Between tradition and a digital future

World map - focus on Germany

 

METRO Germany

Christa Eickenscheidt is the third generation of her family to run the ‘Wetterkamp’ restaurant. Since taking over at the helm 6 years ago, she has broken with tradition a number of times in order to lead the quaint restaurant in the Ruhr region successfully into the future. For this, she uses the digital solutions on the ‘DISH’ platform, which was rolled out in Germany in 2018. She is also given assistance by customer managers such as Sebastian Weißenfels. With about 600 regional employees, METRO Germany has the largest customer care team in the German food wholesale business. To meet the demands of restaurateurs, the organisation has been restructured – a major feat that has paid off.

Bowling makes people hungry and thirsty. When the bowling alley of the ‘Wetterkamp’ in Castrop-Rauxel is packed, dozens of schnitzels and beers are served to bowling aficionados in 1 night. Just a few years ago, for the service staff this meant having to run around so much that many a step counter blew up: hurrying down the stairs, writing down orders on the pad, going back upstairs, on to the cash till, entering everything, printing out the slips and taking one to the bar and the other to the kitchen. ‘Today, we enter everything on the iPhone and it arrives precisely where it is prepared. This makes things much, much easier,’ says Christa Eickenscheidt.

The ‘Wetterkamp’ is in the heart of the Ruhr region, an area in western Germany which for decades was characterised by coal and steel and is still in the middle of a structural transformation. In the traditional restaurant, the 31-year-old almost looks a little out of place: the young businesswoman is surrounded by lots of dark wood, a brown tiled floor and a waft of fried schnitzels. The trained hotel manager has run the family business in the third generation for 6 years – and since that time has broken several times with traditions in order to lead the ‘Wetterkamp’ successfully into the future.

And Christa Eickenscheidt is far from finished. She still has big plans. A revolution. ‘I now want to digitalise my family business,’ she says. ‘Wetterkamp 4.0’, so to speak.

The family restaurant Wetterkamp is now run by Christa.

Christa and her parents in front of the family restaurant Wetterkamp.

To this end, the ‘Wetterkamp’ proprietor takes advantage of the offerings of METRO Germany and Hospitality Digital (HD). In 2015, METRO established that subsidiary, which develops innovative solutions for restaurateurs. The central feature is ‘DISH’, which stands for Digital Innovations and Solutions for Hospitality. ‘DISH’ is an online platform that started in Germany and Italy in 2018 and by now has been rolled out in many additional countries. It offers restaurateurs access to relevant digital applications.

Christa Eickenscheidt has used the website app on the ‘DISH’ platform to create an online presence – free of charge. Now anyone on the Internet can see what her restaurant has to offer in terms of ambience, menu or party service. The advantages are evident: in the mobile age, every German looks at his or her smartphone an average of 30 times a day, and those between 18 and 24 years old even 56 times. For this reason, it is essential in the restaurant business, too, to be present on the screens of guests and people who should become guests. And what is even much more important: making sure others can find you on the Internet, at least making your address and phone number available for everyone.

Website of the restaurant Wetterkamp in Castrop-Rauxel

Website of the restaurant Wetterkamp in Castrop-Rauxel - wetterkamp-restaurant.de

The young businesswoman also uses METRO’s integrated free booking tool, which is used by an average of 3 guests a day to order a table at the ‘Wetterkamp’. This gives her not only the overview she needs and facilitates calculation, it also reduces the no-show rate. After all, people who want to make an online booking must leave their phone number and can be reminded of their reservation by text message.

Additionally, there are digital services and solutions such as shift planning or human resource management. They facilitate organisation and leave more time for what made people become restaurateurs, hoteliers or caterers to begin with: hospitality and enthusiasm for good food.

‘We are currently witnessing a rapid development of technological possibilities – on the customer side as well as for companies,’ says Cetin Acar, IT expert from the EHI Retail Institute. Customers have long since arrived in the digital age, he explains, and expect this from their favourite Italian restaurant around the corner, too. Yet smaller restaurateurs or merchants often cannot keep up with this. ‘They need support from industry experts such as wholesalers who possess the know-how and the possibilities to develop innovative solutions and make them available to businesspeople at low cost or free of charge.’ Here Acar sees an important requirement for the sector’s competitiveness – and ultimately for its survival.

Yet reality is often sobering. Many restaurateurs are largely invisible on the Internet. According to a METRO study in which independent businesspeople were asked about their needs, only a little less than half of participants in Germany have their own website, and fewer than 1 in 5 is active on social media. To be sure, 65% say that they consider digital services and solutions to be important for their business. But 21% of them have difficulty finding the right tools for their company – and so spend hours every day on billing, staff scheduling and table management, typically using pen and paper.

Cetin Acar, IT expert from the EHI Retail Institute

We are currently witnessing a rapid development of technological possibilities – on the customer side as well as for companies

Cetin Acar, IT expert from the EHI Retail Institute

This is how ‘Wetterkamp’ handled things, too, for a long time. Until the day when ‘my METRO customer care representative talked to me,’ recalls Christa Eickenscheidt. ‘That’s how I found Orderbird.’ The Berlin-based start-up, which was established in 2011, has developed a mobile cash till system for restaurants, bars and cafés that runs on the iPad or the iPhone. METRO was among the first investors and now also markets the company’s offerings on the ‘DISH’ platform. The Orderbird software can be used, for example, to enter orders and generate the bill right at the table.

The app ‘METRO Companion’, which recently received an award from EHI and is currently in the test phase, makes independent entrepreneurs’ everyday work less stressful. In this way, the app transforms the smartphone into a digital customer card. For instance, customers can search for products or store locations, have access to various ordering options and retrieve invoices. Additionally, relevant products, online offers and advertising are displayed. Restaurateurs can put together their shopping list online at the restaurant, save it and tick it off item by item the next time they visit their wholesale store.

Christa continues to run her parents' restaurant. They are employed by her.

It was quite a cultural change, especially for the regulars

Christa Eickenscheidt, Restaurant Wetterkamp
Michael Widmer, METRO Store Manager Düsseldorf

Michael Widmer, METRO Store Manager Düsseldorf

Speaking of wholesale stores: in Düsseldorf, in the immediate vicinity of its headquarters, METRO Germany is presenting the new store concept, which is geared towards food service customers and serves as a model for other stores throughout Germany. Restaurateurs can enter the store through a separate entrance. ‘A customer manager welcomes them there, advises them and answers all questions,’ says store manager Michael Widmer. The 47-year-old used to work in the 5-star hotel business and likes to speak of a sort of ‘concierge’ who takes care of all concerns.

Right behind the entrance for restaurateurs starts the enlarged fresh-food section, which is important for them. The range of convenience goods, such as sliced pumpkin or julienned carrots, has been expanded. After all, at a time where there is a shortage of staff, every minute counts in the restaurant business. The ‘Erlesene Welten’ (Choice Worlds) range offers premium products such as tea, coffee, olive oils or chocolate and gourmet food. ‘Thanks to shorter walking distances and product ranges with a clear emphasis on the restaurant business, METRO Germany gives restaurateurs the freedom to focus on what is essential to them: their business,’ says Widmer.

Christa Eickenscheidt did this, too. And it paid off: when she took over the management of ‘Wetterkamp’ in 2013, figures were declining. The balance sheet was off. She renovated the kitchen and the toilets, raised the drinks prices, introduced regular opening hours and vegetarian dishes, initiated campaign days, hired a young team – and has been pushing the digitalisation process of her establishment. ‘It was quite a cultural change, especially for the regulars,’ she recalls.

Helping self-employed people like Christa Eickenscheidt take the step into the 21st century and put their company on a more solid footing is not just a job for Sebastian Weißenfels but his passion. ‘We are no longer just a supplier of goods,’ says the regional head of customer management at METRO Germany. ‘Our customers expect more from us.’ The 33-year-old openly admits that digitalisation was a challenge for the METRO staff, too. After all, like their customers, the customer care representatives had performed their work in an analogue fashion for decades. ‘It took 12 months until everyone was convinced that this does not translate into a duty to sell digital tools but into added value for our customers,’ says Sebastian Weißenfels. ‘We are at the digital vanguard and proud of it!’

With about 600 regional employees, METRO Germany has the largest customer care team in the German food wholesale business. Because of the many sales channels in which the company operates, the entire organisation has been restructured. After all, what is most important for all approximately 14,000 employees are the customers – and they must be taken care of in the best way possible: whether they shop in 1 of the 103 wholesale stores, place their orders online or – like about 15,000 customers in financial year 2017/18 – have their goods delivered on a regular basis. METRO Germany launched the delivery service in 2009 and keeps professionalising it continuously.

Sebastian Weißenfels, Regional head of Customer Management at METRO Germany

Sebastian Weißenfels, Regional head of Customer Management at METRO Germany

In the old structure, a customer manager was responsible for a specific sales channel. Sometimes, this had unwanted consequences: ‘In the past, our customers sometimes had different and, unfortunately, changing contact persons at METRO. We wanted to change that,’ says Sebastian Weißenfels. After all, the situation was unsatisfactory for both sides. Today, in the omnichannel age, the principle that holds for every customer care representative is: ‘We are one METRO – no matter where our customers meet us!’

At the regional METRO branch in Neuss in the Lower Rhine region, where the customer manager works, the standard that is soon to apply everywhere in Germany has already been implemented: a field manager takes care of customers in a specific area across all sales channels. He or she works closely with a back office manager, his or her back-up, so to speak. ‘Our motto is now: one face to the customer,’ explains Sebastian Weißenfels. For customers like Christa Eickenscheidt from the ‘Wetterkamp’, this means that she now only has to remember 1 name at METRO. She can discuss with her customer care manager what goods she needs, how and when she would like to receive the delivery or which digital solutions from the ‘DISH’ platform make sense for her business.

METRO Germany uses the digital customer management tool ‘SAM’ to make sure things run smoothly. This is a software program that gives a customer care representative a simple overview which contains all the important information about a customer on his or her mobile terminal at the touch of a button: master data, information on the company, sales development, visit history, issues discussed and appointments. ‘The information which we can retrieve in real time allows us not only to take better care of the customer,’ says Sebastian Weißenfels. ‘We, too, can develop further, because it makes work processes more transparent.’

Change is never easy, regardless of the job or company. Every employee must get involved and leave his or her comfort zone. But the figures of the Rhineland initiative region (Düsseldorf, Neuss, Krefeld) also indicate that METRO Germany’s efforts are paying off. All new – physical or digital – solutions, processes and measures are tested during regular business activities, and if they work they are adopted in other regions. Business with the customers in the hotel, restaurant and catering business (HoReCa) has enjoyed growth in the medium single-digit range since the beginning of financial year 2018/19. And not only that. ‘The data we generate is valuable as well, because it helps us create bespoke offers for our customers and develop new, tailor-made solutions,’ Sebastian Weißenfels is convinced.

Sebastian Weißenfels and Michael Widmer working together

Sebastian Weißenfels, Regional head of Customer Management at METRO Germany, and Michael Widmer, METRO Store Manager Düsseldorf

Making the customers as successful as possible and giving them exactly what they need – whether it is meat, fish, fruit and vegetables or a website, whether restaurant accessories or an online booking tool – this is the standard which everyone at METRO Germany applies in their job.

Anyone wondering where this passion comes from only needs to visit an entrepreneur like Christa Eickenscheidt at the ‘Wetterkamp’ and ask her why she goes to her restaurant every day: ‘I grew up here, did my homework at the tables and painted with the guests. I was never alone and love being close to people,’ she says. ‘Even though it is a lot of work and often hard, it’s a lot of fun.’

METRO Germany

  • 103 wholesale stores
  • about 14,000 employees
  • about 600 customer managers
  • €4.7 billion sales in financial year 2017/18
  • about 4 million customers, focus: hotels, restaurants and catering (HoReCa)
  • approx. 15,000 customers regularly receiving deliveries

 

Germany

  • 83 million inhabitants
  • 2018 GDP: €3.39 billion
  • €45 billion sales in the HoReCa segment in 2018
  • 53,107 trainees in HoReCa in 2018

Source: Destatis, Euromonitor, Dehoga
Satus: May 2019

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