How technology is changing foodservice at large events – 5 key learnings

Ollie Brand
Contract catering

The third event in our 2023 series of hospitality roundtable discussions focused on the evolving role of technology in foodservice provision for large events and stadia. Read the 5 key takeaways.

We continue to learn and gather great industry insight from our hospitality breakfast sessions. In the recent third event in our series of roundtable discussions, we focused on the evolving role of technology in foodservice provision for large events and stadia. We were joined by industry heavyweights Kevin Watson, MD of Amadeus, and Adam Elliott, Consultant currently with Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, both driving the conversation sharing their powerful insights along the way.

The forum provided an enlightening exploration of how technology can – and already is - redefining service and operations in this sector. This blog summarises the 5 key takeaways:

1. The appetite for technology is real A resounding sentiment shared at the roundtable was the readiness, even eagerness, for technology adoption. The key, however, is to avoid 'tech for tech’s sake'. Many shared compelling tales of how implementing front-of-house and back-of-house solutions significantly streamlined their operations. Those who've reaped the benefits of tech are hungry for more. However, there's a consensus that technology providers now need to catch up, making cutting-edge solutions more accessible and affordable.

2. A game of margins and incremental improvement The thrust of the conversation was not about 'big-bang' innovations or how AI might replace humans. Instead, it was about the small, incremental improvements that technology offers to improve efficiency, save costs, and ultimately drive-up revenues. The concept of squeezing out that extra one percent here, saving a few hours there, all culminated in a realisation that technology, in the right context, can be a game-changer in driving these much desired margin and operational improvements. Technology shines when it informs strategic decisions and eliminates minor, everyday ones.

3. Front of house suitability for experience is key While the back-of-house tech solutions are incredibly important, the discussion also addressed the delicate balancing act required when considering customer-facing tech solutions. The consensus was clear: any technology adopted should enhance the customer experience, not detract from it. Be it digital screens, self-service kiosks, or mobile apps, the key is understanding your customers' preferences and striking a balance between speed, convenience, and that all-important human touch. The stark example is for those waiting in the queue for a pie and pint at a match, versus people who are sitting down for a glass of wine in a champagne bar – the tech required is completely dependent on the service offering.

4. Education is lacking and people buy-in is key for progression The fundamental blocker to progression happens when companies do not embrace a people first operational strategy. However, people who are key to tech adoption and success. The discussion revealed a noticeable gap in tech understanding and insight into its full potential. A repeated theme was the view of 'tech for tech's sake' and the under-utilisation of the full capabilities of existing systems – mainly due to lack of understanding, training or time (or a blend of all three). As the discussion highlighted, education is crucial. The technology is only as good as the people who use it, and without a full understanding, its potential benefits remain untapped. To really get the most out of technology, both end-users and decision-makers need to understand what they want it to achieve, what it can actually do and how it can add value. The front-line users need to be educated and trained on how their roles are evolving to become more impactful, as it the tech should be there to support and facilitate them - to make their lives easier.

5. The need to bring it all together through shared best practice The conversation naturally gravitated towards the necessity of comprehensive solutions that can join together disparate data points to provide the business with a cohesive, holistic operational view. In addition, the power of shared best practice emerged as a pivotal theme.

As echoed by several participants, the industry can greatly benefit from more cross-industry collaboration, exchanging ideas, experiences and learning about successful tech implementation. This is a win-win approach where the outcomes have the potential to be greater than the sum of the parts, benefiting all operators and clients alike.

The knowledge that some companies had significantly reduced their costs, improved customer service, or enhanced operational efficiency through innovative use of technology sparked a collective interest. The industry needs more of these real world examples that can demonstrate the art of the possible. Such a focus will not just help steer the core focus of operators towards purposeful progression, in line with the focus of their respective businesses, but will truly help raise the bar for all.

It was also recognised that a shared understanding could avoid the pitfalls of 'tech for tech's sake' (third mention, this could not be emphasised enough!), where technology is adopted without a full understanding of its potential benefits or relevance to the specific needs of the business.

The roundtable concluded with a clear consensus: the future of the industry will be shaped not just by embracing technology, but by collaborating, sharing, and learning from each other. This collective wisdom, born out of real-world experiences, will tap into the industry-wide skill set, helping make more informed decisions, utilising technology to its fullest potential, and ultimately driving the industry forward and fully embracing the digital age.