Following the launch of the Digital Leisure & Hospitality Innovations 2017 Report (sponsored by Webloyalty) a series of Q&A’s with the leading figures behind some of the key entries in the report are being published.
Here is a Q&A with Noel Hunwick, co-founder of Inamo, which is placed at number 19 in the report.
1.How did the original idea come about?
My business partner Danny and I happened to sit next to each other at a friend’s birthday in a restaurant 12 years ago, and were really struggling to catch a waiter’s attention for another drink, or to get the bill. We wanted to buy more and give the establishment our money but they weren’t letting us. Danny already had in mind ways of integrating technology seamlessly into the dining experience, and we brainstormed it at the time and from that point on worked on it together. We thought: “Wouldn’t it be great to reach down, touch the table, and another drink would arrive…?” and be able to request the bill when you’re ready to leave. We were very aware from the start, however, that the food is king in any restaurant, and that it was the key to getting this right.
We wanted to give guests control, and so from this initial concept Danny and I created the E-Table™ technology ourselves, having founded the company in late 2005. We opened Inamo Restaurant in 2008 to prove our concept, and our second restaurant Inamo St James in December 2010, which relocated to Covent Garden in January 2016, and we opened Inamo Camden in December 2016. Lee Skinner joined the company as CEO in January 2015 bringing a wealth of operational and commercial experience with Danny moving to be CEO of our sister company Ordamo, which focuses on technological development of restaurant ordering systems.
2.What has been the level of customer use of the technology and what are the key ways they are using it?
It’s entirely optional if you use the technology or not from a guest point of view. The good news for us is that 99.99% of guests do wish to engage with our technology, and indeed have found that to be a core reason for making their initial reservation.
We also have technology that is on the one hand simple and entertaining (so guests have games to play, or the ability to draw on the table, etc, while you wait for your food to arrive), and on the other hand it is highly functional, making it easier for guests to order what they want when they want it, and for team members in streamlining the processes of ordering.
Inamo Soho has been operating for over nine years now, so we’ve proved our concept, and shown that we can generate return business. This is also where our efforts in providing great service and delicious food come in. Obviously, we are constantly working to improve the interactive system and add more features, but we always knew that in order to keep relevant, the quality of the experience had to be measured as a whole, not only the concept’s edge.
3.What about competition in this area?
Using technology for hospitality purposes will predominantly develop (and has already, particularly in the US) at the Quick Service Restaurant level, especially in transport hubs where speed of service and reducing traveller stress is paramount. McDonald’s and other fast food venues are using kiosks quite broadly.
There are some restaurants starting to utilise tablet style systems, either for browsing menus, or in some cases for ordering. The hospitality industry is quite slow to adopt new technologies, though, but I’d expect in the future that interactive ordering restaurants will have a decent market share. There will be greater interaction between these interactive ordering elements and reservations systems to remember guest choices and preferences. Some restaurant spaces might become more immersive and experiential, like the pop-ups currently in vogue, but to the next level! There’ll always be room for restaurants with white table cloths too, though!
Offering multiple options for mobile and contactless payment will also become more and more important, albeit in restaurants where the average bill is higher this will take longer.
Street food doesn’t seem to be slowing down, but I think that increasingly this will become commercialised into collectives (Street Feast, Kerb, etc).
4.How has the solution been developed / advanced over time?
At Inamo Soho each guest uses a touch sensitive panel to interact with our system projected from above onto their table surface. Order when you want, get your bill when you want, and call a waiter at the touch of a button. The human element is very much still present. Guests can see a tasteful image of the dish/drink item they’re considering projected onto the plate in front of them, with a price and description to the right. They can then decide to add it to their order, and whenever they’re ready can send that directly off to the kitchen/bar to be prepared.
At Inamo Covent Garden and Camden we’ve introduced a tablet based version of our ordering system (which synchronises with the ability to order on-table too) and a productised version of our projection based table system that can be more easily and affordably retro-fitted into existing spaces and features increased animation.
When we began work on our technology for Inamo Soho in 2005 smartphones and tablets had not yet been developed. The tech we’re using there we created bespoke in-house. It’s much simpler to add new features to the on-table projections now, as they operate within a web browser that we can drop new content into more easily. We already have:
The ability to draw on your table surface
A choice of patterns and images as a “virtual-tablecloth”
Animations of our Inamo characters the Inamob
Games (including pong and memory)
The ability to personalise the images on your tables in advance
The ability for guests to rate their dishes, service, and overall experience at the end of their meal, as well as providing us with their email address. This is an excellent way in which to gather live day to day feedback, as well as invaluable data.
We are creating a much more flexible interactive ordering and entertainment system that we can regularly update and develop with new features in a way that was much more challenging with our original system.
5.Have there been any surprises along the way?
Plenty! As one might expect most surprises have been around openings, or when we introduce a new technological element. For our first restaurant opening in 2008 we’d only been able to have one test unit on a rig at our software architect’s house (his wife was delighted that their spare bedroom was occupied by a big wooden frame for over six months). We invited lots of people round to his house to put the system through its paces, but then putting that into action in an operational restaurant in Soho was a big step. I think the biggest challenge, however, has been learning about and honing restaurant operational processes, which are of course highly complex in their own right.
6.What can we expect from Inamo and its use of tech in the future?
We’ll soon likely have a feature to see what music is playing (with its artwork) and very likely a jukebox function. We’re also developing the CMS (Content Management System) for the restaurants to make it easier to drop new content into iFrames on the tables so that guests could have custom video, presentations, or any other web-based content featured on their tables.
7.Do you have any recommendations for entries in the next Digital Retail Innovations report?
We use CheckIt in our restaurants for monitoring health & hygiene processes. It makes it very simple for chefs to record delivery temperatures, monitor fridge temperatures and other due diligence items.
Christian Mouysset, co-founder of Hummus Bros, is now also working on Tenzo which looks like an interesting project around data aggregation and modelling future sales.
Planday is also making a big push at the moment.
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