Interview: Mike Sackman, CIO of pub and restaurant operator Mitchells & Butlers...
...that we are about implementing change, not about installing technology," Sackman adds. "My role spans change and technology so the biggest challenge is not necessarily the deployment of technology, it's deciding what order and ensuring we deliver a return on that investment - but mainly prioritising where the investment should go."
The biggest priority on the customer-facing side of M&B's business right now is speeding up payments, according to the CIO. The company has just completed an upgrade to its till systems but the drive for faster payments doesn't stop there. M&B is looking to deploy contactless technology in its bar-led businesses in the near future, says Sackman.
"Our payment project will replace our current stand-alone card payment devices with an integrated system which will be enabled for contactless, particularly for bar payment," he says. Contactless is a better fit for M&B's bar-led businesses, rather than its restaurants, owing to the relatively small £15 transaction limit.
"On a busy evening in an O'Neill's or one of the Nicholson's pubs you can be queuing to order another drink and [being able to pay quickly is] obviously important for us in terms of revenue and additional sales but also from the guests' experience so we see contactless being important to us," he says. "Probably over the next six to 12 months we'll start to implement that across particularly bar-led businesses, but also most of our bar/restaurant businesses where there's a separate bar area."
In addition to faster customer payments, the company has a project to upgrade its session management - looking at order capture, and table management and utilisation - with the aim of maximising cover turn and ensuring customers who arrive to eat can be seated quickly. Online booking is already deployed for around half of M&B's restaurant brands, according to the CIO, but work is ongoing to integrate table management at individual sites with its online booking systems.
Next on Sackman's menu will be integrating takeaway food into these online booking systems - "that will be key," he says - and helping to hammer out a company-wide strategy on customer wi-fi.
"Customer wi-fi, particularly in some of our metropolitan brands, will become absolutely fundamental to the offer," he says. "I think free wi-fi is the future and the only debate is, is it free all day or is it free for [part of the day]? That's the discussion different retailers and different coffee shop businesses are trialling - you can see that in the high street now. We're obviously watching that and working out what the best offer will be, but it might well be different in different brands."
That's another juggling act for Sackman - ensuring cost reductions and tech-enabled change don't adversely impact the brand integrity of M&B's different businesses. Something that flies in an urban All Bar One might fall flat in a suburban Toby Carvery, for instance.
"The biggest challenge we have is...