The F&B offering in a garden centre is now more important than ever, with catering sales up 21.63% year-on-year according to the Garden Centre Association’s Barometer of Trade figures for April 2023.
Garden centres are no longer simply a place to pick up a few plants – people expect to spend more time there, and venues need to be providing their customers with great experiences when they visit.
Amidst a cost-of-living crisis and pressures on operating costs significantly impacting both businesses and customers, it is encouraging news that garden centre F&B outlets are popular. However, to maintain this momentum and to continue to drive growth in 2023, operators need to consider how they can evolve their offering to keep up with ever-changing consumer habits.
The importance of Hospitality EPoS
Many garden centres use a retail POS to control their hospitality functions, but this presents multiple challenges including; inaccuracies with stock, lack of visibility on product performance and inefficiencies within their restaurants. With garden centres becoming more of a leisure destination and in turn, their restaurants more popular, there is a growing need to ensure they are operating from databases, which are fit for purpose.
Implementing an EPoS system specifically built for hospitality which integrates technology from multiple touchpoints across the businesses is vital. This specialist technology is tailored to create a central control hub from which to manage F&B operations, enabling garden centre cafés and restaurants to have full oversight of their operations. From, reducing waste and removing customer pain points through digital stock management to minimising pressure on staff by streamlining service, a hospitality EPoS system has the ability to not only improve operational efficiency and drive revenue but enhance the overall customer experience too.
Digital stock management can remove customer disappointment
We know that another major bugbear for customers in hospitality is ordering things on a menu that are sold out already and therefore, unavailable to them. However, technology can help remove the risk of this happening before it has even occurred.
With the right integrated tech in place, sales can be automatically updated in the stocks system, allowing staff to see in real-time the availability of products and only offer customers what they have available. This live availability can also be displayed on the POS, whether that’s at a till or on a handheld ordering device if the venue offers table service, so staff are always kept in-the-know with regard to what is out of stock. Operators can also look at the reports that the stock system generates to help them easily identify stock levels and help to make better decisions on how much stock needs to be ordered, removing guesswork, and reducing holdings/over-ordering. Not only does this remove customer frustration, but it is also key in reducing wastage and keeping costs down.
A trend that is likely to stay and continue to grow is sustainability and eco-friendly practices. As customers become more environmentally conscious, they will be on the lookout for who are embedding these practices into their cafes and restaurants, and this is likely for garden centre cafes too. If food does end up being wasted, rather than simply throwing good stock away, operators can consider donating products to charity, a local food bank or another good cause. In fact, those that do will benefit from doing so, as according to our GO Technology report, 60% of consumers are more likely to use a brand that donates spare food to charity.
Mobile devices can speed up service in garden centre cafes
For those offering table service in their restaurants or cafes, we know from our research that typical pain points for customers include having to wait to order or pay for their bill. We also know that 50% of people say speed is a main reason tech enhances their experience. Leveraging mobile payment technology, which offers customers a quick and easy way to order food and drink or pay for their bill will enhance their overall experience.
EPoS and mobile ordering systems are optimised to increase speed of service, enabling servers to complete payment transactions at customers’ tables without returning to the POS terminal, or even put the entire ordering and payment process in the hands of the customer for those who prefer it, to enable staff to focus more on taking and fulfilling more orders. This not only streamlines service, enables easy reconciliation and keeps queues to a minimum, but also provides front-of-house staff with greater flexibility and the time to deliver a seamless customer experience.
In addition, implementing digital payment (via apps, QR codes or online) to allow customers the option to order and pay at the tables is particularly useful during busy trading periods. Our GO Technology report findings demonstrate this, with 79% of consumers stating they are happy with the ease and speed of payment when paying digitally. Consumers have become accustomed to the presence of such tech in venues, so offering this as an option helps to reduce pressure on staff to rush around taking orders and payments during busy times, allowing for a quicker, more efficient service, and improved customer experiences, and making them a valuable addition to any garden centre restaurant or café.
Leverage technology to assist with table management and bookings
According to research we completed with KAM Media, 55% of consumers stated that being forced to queue for a table when in a restaurant was a top frustration. Therefore, if your café or restaurant offers table service with advanced reservations there is a significant opportunity for garden centre’s F&B arms to eliminate a key customer pain point, by implementing a table management solution that allows for centralised management of real-time table bookings, wait lists, pre-orders, and deposits, to ensure they deliver a first-class experience at every stage of the customer journey.
Having a table management system in place allows customers access to real time availability, so if booking during a busy period, they are immediately able to see whether their request can be accommodated. Not only is this a great way to manage customer expectations, but it is a good way for garden centres to manage their capacity by giving guests the opportunity to cancel or amend their bookings. Furthermore, utilising booking technology that allows customers to reserve a table, particularly during busy periods such as Christmas, is likely to be invaluable in improving the overall experience for customers. Alternatively, this technology can also enable customers to be added to a wait list and be alerted via a text when their table is available. This speeds up service, enabling customers to shop while they wait for their table rather than simply leaving to find an alternative, and allows staff to serve more people – improving the overall customer experience.
Digital loyalty schemes can drive repeat footfall to garden centre restaurants
Now more than ever, customers are looking for personalised experiences – in fact, 80% of consumers are interested in some form of personalisation from the hospitality venues they visit, according to our research. Two of the most popular forms of personalisation amongst restaurant customers include personalised discounts and deals, as well as loyalty schemes. By implementing personalised deals and promotions as well as loyalty schemes, this can encourage repeat visits.With 78% of consumers either expecting or would like to receive personalised discounts and deals for food and drink, we recommend looking at a digital loyalty scheme for your F&B offering that integrates with all other tech in the business. This will enable garden centre F&B operators to gather data, which can be used to create hyper-personalised customer rewards, deals and promotions, as well as targeted marketing campaigns. Rewarding customers for their loyalty will not only encourage repeat visitors to the garden centre but encourage them to continuously engage with F&B facilities when they do and is something that can be rolled out across one or several sites.