“One of the biggest challenges with digitalisation? Involving the employees and companies and making the processes available to everyone”, explains Jürgen Kirchherr, President of the hotel and restaurant association DEHOGA Baden-Württemberg. At the Intergastra Round Table Media Day, which took place this year for the second time in Stuttgart and where industry experts from the hotel sector, gastronomy and community catering met various journalists, process optimisation through digitalisation was one of five intensively discussed topics.
The topic of digitalisation is more topical than ever – this applies to gastronomy and the hotel sector as well as other industries. Ultimately, potential should be exhausted and present-day challenges overcome in an optimal way. But what exactly is digitalisation in the hospitality sector, and how can digital solutions be implemented so that not only the manager but also the employees are behind it?
The human factor plays a crucial role
For many people digitalisation is the same as rationalisation. When you hear that your company is to invest more in digital solutions, there is often the fear of losing your job. In times of skills shortages and the demographic change digitalisation offers many opportunities and customised solutions to optimise operational processes in gastronomy and the hotel sector. “For me digitalisation is not synonymous with automation or rationalisation“, explains Andreas Müller, who as President of the Adler am Schloss Group for more than 15 years is dedicated to digitalisation with high-quality event catering and food. “It is more about reducing the workload of skilled employees so they can concentrate more on their actual tasks.” For example, an automated temperature control in the cold-storage rooms means chefs have more time to be creative at the stove.
But how can processes be implemented so that nobody fears for their jobs?
A key issue: Employees have to be led and explained the benefits of digitalisation. “This applies particularly to the generations who are not digital natives and possibly have certain reservations or fears about the topic”, explains Jürgen Kirchherr.
“Companies should start with projects where the employees clearly recognise the benefit”, adds Andreas Müller. A slow familiarisation process and participation rights of the employees are the ingredients for successful implementation of digital concepts. If a common level of acceptance is reached first, the systems can be adapted according to the current needs. “My employees are constantly developing the topic of digitalisation with me, meaning everyone is actively involved. We are continuously exchanging information and ideas about how areas can be optimised, developed and linked”, adds Müller.
Proper information via trade fairs, associations and media
Many restaurant owners and hoteliers have a problem with the long-term investment in and implementation of digitalisation. “The most common problems are the uncertainty due to the constantly changing legal situation, investment uncertainty, tampering and data misuse and the generally impersonal and often unclear vendor situation”, states Jürgen Kirchherr. There is a significant need for explanation on the different opportunities of the complex topic of digitalisation. “Many companies are constantly looking for the perfect and individual tool, but have problems obtaining an overview with the inundated offer of niche products”, explains Andreas Müller. Here associations, specialist media and trade fairs such as Intergastra are all asked to provide the companies with the relevant information. “It is about creating network platforms and presenting application examples from practice. Especially for new start-ups from the digital industry Intergastra offers a wonderful opportunity to showcase oneself”, adds Markus Tischberger, Project Manager of Intergastra. For Andreas Müller, Intergastra serves primarily as a platform and catalyst within the framework of which providers showcase themselves, one becomes acquainted with new products on the market and has the opportunity to exchange experiences.
Associations are also a reliable source of information for companies planning on investing in digital solutions. “I am happy to obtain all information from the market, but I prefer to get the final blessing from colleagues”, states Müller. “Therefore, I also see the associations as being responsible for providing information about offers and helping with best practice examples.” Dehoga is happy to accompany the digital channels in companies and within the framework of the project “Digital hospitality” has developed digitalisation guidelines. “A digital pilot comes to the company and addresses precisely where the company is. The project is a quick-start package in the digitalisation area and shows possibilities for improvement and solutions”, explains Daniel Ohl from Dehoga.
Individual solutions for digitalisation in the hospitality sector
Digitalisation aims to find the right tools for individual needs. “Every employer or business person must look very carefully at what suits their company and focus on different questions. Example: Where are the most working hours spent and how can I reduce the working hours with the help of digital approaches?”, explains Andreas Müller. Digitalisation in gastronomy and the hotel sector differs from other industries thanks to the proximity to the guest. When implementing the concept it is particularly important how the result is received by the guest. “Well-conceived ideas and concepts are not always well implemented, and in the worst case non-functioning digital solutions can alienate guests”, states Andreas Müller. For example, non-intuitively designed or inoperative automated check-in services or digital menu cards that do not work as promised lead to dissatisfaction.
The personal touch is and remains crucial in the gastronomy and hotel sector.
“Interaction is extremely important. Therefore, our special challenge is despite digitalisation to maintain the individuality and personal touch at a high level”, adds Andreas Müller. “In our field there are definitely areas that do not have to be completely ‘digitalised’ in order to optimise them. It depends on the operational concept. The right combination has to be found”, summarises Jürgen Kirchherr.