The rapid change of time shows that already today many are thinking about the future. And nevertheless, vision and the spirit of innovation are often associated with uncertainty and skepticism. The challenges of the corona pandemic and the shortage of skilled workers are currently ensuring this in the gastronomy industry. On the other hand, there are chances to seize the opportunities of the times and invest step by step in a new, digital gastronomy experience. Michael Sperger, managing director and host of Hofbräuhaus München, shows how important it is to turn uncertainty into courage and why productivity, agility and genuine hospitality are more important today than ever. Friendly service, a nice atmosphere and good cuisine always drive society to the beautiful restaurants around the world. The current corona pandemic has taught us that it was often the little things that were missing in the everyday lockdown life – the meetings with friends in the restaurant, a short conversation with the waiter, getting away from everyday life or the anticipation of a cold draft beer. The gastronomy industry, which thrives on satisfied customers, is currently struggling hard. In addition to the challenges of the corona pandemic, it is in the midst of upheaval. The increasing shortage of skilled workers and new technological possibilities are awakening the desire and necessity of many gastronomy businesses to become more digital. To put it in the words of Sperger: "We have to react to changes as quickly as they arise."
In detail, this means combining the everlasting with new ideas and modern concepts in order to continue to meet guests with quality and good service. Michael Sperger is convinced that digitalization will have a decisive impact on the gastronomy industry. So while preserving the tradition of the craft, existing resources can be better utilized and gastronomy businesses equip themselves with flexibility to meet their customers' future needs.
There is probably no other restaurant that is as famous worldwide as the Hofbräuhaus in the heart of Munich. Young and old visitors, tourists and regular customers come together there to indulge in traditional dishes in a Bavarian ambience. Before the pandemic, the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl had up to 2 million visitors a year. Guests who want to be served without long waiting times and with consistently high quality and freshness. How chaos does not break out here and which solutions facilitate the gastronomic processes will be revealed with a look behind the scenes of the restaurant and outlined using the route through the digitalized Hofbräuhaus.
In addition to countless liters of beer, several thousand meals are served every day in the world's most famous restaurant. The food will be prepared at the production site in Brunnthal in the local butchery, bakery and kitchen so that it can be processed quickly and freshly in the restaurant. Industry expert and restaurateur at the Hofbräuhaus Michael Sperger is enthusiastic about the many possibilities that the digitalization of gastronomy opens up and approaches them with a high spirit of innovation: “In the gastronomy industry, everything has to be done quickly, reliably and consistently in order to ensure consistent preparation and food quality. For us, the use of digital solutions is a gain in every process step and the best measure for more efficiency.” Digital tools help to simplify and accelerate routine processes and to link individual business areas in a meaningful way.
The first step is to examine the operational environment in a process-oriented manner and to take a close look at which measures increase productivity. Because time is still a scarce resource in the gastronomy industry. There, where everything builds on each other, a central control element is indispensable. In the Hofbräuhaus, all the data required for the individual tasks from storage to preparation will be centrally collected and coordinated.
“The most important step for us in going digital was to replace our existing software system, on which basis we could not achieve the desired connectivity, integrity and performance. A system that networks all areas saves time and money and enables the desired transparency and further digital development options,” adds Michael Sperger. The production site, the fully automated high-bay warehouse and the Hofbräuhaus are so intelligently linked that the flow of materials controls itself and smooth processes determine the everyday gastronomy.
In detail, digitalization in the Hofbräuhaus already begins with predicting forecasts for a better planning and precise orders: "We know exactly when we can expect how many guests and which dishes are typically ordered on these days," continues Michael Sperger. The number of employees and stock of goods are based on historical data, which provide information about the behavior of the guests and which make it possible to meet their expectations even better in the future. In this case, the “Predictive Artificial Intelligence” evaluates the data collected about the weather, holidays, trends, behaviors and workloads and visualizes them on real-time-controlled dashboards. The forecast overview provides planning security on a new level. The intelligent resource planning avoids excess storage capacities and ensures that the necessary food for the preparation of the desired dishes is available at all times. The digital warehouse management provides an overview of planned and consumed food and saves high inventory costs.
The orders are taken in the restaurant by the waiter and entered in the cash register system, which communicates directly with the ERP system and the kitchen control. The respective quantity of ingredients will be automatically debited from the system's inventory. In the kitchen of the Hofbräuhaus, the cooks are already waiting at their own cooking stations, where every cook prepares one special dish. They are already equipped with the ingredients they need. On a screen in their station they can see the next dish to be prepared, which the system automatically assigns to the corresponding cooking station. Of course, so that all the dishes ordered arrive at the same time at each table.
“Thanks to digitalization, we can now prepare the dishes as needed with six people in the kitchen, without chaos and just-in-time,” says head chef Wolfgang Reithmeier, who has been cooking for guests all over the world for many years. From the point of view of the cooks and waiters, this mobile type of communication makes work easier: “Thanks to the technology, we can fully focus on the preparation of the dishes and we know at all times what has to be done and what is needed for it. Our kitchen appliances and refrigerators are also digitally networked and connected to the central ERP system, so that the fully integrated kitchen creates efficiency and guarantees peace and quality,” says Wolfgang Reithmeier. A good division of labor and a smooth process with centralized hand movements make it possible that the charm of the famous restaurant gets never lost: Traditional music, Bavarian ambience, fresh food and cold draft Hofbräu beer. And of course guests who will be catered to the fullest satisfaction.
The Hofbräu beer will be tapped via a networked dispensing system. The sensors of the system will be monitored and the values about the tapped quantity documented. The waiter enters the ordered amount into the cash register in advance and the dispensing system dispenses the exact volume, which is debited from the inventory at the same time.
“When tradition and modernity meet, it can result in something really great. It is just crucial to have the right software partner by your side, who additionally inspires your own innovative spirit. We finally switched to the company SLA, one of the leading developers of IT solutions especially for the food sector. SLA's expertise gave us exactly the boost we were looking for. In addition, the transition went so smoothly that neither production nor day-to-day business were restricted,” says Michael Sperger.
Open communication interfaces and a central system enable the gastronomy business to display consistently high quality. “I don't want to mitigate the consequences of the corona pandemic with our experience, but I want to show that they can cushion sales losses in the long term. Because efficiency and cost savings will always play a major role,” explains Michael Sperger. In times of distance rules and stricter hygiene regulations, creativity and flexibility are required. Investing in digital solutions doesn't necessarily mean having to do everything at once. Here, too, there is calm in the strength and a gradual restructuring of operational processes is the rule. In this way, high personnel costs, labor shortages and increasing bureaucracy can gradually be overcome.
The modular service architecture in the Hofbräuhaus also gives innovative scope and invites other restaurateurs to benefit from it - beyond staff shortages and material shortages. A B2B platform in the form of an app and web application with the entire gastronomy concept of the Hofbräuhaus based on modular microservices is available to hosts of other restaurants and new restaurant founders. They can store their recipes and required quantities of goods in the platform, which are then also prepared at the production site in Brunnthal and delivered to the restaurants on a daily basis. In this way, on the one hand, constant freshness and quality will be guaranteed, and on the other hand, the host saves storage space in his own restaurant, which he can use to accommodate additional guests. An ideal support for existing restaurateurs and new founders who can easily realize their gastronomy vision with the help of a proven platform and intensify the focus on the guest. Also in the pipeline to complement the platform is a new quality and hygiene management system, and work is currently underway on digital menus and dynamic ordering concepts.
Despite all the digitalization and mechanization, the focus of gastronomy is still on meeting people. “Real hospitality, personal contact and the smile of the guest cannot be digitalized and that is what makes everyday gastronomy worth living. Digitalization helps us to focus on these values,” continues Michael Sperger. When data and information from different areas are brought together in such a way that they can be used for other areas, the gastronomy experience is fundamentally redefined. In this way, digital software systems create new room for maneuver and provide space for further innovations that allow staff and price levels to regulate themselves and focus on being close to the customer.