The State of IoT in Hospitality
With more and more individuals adopting connected devices at home, what consumers expect to be a part of the guest experience at hotels and restaurants has changed dramatically. Data reveals that hotel operators recognize this fact as 18% profess they are planning rollouts and upgrades to IoT platforms, double what it was in 2017, according to Hospitality Technology’s 2018 Lodging Technology Study. When restaurant operators were asked to identify the top five next-generation technologies that will have an impact, 68% of overall respondents and 80% of digital leaders put Internet of Things (IoT) innovation at the top of the list. Restaurant operators are not clamoring quite as much to put their IT strategy eggs into the IoT basket with 9% having IoT as part of their innovation agenda for 2018, according to HT’s 2018 Restaurant Technology Study.
Overall, data indicates that while hotels and restaurants realize IoT is the technology of the near future, they aren’t quite sure how to implement it in practical ways. To help operators better understand the possibilities IoT affords, this article highlights common business problem areas for both hotels and restaurants and offers specific ways in which IoT technology could solve them.
Problem: Inefficient Energy Use
Solution: When at home, consumers are often cost-conscious of utilities. Unfortunately, many hotel guests are not as careful — often leaving lights on, the television running, and the air conditioning blasting while they are gone for the day. However, IoT solutions are helping hoteliers to monitor and control guestroom utilities.
Telkonet (www.telkonet.com) offers wireless thermostats that can detect when a room is occupied and when it is empty. As soon as a guest checks in, the EcoSmart system will prompt the HVAC unit to begin heating or cooling the room to achieve the indoor environment selected by the property. When a guest checks out, the EcoSmart system prompts the HVAC unit to enter a deep setback mode with an extended recovery time, offering considerable energy savings. Additionally, the thermostat uses sensors and an algorithm to determine if a hotel room is occupied. If it determines the room is unoccupied it will adjust to a more energy efficient temperature. Once a guest returns to the room, it will automatically begin heating or cooling the room to the guest’s set preference.
Depending on the provider, implementing an in-room controls solution can reduce energy costs by 25-30% annually, according to data from Evolve Controls (www.evolvecontrols.com). Hotels also often need to control utility use — especially lighting — throughout the entire hotel, not just the guest room. When hotels are able to implement smart lighting solutions that partner with IoT technology, hoteliers benefit with increased building efficiency and performance. Legrand’s (www.legrand.us) Wattstopper Wireless DLM platform offers products such as dimming room controllers and battery-powered switches and sensors that feature app-based Bluetooth commissioning. This allows a facilities manager to control a property’s lights either in-person or remotely from a mobile app. IoT lighting also allows hoteliers access to data that helps them to run their building successfully and profitably.
Energy consumption is also important to restaurants. According to George Orlin, COO, Intelligent Transactions Limited (https://intelligenttransactions.com), operators often show up in the morning and turn on all of the kitchen appliances at once. The simultaneous activation of a large number of appliances causes a power spike in the morning. Most power utility providers charge commercial accounts based on peak utilization — so when operators turn on all of their appliances at once, the power bill remains at that peak rate for the entire day.
“IoT-enabled appliances could really solve long-standing issues like this by bringing autonomy to the kitchens of hotels and restaurants; instead of bringing the entire kitchen to life at once, it can be automatically ‘phased’ on over the course of an hour before the operators arrive,” Orlin explains.
Problem: Operational Inefficiencies
Solution: Diners are quick to pick up on inefficient back-of-house operations when it impacts service. IoT technology can help restaurants alleviate such problems. Eatsa (www.eatsa.com), a fast casual restaurant chain based in San Francisco, uses IoT technology to track the life cycle of an order. From order placement, to which prep stations it passed through, to when the customer picked up the order, Eatsa knows exactly what happened with that meal.
“The benefits of this IoT enabled system include the ability for a restaurant to analyze operational workflow efficiencies, diagnose and remediate inefficiencies, dynamically expand production capacity, predict order volumes and ingredient inventory needs, give consumers precise information about their order status, and ensure orders don’t sit too long before they’re picked up, which improves food quality consistency and reduces food safety risks,” states Tim Young, CEO, Eatsa.
Additionally, this automated model results in high volume throughput — up to 500 orders per hour — at a labor cost of 20% of revenue with just four assembly stations, he adds.
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit (www.dickeys.com), partnered with iOLAP (https://iolap.com), a big-data and advanced-analytics consultant group, to use voice-command technology to improve restaurant operations. Using an Alexa Echo Dot, the technology has been customized to keep track of key business metrics, supply chain information, daily tasks, sales numbers and even specifics on how long a brisket has been in the smoker and its current temperature, says Laura Rea Dickey, CEO, Dickey’s Barbecue.
“Imagine having barbecue sauce smeared across your screen everyday when you are trying to check sales or confirming what shipment you have coming in,” Dickey says. “With voice-enabled technology in the restaurant industry, it eliminates the hassle of going to a computer, tablet or phone.”
Kitchen automation is another important use case of IoT technology within restaurants, says Orlin. One of Orlin’s restaurant clients used IoT tech to improve holding bin technology.
“Typically holding bins play a tone or flash when the timer expires, telling the kitchen crew to replace the contents of the bin,” Orlin explains. “However, there are many opportunities for a timer alert to be lost or ignored amongst the other sounds of the kitchen. With connected holding bins, the holding bin was able to send notifications to the POS, KDS screens, crew tablets, and other devices ensuring that the notification was not missed. Additionally, holding bin data could be tracked and reported on for analysis above store.”
In December 2017, Taco John’s (www.tacojohns.com) announced it was partnering with SmartSense by Digi (https://www.smartsense.co) to implement automated food temperature monitoring and task logging. The company implemented handheld probes, wireless sensors, gateways and software that allows temperature data and tasks to be monitored, logged and retrieved. Additionally, the solutions offer an open API for integration into back-office systems. The technology also modernizes the manual red book log of paper checklists so managers can focus more of their time on food quality and the guest experience.
Problem: Workforce Inefficiencies
Solution: The hospitality industry is often beleaguered by workforce woes — from the high costs of labor to turnover and often a lack of skilled labor. Plus, the need for efficiency in operations, training, communications and monitoring is crucial. IoT devices can help solve in all these areas. Viceroy Hotel Group (www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com) found a way to improve staff communication using wearable technology. Staff members at the Viceroy L’ermitage in Beverly Hills have been outfitted with a Samsung (www.samsungsds.com) Gear watch containing the ALICE (www.aliceplatform.com) application. When a guest request or urgent need arises (i.e. towel delivery, broken toilet, luggage pickup), the department’s employees receive silent vibration alerts via the smartwatch on their wrist, says Darren Clark, Vice President, Global Technology, Viceroy Hotels. The appropriate employee can respond to and accept the task with a tap of the smartwatch, informing staff that someone is attending to the guest. Managers can efficiently track tasks in real-time until service is completed.
“On average, it took three to four minutes for employees to receive and respond to a request, but now with the smartwatch it’s only 60 seconds on average to get the request,” Clark adds. “It’s a big improvement on response times.”
In the near future, Viceroy Hotels hopes to integrate push-to-talk voice communication into the watch so that employees can communicate via a small Bluetooth earbud which will eliminate the need for them to carry bulky radios and also reduce overall CAPEX costs for the property.
Restaurants can also use IoT technology to improve workforce efficiencies.
“From an operational standpoint, IoT can be immensely useful in tracking and better determining staffing needs and training,” Young says. “If a prep line is backed up and in need of more staff, that can be easily determined through IoT. If a staff member requires additional training, that can be detected through monitoring of a number of elements in the entire order experience.”
Problem: Impersonal Guest Experience
Solution: Bill Kreutzmann, drummer for the Grateful Dead, is credited with saying: “No matter how nice a hotel is, it’s not home.” These days, however, hoteliers are doing everything in their power to ensure that the guest experience is exactly the same as home, and perhaps even better.
For example, guests expect hotel rooms to offer the same wireless casting, content streaming and voice control functionality commonly found in their own home, Hotel Internet Services (HIS, www.hotelwifi.com) notes. Hoteliers who don’t act to include these IoT technologies risk lower satisfaction rates and the potential of appearing to be outdated and out of touch with evolving guest needs.
Orchard Hotels of San Francisco (www.theorchardhotels.com) recently partnered with HIS to install its BeyondTV platform.
“Our decision to select HIS is also based on the company’s ability to enhance and offer a unique guest experience with BeyondTV, a platform that allows our guests to directly cast their content onto guestroom televisions while safeguarding their data privacy,” says Pablo Barruti, General Manager for Orchard Hotels of San Francisco, in a press release. “With BeyondTV’s added ability to integrate with Alexa, we are even able to address the industry’s growing demand for voice-based solution control.”
According to HIS, its BeyondTV platform can also be used to control the lighting, temperature and a multitude of other amenities in the guestroom via voice control.
“IoT can help personalize and improve guest experience to a huge extent,” says Siva Kantamneni, principal of Travel, Hospitality & Services, Deloitte (www2.deloitte.com). “A room that greets you, responds to your commands and can be controlled by a smart device always provides customers with a ‘feel-good factor.’”
When guests have a personalized guest experience, hotels will often find it leads to enhanced customer satisfaction, repeat business, and lowered cost of customer acquisition, he adds.
One IoT device that takes personalization to the next level is Roxy (www.roxydevice.com), a speech-enabled device that provides fully customizable in-room concierge services. Hotel guests often want staff recommendations when it comes to places to visit or eat, reports Nick Pearson, General Manager, Jupiter NEXT (https://jupiterhotel.com). Roxy can be customized and programmed to provide staff recommendations allowing it to become “a much more personal and powerful tool than traditional voice command technology,” Pearson states. “Nobody wants to know what Google thinks they should do; they want to know what the people who live and work in the neighborhood want to do.”
Proxce (www.proxce.com), a rules-based SaaS, says it can help hotels offer guests personalized experiences such as automatically checking in guests and downloading a mobile key to their phone when they enter the hotel lobby or triggering a message to the valet concierge when they leave their room so a car is ready by the time they reach the lobby.
Chinmai Sharma, EVP and Chief Revenue Officer, TAJ Hotels (www.tajhotels.com) partnered with Proxce not only to improve the guest experience but to make the hotel app more persistent in the guest’s phone, especially among loyalty members.
“No technology is ever a replacement for delivering great hospitality,” Sharma adds. “However ... enhanced guest experience promises to boost guest loyalty and add ancillary revenue.”