Jonathan Villar – Owner & Head Chef, MBER: To give a quick summary; before opening MBER (which is pronounced ‘ember’, by the way) I was previously Head Chef at PJ’s Steaks in London’s West End followed by Minako at The Met and Kopapa by Peter Gordon. MBER opened in September 2016, at the site, & on the 350th anniversary of, the Great Fire of London in Pudding Lane. We’ve created a stylish, warm & intimate-feeling restaurant that serves our own unique take on pan-Asian tapas & we’ve done extraordinarily well since opening.
James Hunter-Paterson – Managing Director, Intalex: It’s a fantastic restaurant, and when I first went there to meet Jonathan I didn’t want to leave! In terms of IT, they seemed to be in a good place, so I was curious to find out what we could do to help them.
Jonathan: The issues we had were all around internet connectivity & wi-fi. Firstly, we didn’t have enough bandwidth. That was a pretty fundamental issue. From an operational point of view, it meant the handheld EPOS devices our staff used to send orders to the kitchen & process payments were just too slow. From a customer service perspective, there’s the risk of embarrassing your guests when our slow connection might make it seem like their card wasn’t going to go through. As someone who is passionate about providing a 360 degree positive experience for my restaurant patrons and staff, it was imperative that we found a solution.
Secondly, being based in the City, a massively important part of our clientele is local businesses. Working lunches, meetings, post-work drinks, wining & dining clients – these customers have an expectation that they will be able to work on their phones, laptops & tablets with as much ease & speed as they would in the office. I was concerned that we weren’t providing that.
The third issue was around control & safeguarding – I don’t judge what people look at on the internet, but in my restaurant I have a duty of care, morally & legally, to ensure nothing inappropriate is accidentally seen by a customer or their children that might cause harm or offence. Prior to engaging Intalex, we had no real control over what people were accessing over our wi-fi, and as we were keen to expand the private event side of the business, where we would potentially have even less visibility, we knew we had to get it sorted.
James: Jonathan has summarised that pretty comprehensively. He’s absolutely right to flag up the legal & reputational risks that a surprising number of hospitality businesses still don’t take seriously enough in terms of offering public wi-fi in a secure & responsible manner – a pleasure to respond to this forward thinking approach.
Jonathan: I’m a firm believer in doing what you do best, and letting others do what they do best. That meant that I didn’t just want to find the right solution to our situation, I also wanted to find the right people to manage it going forward. It’s no secret that running a busy restaurant is so much more than a nine-to-five thing, so it’s essential for me to be able to work with people I trust so I can step back, say “Okay, you’ve got this”, and then focus on doing my own job well.
James: We looked at MBER’s core issues of connectivity performance & customer wi-fi access control in accordance with Jonathan’s brief, adding suggestions where appropriate. For example, a robust access portal for customers joining the network could also be used for promotional purposes, immediate, on-the-spot & GDPR-compliant marketing data capture and so on. We looked at individual components and then put the best ones together into a smart, light-touch and resource-efficient solution which was ideal for what they needed.
Chris: As I said earlier, I like to step back and let people do what they’re best at, so James can answer this one!
James: That’s fine, I usually get this bit! The first thing we did was address the core connectivity issues. One major advantage of MBER’s location is that it’s pretty much the starting point for the rollout of any new telecoms technology, so we took advantage of that to implement a 100 meg fibre connection in tandem with an ADSL circuit for back-up. This meant we had a really strong foundation on which to build the rest of the solution. Whilst this immediately resolved the speed & reliability issues, we still had to resolve the public wi-fi access controls.
We deployed a really smart set of tools from a company called Webroot. Without getting too technical, it uses a technology called SDN, which stands for Software Defined Networking. It allows us to define access levels on a hierarchy of permissions, so we can partition off a part of the network for customers to safely use the internet without impacting on overall network security or availability. It also meant we could easily exclude inappropriate sites and content being accessed in the restaurant, and there are real-time visual reports which show bandwidth usage and activity on a per-device basis, which is really helpful. The control panel also lets Jonathan deliver native ad-serving to any customers accessing the wi-fi via the log-in portal. Finally we were able to link up CCTV to the network, which was problematic before due to the poor connectivity.
James: Well, obviously we think it’s great, but we might be a little bit biased.
Jonathan: No, you’ve pretty much nailed it. The results are basically the total reverse of the issues. Every negative we had is now a positive. The fibre connection means everything runs better, faster & more reliably. The EPOS processes orders & payments in the blink of an eye, which makes us a visibly more slick operation. The SDN works perfectly & customers actually remark on how impressed they are with the wi-fi. The secure log-in portal allows us to deliver marketing messages, which really help us build brand loyalty through various schemes, such as our PA membership programme, which is an innovation we couldn’t have implemented so easily before, if at all. The connected CCTV is another big tick, and overall the whole business feels much smarter, smoother and also more confident in all aspects of digital security.