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A new Thai restaurant in London called Kiln is demonstrating why very small hospitality businesses should pay more attention to their networking needs as part of the sector’s transition into the digital world.
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Kiln is the latest venture of restaurateur – and former art gallery owner and DJ – Ben Chapman, who set up a Thai barbecue joint called Smoking Goat near Covent Garden a few years ago. Kiln specialises in rural cooking styles from northern Thailand, which are less well-known than dishes more familiar to British diners.
A decade or so ago, says Kiln’s commercial and support manager, Rob Juer, it was still just about possible to run a small restaurant business entirely on paper, but since then the small business end of the hospitality and food service sector has become almost as digitised as an enterprise environment.
“The stock-taking and ordering is cloud-based, the tills are cloud-based, we have higher internet usage, but where we are in Soho the buildings are very old,” says Juer.
“The office at Kiln is best described as a little cave – it has a super-low ceiling and thick walls. Suddenly we had to be able to have a strong wireless signal in a place that was never designed with the internet in mind.
“It’s fair to say we needed a full retail system in place, point of sale, printers, Wi-Fi – but in the least invasive way imaginable.
“Kiln has three tills, but they’re very much hidden. It’s not a part of our service – you’re not greeted with someone with an iPad, you don’t go to someone at a till, it’s all behind the scenes. For this, we needed a fully networked system with wireless and wired connections available where necessary.”
Juer picked Linksys for Kiln’s networking needs because its equipment was already in use back at the Smoking Goat. But, says Linksys’ Steve Dade, like many small businesses, the restaurant was relying on its consumer Wi-Fi routers, an issue that Linksys – which was sold by Cisco to Belkin in 2013 – frequently encounters.
“An SME doesn’t have dedicated IT, so when people start out, understandably they will often take what they have at home and stick more and more on top of it as they grow,” says Dade.
“Initially, the system at Smoking Goat had three home routers, which we’ve since replaced with new access points and a single management point.”
The expansion of the business was a motivator for Juer for two reasons. Firstly, the more complex the business’ needs – he describes the Smoking Goat’s set-up as a “Heath Robinson network” – the more likely it was that something would go wrong that he could not fix; and secondly because data security compliance requirements for credit card payment terminals call for stricter network security than is possible on a home system.
The Instagram imperative
One factor that is affecting hospitality-owned networks above virtually every other vertical sector is the rise of social media as an integral part of the customer’s dining out experience.
While usually written about in somewhat derogatory terms, there is undoubtedly a trend for diners – not all of them millennials – to share their experience, whether through check-ins on Facebook, reviews on TripAdvisor, or artfully-lit photos of their meals on Instagram.
“Wi-Fi in a restaurant has become standard,” says Juer. “You’d be surprised if you went into a restaurant and they didn’t have it. We do get a lot of promotion from it [Instagram, et al], and that’s really nice to see, so we have to be able to provide it.”
In a subterranean restaurant such as Kiln where mobile signals can’t necessarily be accessed, it was obviously critical to add customer connectivity, but for Juer the pay-off from this has come more from the weekday lunchtime crowd.
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“In Soho we get a lot of customers at lunch, especially business lunches, because with us you can go in and eat and be out in half an hour,” he says. “We get two or three guys who want a quick business lunch and they also want to get their emails and presentations.”
The restaurant plumped for Linksys’ LRT224 dual wide area network (WAN) Gigabit virtual private network (VPN) router with two secured virtual local area networks (VLANs), one for customers and one for staff.
To this it added a Linksys LGS108P eight-port desktop Gigabit Power over Ethernet (PoE) switch to manage connectivity and supply power to two Linksys LAPAC2600 Business MU-MIMO access points, one upstairs in the bar area and one in the basement restaurant, both configured with a single controller-less managed cluster to let devices roam from one to the other.
“From the point of view of someone who had to learn to use it quickly, Linksys was easy to figure out, logical, step-based, and also there’s someone at the end of the phone,” says Juer.
“It’s also very sturdy. In a building with hot food and lots of people, things go wrong. The routers aren’t going to survive a spilt pint, but they will survive most things.”