest rates spook investors in hotels as in other commercial property sectors. In the current environment, 82% of hotel owners view the hotel industry as less attractive than other investment classes.
The industry is approaching a trigger point. A summary of recent hotel financings shows spreads topping out at 400 basis points above the secured overnight financing rate (SOFR), which itself is approaching 5%. When borrowing costs exceed 8%.
In this survey, 89% of hoteliers consider rates above 8% unacceptable for taking out a loan.
Persistent Labor Challenges Add to Investor Reticence
Prolonged staffing shortages add to investor concerns; 70% of hotel owners view the hotel industry less attractive if labor problems persist.
More than 60% of respondents reported that they are somewhat or severely short-staffed, which NYU SPS/BCG estimate costs hoteliers about seven percentage points of revenue and two points of operating margin.
More than 75% of respondents experienced modest or better labor productivity gains in the last three years and are optimistic about improving employment going forward. More than 60% expect continued improvements in 2023, and 100% expect significant improvements in 2024.
Two challenges still need to be solved in this area: the number of job openings and decreases in real earning potential for industry workers.