While the market for tableside POS (point of sale) continues to ripen, the smartphone and tablet explosion of the past few years has helped this technology become more affordable and viable for restaurants of all sizes. As technology vendors have rolled out increasingly refined wireless applications for existing POS systems, restaurant owners are beginning to place their orders. There are several business benefits of tableside POS: fewer manual errors, increased sales, and ultimately, improved service for diners.
The latest options in tableside dining are varied. Viableware’s (www.viableware.com) patented RAIL system, for example, displays diners’ familiar bill folder onscreen, with the added capabilities of at-the-table credit card swipe, on-the-spot digital signing, and credit card authorization. Plus, LED lights on each server’s dedicated RAIL indicate additional information, like whether the guest needs assistance, and show guest input via a questionnaire at the end of the meal. Seattle-based Boom Noodle (www.boomnoodle.com) implemented RAIL early this year in its three units and the system has proven invaluable, according to Jaimie Schutter, general manager. “If anyone hits ‘poor’ for service, the manager can go back and talk to them. We can give them a gift card for next time, or whatever it takes to earn their loyalty,” Schutter explains.
Tableside kiosks with tablets affixed to each table are another popular option. E la Carte (www.elacarte.com) markets its own ruggedized 7-inch Presto model, where a monthly fee includes the hardware rental and all services, including gaming for patrons before, and during, their meal. eTab (www.e-tab.com) provides its own 7-inch model that stores patron information in the cloud for immediate conveyance to each waiter’s handheld. Not affixed to the table but sealed for durability, the eTab is portable enough for curbside use, enabling food delivery. Its Menubuilder platform has fields where hospitality owners can include nutritional information and suggested food-and-beverage pairings, an attractive drag-and-click feature for patrons.
A similar user interface is being marketed by Hubworks Interactive (www.hubworks.com), which recommends purchasing, rather than leasing, the applicable hardware: VESA-mounted iPads at each table. Currently in beta testing at a few locations of the 800-unit Minneapolis-headquartered Buffalo Wild Wings, the cloud-based solution is praised for its leveraging of diners’ access to applications like Facebook and Twitter via the iPad. The POS system offered by ISISPOS (www.isispos.com) is compatible with either an iPad or an iPod Touch. ISISPOS is now being used by Sizzler as a vehicle for a new line of food trucks, as well as for British gourmet dessert chain Bea’s of Bloomsbury (www.beasofbloomsbury.com).
The new POS technology also makes it easier for food service establishments with atypical setups to conduct business. At Beach Movie Bistro (www.beachmoviebistro.com), a Virginia Beach, Va.-based theater/restaurant that opened in May 2011 with seven separate movie screens and extra-wide stadium seating, the wait staff has a great deal of ground to cover. Without the Write-On Handheld, a tableside ordering and payment solution that Action Systems Inc. (www.rmpos.com) developed for the iPod Touch, the logistics would have been far more difficult. “One of our main challenges from the very beginning was to choose a technology that would work in multiple locations [within one facility],” says Robert Perkins, director of operations for Beach Cinema Bistro Group. Each waiter’s Handheld is fully integrated into Action Systems’ Restaurant Manager, a long-established optimized touchscreen application from pre-wireless days.
Regardless of the POS system used, restaurants must be able to print customer bills and receipts. Epson America offers a comprehensive line of POS solutions (www.pos.epson.com) including its front-of-house model and the U220 for thermal (kitchen area) use. Complete with software development kits for integration onto Apple devices including the iPod Touch, iPad, and the Android, the printers also now have built-in buzzers to alert wait staff when their orders come in. Epson is the printer of choice for Menusoft’s Digital Dining (www.digitaldining.com) and for pcAmerica’s Restaurant Pro Express Mobile (www.pcamerica.com/rpemobile), two popular POS solutions.
Digital Dining user Cascal (www.cascalrestaurant.com), a 300-seat, indoor/outdoor restaurant in Mountain View (Silicon Valley), Calif., is one very pleased tableside POS convert. With four large POS terminals positioned throughout the restaurant, iPod Touches are shared two per waiter. Particularly attractive is how little training is necessary for wait staff, says partner and general manager Brad Daley. “It’s such an intuitive system,” he notes. “You can hand one of these to a server, and if they know how to use their regular POS terminals, they can master [the wireless aspect] right away.” Daley offers two key pieces of advice. First, servers should be instructed to lock their touch screens at the beginning of each shift so orders are not inadvertently changed by contact. Second, to ensure that the devices easily last a double shift, staff should adjust battery settings and employ screen saver mode.
For pcAmerica, handheld devices are also the right POS menu option. The 20-year-old technology firm rolled out its RPE at Kabob Hutt late last year, and the Riverside County/Inland Empire, Calif., eatery reports a substantial uptick in work efficiency. “During peak hours when there needs to be constant running around, our staff is able to quickly fulfill the orders from the handheld device and send it straight to the kitchen,” says Shawheen Abdi, director of sales and marketing. “This lets our team work more with the guests rather than the computer.” Abdi does confess however, that while efficiency has greatly increased, the corresponding rise in sales has been less significant.
Specific dining tastes notwithstanding, there’s a larger pool of people to be reached with these new advances. According to Rohit Verma, executive director of the Center for Hospitality Research at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, the range of restaurant-goers amenable to tableside (and hence, the range of restaurants that will benefit from adopting these solutions) has broadened significantly in the last few years. Verma based his findings on a study conducted in late 2008 that focused on the so-called technology readiness index among consumers, in this case for tableside POS. “Today, the U.S. dining population that’s ready to embrace this concept will still be a bell-shaped curve, like it was in 2008 and 2009,” Verma says. “The big difference is, people on the high end of the curve five years ago were more likely male, educated and rich. Now, it’s more spread across the demographic spectrum.”