Restaurant service scenarios aren’t always pleasant — restaurant staff line up to enter orders at POS systems, guests wait to order while the server fetches drinks, and customers are often stuck in painfully long lineups to order a coffee at a quick-service joint.
For a growing number of operations, the next big cure for these ills could be wireless ordering systems, which are getting easier to find as new apps pop up everywhere, from pizza delivery to tableside ordering.
Toronto-based Teletec Systems Inc. is one supplier that’s noted significant uptake of wireless ordering systems in recent months. “Servers who have embraced it are experiencing faster turnover, and they don’t have to leave the table to be more proficient and increase their tips,” says Andrea Roberts, vice-president, Teletec.
Wireless is also finding a place in lineups at QSR operations. “You can move down the line, take orders and fire them to the kitchen,” says Roberts. “By the time the customer gets to the cashier, they can just touch the name and the order pops up for payment.”
Pizza Pizza’s wireless ordering is gaining surprisingly strong acceptance among its customers. Since launching a new iPhone/iPad ordering application this spring, wireless orders already account for six per cent of business. “We saw smartphones as the next growth model for us,” says Pat Finelli, the chief marketing officer in Toronto. “It’s even simpler than ordering online, because they can just click through to our central call centre.” The next step at the pizza chain is to introduce BlackBerry and Android apps. “This is where everything is going,” says Finelli. “And while it started with teens, now everyone between 17 and 48 is getting into it.”
Chef Michael Rubino is such a strong believer in wireless technology that he’s driving tablet innovation at his new Strada 241 restaurant in Toronto. In fact, he’s running his wireless system off a cloud, which means no POS terminals or computer servers are on site. “Everything, including ordering, works off iPads and is managed behind the scenes by IsisPOS,” he explains. Having everything he needs in “the cloud” allows him to access information from his iPhone anywhere in the world. “I can go into the POS system, look up what tables are having, void transactions and maintain the system no matter where I am. I couldn’t do that with a traditional POS.”
Using cloud-based technology also drops costs considerably. Rubino estimates his system is at least half the cost, if not lower, than a hard-wired POS install. “It’s largely because it’s web-based. The provider is only giving you the software that runs off the iPads.”
For large venues, such as the CN Centre in Prince George, B.C., wireless ordering is about efficiency and mileage. Foodservice manager Cindy Lynum has been using handheld tablets to serve the 14 luxury suites. “It saves servers a lot of walking, because they can take orders in the suites and ring them in on the spot.” That said, there are drawbacks to using the system, including the handheld’s short battery life as well as challenges with integration and set-up of wireless networks and antennas.
While the application here is specific, Lynum sees the value for large venues such as nightclubs. “By the time you get to the bar area, your drinks are already done. I’m not so sure about a smaller venue though.”
That’s where Jill McCabe, principal with the Restaurant Management Academy consultancy in Toronto, would disagree, having been contracted to manage the setup of Toronto-based Gusto 101’s wireless ordering system, which has delivered favourable results.
The 100-seat restaurant upped the cool quotient even more by using iPods as its ordering medium. “There were other handhelds, but they just weren’t cool enough for a restaurant in the heart of an edgy, fashion district,” said McCabe.
The Gusto 101 wireless ordering equipment costs $800 per unit (including licensing fees) and the app can be downloaded online. To order, servers select categories or type in two letters, such as FM for filet mignon.
Wireless ordering isn’t just a gimmick; it’s a savvy business move that speeds service and increases revenues for the wait staff. “Once drinks are mentioned, [wait staff] can send the order through and stay to talk about the food,” says McCabe. “For large parties the server can send drink orders in batches and by the time they have finished taking them, the first ones are already on their way to the table.”
On the downside, there are training notes to consider when using wireless ordering. “For example, you have to ensure staff maintains eye contact in discussions with guests,” says McCabe, who has also experienced the benefits of the equipment. “The servers that embraced it first had the highest sales and gratuities; they’re off the charts. Also, turnover is much faster, and you don’t have servers lining up at the POS terminal,” she says.
Gusto 101 is so pleased with the results that eight more units have been ordered for the rooftop deck. Eventually new iPad cases will enable servers to use their devices to process payments at the table. “When you look at the pros and cons of using handhelds, the benefits far outweigh any challenges,” McCabe says. “If there are growing pains, they’re 100 per cent worth it.”