Turning retail space into a digital environment

Robin Young, COO of Mitchells and Butlers, on turning its pubs and restaurants into digital environments to attract new customers

The technology evolution continues at pace within Mitchells & Butlers - a journey that began in 2011 is now moving into the exciting final phase.

Having promised the PLC board an infrastructure and architecture that would move us from being hamstrung to enabled, it was critical that our IT and change team stood up to the plate and genuinely delivered.

A successful datacentre and network migration, led by our new director of business change & technology, Martin Taylor, and supported by our partner Fujitsu, gave us both credibility and confidence to push on with the programme to rebuild our guest-facing technology. A business Wi-Fi roll-out, again solidly delivered with our partners in O2 and Fujitsu, is the final step in our foundation work and now the real fun begins.

Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) is moving on to creating some exciting guest interaction by upgrading the overall experience within our businesses. We own brands including Harvester, Toby, Browns and All Bar One, and we will be providing not only an enhanced service but moving towards the digital completion of the guest engagement cycle.

Designing, integrating and deploying point of sale and payment software is just the start of this final phase. We are working actively with teams at Sky and BT to push the boundaries of content, entertainment and future trade within the best retail real estate in the industry. 

We are working actively with teams at Sky and BT to push the boundaries of content, entertainment and future trade within the best retail real estate in the industry

It’s a simple concept - M&B provides a physical environment where guests can be treated to high quality food and drink and top-class service. Pair this with a virtual environment that delivers superb multi-device content, entertainment and the ability to carry out all manner of business, and the office or home becomes a much less attractive place to spend your time. Guest choices become the driving force behind our plans as we meet a much higher proportion of their needs and demands in this rapidly moving space.

Each expert partner focuses on what they do best – this mixture of retail, infrastructure and content provides new opportunities for a world of managed virtual trading, learning and entertaining. Initial discussions have highlighted a major appetite from other possible partner organisations keen to join this new club. The key challenges will be how to baseline and structure commercial agreements so that all those involved realise the full potential of this programme.

In a country where the next generation of economic regeneration must come from building on a mixture of our track record of delivering excellent services combined with full exploitation of innovation, this model starts to work all the key elements. The UK has some great opportunities to show the globe how to excel in the digital business world.

Contrary to the widely held, negative view that digitisation of our communication, social interactions and touch points will result in the Christmas day of the future being held with a series of flat screens around a dining table on which you “meet” your family and friends, I think we are only now beginning to see the real potential.

We will see fantastic physical venues providing world-class food and service combined with content over reliable infrastructure and a digital trade and entertainment zone. Get some of these right and we have a growth alternative to quantitative easing.  

Robin Young (pictured) is chief operating officer of hospitality group Mitchells and Butlers and runs his own advisory business, CTGFT Ltd.

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