Automatic, Systematic

Hospitality is higher-tech than ever at hotels, restaurants and casinos. The back-of-the-house systems are advancing very quickly.

It’s 2008. The Magic Fingers bed is long gone. When people check into a hotel or resort today, they expect high-tech: flat panel LCD or plasma TVs, laptop and digital camera connectivity, iPod docking stations-all the conveniences of home, at their fingertips. At restaurants, they expect quick service and no lines. With high-tech the norm in hospitality, patrons and operators alike are being well-served.

Two million hotel rooms at 9,300 locations worldwide provide the amenities provided by Lodgenet Interactive, which began as a basic cable company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and is now the world’s premier provider of in-room interactive services-and a major vendor to casino resorts around the world.

It’s a far cry from the basic cable of old. Lodgenet offers “true HD” movie systems that deliver screening-room quality, in-room cable with digital sound and imagery, plus a remote that allows viewers to stop, start, play and pause, just like they do at home. Everything originates from a back-of-the-house command center, so there are no clumsy cables or clunky set-top units (targets in the past of theft and tampering).

Lodgenet applications also enable casino hotel management to maintain seamless communication with guests throughout their stay, turning the TV screen into a two-way message board, says Mike Faddis, Lodgenet vice president of account development.

“You can send anything from a welcome message from the manager to individual group messages about a meeting room change. You can use the TV as a tool to inform guests about different revenue centers, like restaurants. You can even build interfaces to allow guests to interact and make reservations. It’s all navigated through the remote control.”

This is not one-size-fits-all programming. Systems are built-to-order; signature graphic elements like logos can be included to reinforce branding.

In-room HD and video on demand are just the start. Lodgenet’s RoomDock Premier incorporates an iPod docking station into a desktop unit, allowing users to pull up all their favorite songs and movies on a 40-inch screen. Laptop computers, MP3s and digital or video cameras can also be connected, and contents viewed on the big screen. It’s point-and-click easy, with simple plug-ins and controls that don’t require a manual. The systems are cool enough to intrigue Gen-X and Gen-Y users, and easy enough for their parents and grandparents to use.

Guest Satisfaction
Ease of operation is imperative. So are fast delivery and attentive service-all of which ultimately serve the bottom line. One global hospitality company serving the casino, travel, retail and sports industries has developed technology to anticipate and fulfill customer desires almost as soon as they occur.

“Today it is much more about immediate gratification,” says Therrin Proze, vice president of gaming operations for Delaware North Companies. “The focus for us is the player. How quickly we can gratify the guest?”

Founded in 1918 by the brothers Jacobs, who started their enterprise by peddling peanuts at a Buffalo ballpark, Delaware North is now one of the largest privately owned companies in the world, with half a billion customers and 40,000 employees in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Delaware North owns TD Banknorth Garden, home of the Boston Bruins. President Jeremy Jacobs-son of one of the founders-owns the Bruins themselves. Its gaming division includes slot operations at Saratoga Raceway, Finger Lakes Racetrack & Gaming in Upstate New York, Wheeling Island Racetrack & Gaming Center in West Virginia and others.

Among the gaming division’s latest implementations is a player-focused LCD screen for casino slot machines. Positioned right at eye level (where it’s impossible to miss), the palm-sized screen replaces a smaller touch-pad version with a scrolling message that was far less efficient at delivering information.

The new screen “is fully functional, much more player-interactive, and can do focused promotions” based on player card information, says Proze. “Let’s say you like country music. When you put your player card into the machine, we can offer you two tickets to an upcoming show. You can order tickets, order drinks, order food-all from the LCD screen. It’s pretty amazing.”

Other innovations include hand-held point-of-sale systems (enabling food and beverage tabs to be settled up tableside, with the player card or credit card never leaving the customer’s view); in-seat service for casinos and sports arenas (patrons can order food at the gate and have it delivered by the time they reach their seats); and self-service kiosks (so players can book a show or make reservations without standing in line).

A cashless comp system debuting this year works almost like a debit card for casino players, Proze says. “I swipe it just as if I was at McDonald’s. It debits my account and I can eat for free.”

Streamlining F&B
In 1999, a Harvard Business School grad and restaurant group CFO from South Jersey saw a frustrating level of myopia among otherwise bright business operators. Many of Damian Mogavero’s front-line restaurateurs ran their stores based on incomplete information (or the wrong information), made investments without sufficiently tracking return, and scratched their heads when the bottom line didn’t reflect their efforts.

“I would ask simple questions: ‘Who are the top and bottom servers?’ ‘Why did the food cost go up?'” says Mogavero, now CEO of Avero LLC. “They gave me blank stares. No wonder restaurant margins weren’t what they should be-they were flying blind.”

Mogavero created the Avero Slingshot, a web-based software system designed to mine reams of disparate data about multiple food and beverage components and distill them into a comprehensive overview of operations. The broad perspective helps operators see what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and what they can do better.

Now in more than 1,000 restaurants, hotels and casinos including Harrah’s, MGM Grand and the Hard Rock, Avero Slingshot decreases F&B costs by pinpointing key variables like the day of the week, holidays, weather-all of which can lead to a flux in customer demand, necessitating workforce changes. Slingshot improves menu engineering by seeing which items are selling and which are not. It helps boost revenue and productivity by providing at-a-glance data about server performance.

Mogavero compares it to a baseball card for servers. “When you look at Mike Schmidt’s card, you turn it around and see the home runs, RBIs, that sort of thing. Instead of runs batted in, we provide average check, tip percentage, table turns or items per cover.”

Identifying server strengths and weaknesses-for example, the waiter who gets stage fright when he has to open a bottle of wine, and thus does not push the wine list-helps managers see who might require coaching or instruction.

Seemingly minor inconsistencies can lead to significant losses over time, making such oversight critical to the bottom line.

“If one of five servers does not ring up coffee, that could be 7,200 cups of coffee at two bucks each-or $14,000 a year that is not getting into the bank,” says Mogavero.

At conventions or large group affairs, Slingshot acts as an electronic logbook to see what menu items were more in demand-the chicken, the steak, the prime rib-so the restaurant can do a better job of planning for similar groups, says Mogavero. “If you can isolate those variables, you can schedule labor better, make better food purchasing decisions and really make sure you have the right team.”

One manager at Harrah’s Rio restaurant declares the efficiencies provided by Slingshot has “turned order-takers into salespeople.”

Complete Hotel System
The Lodging Management System by Agilysys has been a property management system market leader in the casino industry for more than 20 years. LMS handles the guest’s stay from reservation through check-in, check-out and settlement and retains critical information in guest history.

From an accounting perspective, having reliable financial reporting and guest accounting are critical to the operation of hotels and casinos. LMS’ unique system of checks and balances helps avoid “out-of-balance” situations.

Other modules essential to the front office are the Credit Authorization and Settlement for Hospitality system-CASH-which serves as a central processing point for credit card payment for the entire organization, ARTS (Activities Management system), ShowGate (showroom management and ticketing), and ResNet (online room reservations).

LMS uses a central point to communicate with all interfaces systems within the resort. The system interfaces with over 200 vendors in the industry, and new ones are constantly being written. These interfaces enable LMS to share information with POS applications, central reservations systems, telephone and call accounting systems and in-room movie systems, just to name a few.

The platform is virtually crash-free, according to Kristen Schloss, director of product management and marketing. “The IBM System i (formerly iSeries) is the workhorse of the mid-range computing world with nearly 99.9 percent up-time, and no vulnerability to computer viruses. With over two decades of experience in developing systems on this platform, LMS is the most stable product in the industry.”

Agilysys has a Comp Accounting module specifically designed to track guests receiving comp charge privileges, log how much money is being designated as gratis and record the casino employee authorizing the charges. The result: comprehensive monitoring of comps, with unique folios for designated charges and customers.

POS Leader
MICROS Systems Inc., based in Columbia, Maryland, can easily claim industry dominance in enterprise applications for the hospitality sector. MICROS POS systems are at work in 220,000 restaurants, casino resorts, hotels and retail operations from the U.S. to Europe, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East.

MICROS developed the OPERA Customer Information System to consolidate guest profiles (food and beverage preferences, birthdays, anniversaries, average stays). By tracking a guest over the lifetime of his patronage, anticipating what he wants and making him feel like a valued customer, such systems enhance loyalty and hence, revenue.

The company’s Simphony software for the restaurant industry includes a powerful data warehouse easily accessed through a web browser; iCare to manage gift cards and point-based loyalty programs; inventory management programs for single or multiple properties; and data storage that allows operators to make quick changes on menus, prices and discounts.

“Business intelligence lets the hotelier from a management or executive level get a bird’s eye view of all that is going in,” says Ed McLaughlin, MICROS director of casino marketing. “It’s a snapshot of revenue and where it came from-from food and beverage, from retail outlets.”

MICROS also offers JTECH wireless, which includes silent server paging, guest paging and valet paging, and tablet PCs that enable hosts to get out from behind the podium to greet and seat guests informally. When a check opens on the screen, data based on customer history enables the host or server to see if a customer is having a birthday or other special event; the product also includes handwriting recognition.

“The systems are designed to allow you to run a full enterprise from a single data center,” says Jonathan Siegle of casino POS sales. “That means a very minimal footprint at each property; all the computers and servers and databases are posted centrally, at your data center or by MICROS? That’s a really big deal, allowing you to further reduce your cost.”

MICROS systems are utilized by everything from mom-and-pop operations to five-star restaurants, tiny outlets to multi-property enterprises, says Seigle. Its liquor dispensing system even monitors your next drink.

“Bars are among the hardest areas to control, in terms of making sure that everything being poured is also being paid for,” Seigle says. “We interface with the system so when the bartender dispenses a half-ounce of vodka to make a Cosmopolitan, it’s automatically run up in the point-of-sale system, and now there’s an open check. That’s the heart of point-of-sale systems, to make sure everything served is accounted for, so you don’t have a silent partner in your
business.”

In all, today’s casino resort is tech-savvy from door to door, and operators are able to monitor every bet and every purchase in every corner of the property.

Even the Magic Fingers.

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