At B2B giant Micros, a push to connect with consumers

You've seen their point-of-sale products at restaurants, hotels and retailers. Now, Micros is creating mobile apps so we can browse, order and pay more efficiently.

COLUMBIA, MDVictoria Gastro Pub, which has 24 beers on tap and 250 in bottles on any given day, sits in a sea of chain restaurants in this planned community between Baltimore and Washington. The restaurant’s beer club has 800 members and there are beer dinners every month. But most importantly when it comes to technology, Victoria is just a couple miles down the road from the headquarters of Micros Systems, Inc., a leader in IT solutions for the hospitality and retail industries.

Last week, with the help of Micros, the restaurant introduced six iPads, on which patrons can search for beer by type, country and color. They can scroll through the massive beer library, read about beer, look up future beer dinners, pair beer with food and order it right from the tablet. To discourage theft, the iPads are programmed to stop working if they’re carried out the front door. The application connects to the restaurant’s point-of-sale (POS) system so as soon as a new beer is added to the inventory, it changes on the iPad menu.

“The technology complements the hospitality,” said Micros Director of eCommerce Dave Hoffman. “It doesn’t replace it.”

Just before I visited the restaurant, I talked on the phone with Hoffman, Executive Vice President of Investor Relations and Business Development Peter Rogers (who has been with Micros for 24 years) and Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Mike Russo. I asked them what’s new in restaurant information systems and mobile technology and what else they're doing to connect directly with consumers.

PR: Think of a restaurant as a factory: You have people coming in to order food that has to be delivered in fairly quick order. Our systems are very specialized vertical applications that track every order in the restaurant and then send the orders to the kitchen, where the food has to be prepared. We provide all the connectivity for payroll and credit cards. Its’ a very specialized platform. We also provide the restaurant terminals, because it’s a harsh environment. We install the hardware, license and install the software and provide24 hour support--from small restaurants to the largest chain in the world. We’re the largest company providing these kinds of applications in the restaurant sector.

MR: Three years ago we introduced Simphony, a web-based point-of-sale platform. It’s what Starbucks North America just rolled out in 7,500 stores. It is an enterprise-level POS system—when you walk into a Starbucks or Hard Rock Café, you see people using the terminal, but the central database is up in the cloud. Simphony operates across the ocean, so it’s very robust and very fast. By putting the core of that engine and MyMicros into our clouds, it gives us great connectivity across the globe. That platform enables us to some very cool things.

DH: There’s this restaurant in Maryland, Victoria Gastro Pub, that specializes in beer--tons and tons of beer. They put it into this leather-bound encyclopedia-type thing that’s about three-quarters of an inch thick. Beer is organized by country. But when you talk to the owner, you realize he wants it to be about education, not just about beer. He wants to be the predominant educator of libations in the Baltimore/Washington area. So what we do from a consumer perspective is we roll all this into an application. Now you go into this restaurant and you get an elegant, branded iPad. You see pictures of the family that runs it, then you dig into menu items and see the chef was classically trained in England. You see how the menu is inspired by beer, and you can search by types and profiles. It turns into a nice, elegant engagement, and most importantly, it shows you the chef’s ideas when it comes to beer and food pairing. You have organizations that are very good from a hospitality perspective, and they don’t want to loose that sense of hospitality. Its not about throwing a bunch of technology at people. It’s about taking it to the next level.

MR: Even more important to the restaurateur is the menu items actually pulled out from the POS enterprise system. These beers change every week, so you have to have a way to keep it current. So this two-way integration makes it easier on both sides. For this restaurant we have the feature for diners to order from the iPad, but the restaurant is not using it yet. But with our POS platform we flip a switch and then they can order. We’re testing something called TabbedOut which allows you to do mobile payments from your phone. So you press a button on your smart phone and it opens a tab, and as items get added to your table, you can view it on your phone and pay the tab right there.

DH: Barcode technology could be applied to a table, allowing you to open up checks. You go into a busy restaurant or bar and there’s something that says, “Take a picture of this” if the customer wants a drink or wants to place an order. It’s a technology that enables customer self-service. In the next two to three years, that will become the standard. We think the market is hungry for mobile payment solutions.

PR: You can download an app from Starbucks, and there’s a barcode so when you go there you pull out your smart phone and it scans the barcode on the system. You have $20 on your account, and your triple latte is $10, and you just pay for it with your phone. It was our software that picked up the barcode. What’s happening is that we need to be more consumer-facing. We developed a platform for Pizza Hut UK so you can find your nearby Pizza Hut and order online. Also for KFC Canada, Pizza Hut Australia and another Yum! Restaurants International brand is looking at that platform for their consumers to use.

DH: It’s the base foundation of everything we’re doing.

MR: On the restaurant and hotel side, a major focus is the consumer platform. Some are consumer versions of existing products. On the hotel side we have a full platform called MyStay Manager, a branded app for a Hyatt or a Marriott. Once you have a reservation and check in, the app on your phone would drive your experience, whether you want to order more towels or schedule an in-room massage.

PR: We’re not one of those companies that announce products months in advance. We’re more conservative. We know what we’re doing. We do a lot of expensive internal testing and field testing before it’s released to the market. A lot of it has to be addressed by sales people interacting with customers. Over the next few years, we’ll look at how to market directly to consumers. We’re not a consumer marketing company, but eventually we’ll have to start distributing to customers. But that’s still a ways off. Today we’re still business to business.

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