15 Sep Flix Technology Update
Matthew Baizer, Senior Vice President of Operations
BACK TO ALL ARTICLES
While it wouldn’t be wise for a company of our size to be at the forefront of every technological advance, we do take pride in being innovative, and technology plays a large role in Flix Brewhouse becoming a leader in cinema dining. Because I was exposed to more than my fair share of technology issues, innovations and ideas during my extensive restaurant operations background, I find that my relative tech savvy is quite helpful in my role as COO of the company, as I’ve largely assumed the role of defacto chief technology officer as well.
The first major initiatives made during my tenure was to migrate to a single point of sale platform for both cinema and dining. Most of our dine-in cinema competitors opt for two distinct systems, one for box office and ticketing and a separate one for dining. Unfortunately, there is no integration between the two systems, which can present significant operational issues. We made the bold switch to a single POS system about two years ago, and while there have been growing pains, the efficiencies have far outweighed the potential drawbacks.
Since the time we made the change to a single platform, we have bolted on many enhancements and improvements. Those include call center software, e-gift cards, electronic vouchers for online bookings and our popular loyalty program called The Circle, which already boasts a membership of more than 20,000. Our two greatest strides in this area, however, will materialize in the 4th quarter of 2016.
First, we are introducing new hardware for our service team in the form of Panasonic ToughPad tablets. The primary advantage of this enhancement is that it will make the overall guest service experience more streamlined and efficient, since this new hardware allows our servers to swipe a guest’s credit card at the beginning of the engagement. This change has many advantages. First, it eliminates two trips inside of an auditorium for our servers in the middle of a movie. The current process of dropping a check, going back into get a credit card, authorizing the credit card and returning with the voucher for signature, will be replaced with simple voucher drop for signature. Second, it minimizes the ever-present security issues associated with taking guest credit cards away from them, even for a short period of time. Third, it allows our servers to regain extra time by helping out running beverages to other auditoriums. Fourth, it allows us to drop checks later in a movie since we don’t need to allow for time for all those trips. Finally, and importantly, it will minimize the number of people who walk out without paying their bill. We expect the first installation of the new Panasonics to take place in Round Rock in early October. This is a win for the guest experience and a win for efficiency.
Our second Q4 2016 initiative is on the control and business intelligence side. We will be the first dine-in cinema chain in the United States to roll out a new staff scheduling program called MovieTeam. MovieTeam will replace our existing scheduling software and is specifically designed for a cinema environment. It will give us better controls as clocking in and out will be tied to actual staff schedules, thus eliminating early clock-ins without a manager override. It will also provide our unit leaders with real time visibility on labor cost and which of our team members is still on the clock and shouldn’t be. MovieTeam will assist our schedulers with ensuring that our films are staffed with a blend of experience and performance levels adequate for each show, as its algorithms factor in staff performance rankings by show. Put another way, MovieTeam won’t allow a manager to schedule only experienced servers in one auditorium while leaving all the newer servers to struggle in other auditoriums. This system optimizes the blending of talent and experience to ensure that we are maximizing the Flix Brewhouse experience for our guests.
These two major initiatives are those that we’ll be completing in 2016 alone. There’s a future plan for many more enhancements in the area I call “service technology.” These include coursing or meal pacing to hone in on desired cook times when a guest orders multiple courses at one time, preordering when a guest purchases a ticket, self-ordering on guest-owned smart phones and other devices, and the incorporation of near field communication payment options like Apple Pay and Android Pay. I’ll look forward to providing an update in the new year about our 2017 initiatives, some of which we are piloting in Round Rock this year, as well as reporting on the results of the new tablet and MovieTeam implementations.