There has been a wait for a table just about every night since Tico, the latest restaurant along 14th Street NW, opened its doors earlier this month. The high demand is a positive sign for an establishment vying for patrons in one of the city’s newly flourishing corridors.
It also means Operations Director Steve Uhr needs to keep diners cycling through the restaurant at a steady clip. For that, Uhr turns to OpenTable, an online reservation system, that allows him to optimize seating so that as many people as possible are served throughout the evening.
Technology “is being used more frequently. There are systems that have been around for a while,” Uhr said, but “they’re more efficient now, they’re faster. They’re more affordable, so I think they’re being used more.”
Indeed, technology plays an increasing role in the day-to-day functions of restaurants, stores and hotels. Software collects reams of information about customers — what you eat, what you buy, the size of your bill — that merchants use to determine how to best serve customers and increase their profits in the process.
For evidence that retail and hospitality technology is a hot market, consider a pair of high-profile acquisitions in just the past month.
Norwalk, Conn.-based Priceline made headlines earlier this month when it revealed plans to purchase OpenTable for $2.6 billion, marking the travel Web site’s expansion into the restaurant industry.
Then last week, technology giant Oracle said it would shell out $5.3 billion for Columbia-based Micros Systems, a large provider of sales, customer service and inventory software to stores, restaurants, hotels and casinos.
The technology shifts underway at Micros in recent years demonstrate where the industry is headed. Once focused on selling computer-based sales systems, the company now offers its software on mobile devices as well. Its software is also based in the cloud, giving restaurateurs real-time access to the data it collects about their customers.
“They’re not sitting on their laurels waiting to be taken over by the competition,” said Andrew Lange, a senior associate analyst at Morningstar. “It’s something they’ve become aware of, and they’re certainly moving that direction.”
That’s in part because of the fact that up-and-comers have been clawing their way into the market. Companies that process payments on mobile devices, such as Square, have become popular with some merchants. Others, such as local players Venga and Lemur Retail, help with customer relations and inventory management, respectively.
“They [Micros] do have a secure market position, but it would be foolhardy not to recognize that there are others out there in the market,” Lange said. “They’re always aware that anything that’s readily changing, something could come along that breaks into the market.”
Software built by the D.C. start-up Venga, for example, keeps track of what individual customers order at a restaurant, how much money they spend and how frequently they dine there. That information allows restaurants, particularly high-end haunts, to learn what wine a customer prefers and that they’re a fan of the steak tartare.
“The key is actually taking that big data and making it actionable,” Venga co-founder Winston Bao Lord said. “That’s why I think you’re seeing consolidation in the industry. People realize there’s a wealth of data out there, but restaurants need you to connect a lot of different dots to provide a complete, actionable picture.”
Retailers aren’t much different, said Will Fuentes, founder of Lemur Retail. More stores are using iPads and other mobile gadgets to ring up customers or manage their shelves, but the device alone doesn’t provide much benefit, he said.
“Mobile [point-of-sale systems] in and of itself offers some interesting information about the customer, but stand-alone it isn’t enough to justify the investment that’s being made,” Fuentes said. “You’re starting to see a lot more analytical tools being layered on top of the mobile” point-of-service.
Lemur Retail, for example, tracks the items customers are interested in and the price they’re willing to pay, then feeds that information back to the retailer. They can then opt to run a promotion or stock-up on an in-demand item.
Back at Tico on 14th Street NW, Uhr uses the restaurant’s Micros point-of-sale system to track which entrees are most popular or should be cut from the menu, as well as which servers bring in the biggest checks, turn tables over the fastest or sell the most desserts.
Each of those data points, Uhr said, has a direct impact on the bottom line.
“You can conclude a lot from your technology,” he said.