Managing Tables & First Impressions

By Tim Clark | August 10, 2008

The first impressions are often the most important, but for the restaurant industry, this can be one of the more challenging parts of the dining experience. To create that charming first impression, restaurants must manage their tables in a way that allows them to seat guests quickly and efficiently while quoting accurate wait times.

The next generation of table management technology is capable of handling multiple functions, from first impression to last, with minimal disruption.

Wait-times with accountability
Radiant Systems (www.radiantsystems.com) is releasing a new module for its Aloha POS system called Guest Manager. The module brings a new level of accountability to the waitlist experience, thanks to a receipt system and interactive guest display. Guest Manager handles reservations, waitlists, table management, and guest tracking. Accurate wait times are calculated by determining the best table-match per waiting party based on expected table turn time, party size and guest requests.

One of Guest Manager's unique features is the slip of paper it provides guests, clearly printed with their estimated seat time instead of just a verbal quote from the hostess. Interactive guest-facing displays also provide information about current wait list times and allow guests to add themselves to the wait list or check themselves in.

Texas Roadhouse, a 300-unit restaurant chain, is investing heavily in technology to speed wait times. That's why the company approached Radiant Systems to implement its Aloha POS system complete with Guest Manager.  

Here's how Aloha's Guest Manager solution works at Texas Roadhouse: The customer's name is entered into the system, which then runs an algorithm for estimated wait times based on the number of guests already in the queue and average table-turns. The system then prints out a receipt with the customer's name, arrival time, and best estimate for their wait time. The receipt is then given to the customer as they wait.

"It's an intuitive system and the best part is [that] the customer receives a piece of paper with a time on it as opposed to a pager," says Bill Kent, senior director of information technology at Texas Roadhouse, Inc. "Guests feel a lot better about getting a piece of paper with a time on it. They feel there's some accountability." When the time comes for that guest to be seated, the server enters the name in the system, which then determines the best place to seat the party. The solution can also be integrated with a restaurant's preferred paging system.

Texas Roadhouse has been running Guest Manager since September of last year as a part of Radiant's initial limited release of the system. The restaurant has since moved Guest Manager into eight stores, new and old. For a successful implementation, "it has to be easy for the host to be trained and for IT to install and support." says Kent.

Guest Manager is currently available direct from Radiant Systems in limited release and will be available through the company's authorized resellers this fall.

Hostess with the mostess
With almost 50 locations spread across California, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois and Oregon, Claim Jumper is a step above casual dining, where customers often experience long wait times: up 90 minutes in some locations. In an effort to streamline wait times and turn tables more efficiently, Claim Jumper turned to the ConnectSmart Hostess solution from QSR Automations (www.qsrautomations.com), which was piloted in three stores in the fourth quarter of last year, according to Ted Stathakis, vice president of technology, Claim Jumper Restaurants.

Stathakis says the pilots have all been tested in the field successfully and now plans to rollout Hostess in one store per week.

"We were excited by the results of the pilot," says Stathakis. "It caught on faster than expected from users. An original concern was the hostess-guest interaction and the loss of personalization. While there was some apprehension towards giving up the old way, it was quickly overcome to the point where our operations group is asking ÃÆ'Â.Ã.Ã.‚¬Å¡Ã‚¬Ãƒ•Ã…"How fast can we do more stores?' Obviously, this process works much better when managers are clamoring to get the technology in their stores as opposed to reluctance when it comes time for rollout."

Stathakis says the ConnectSmart Hostess table management solution is far more than just a wait list. A graphical display of the dining room powers the crux of the solution. This split-screen view allows users to check the status of tables; the floor plan contains the wait list right along side of it. Stathakis says Hostess also interfaces with Claim Jumper's guest pager system. The restaurant is also experimenting with call-ahead and web-ahead technology.

"The generation that is using Hostess is our youngest staff," says Stathakis. "They take to a mouse and a keyboard or a touch screen quicker than most anybody. They like it better than the old-school way. It's a familiar interface and they gravitate to it. We have plans to integrate Hostess to interface with our POS system. It will provide even more information to better quote the wait time."

In addition to the functionality Claim Jumper is using, QSR Automations has made several advancements to its ConnectSmart Hostess table management solution, announced earlier this year at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. Split-screen functionality offers enhanced views when operating the system in combo mode, enabling touch users to expand and contract the wait list and floor views at the same time on the main screen.

Several new modules also beef up the application. ConnectSmart TableBoss can be used to update a table's status from any Windows terminal on the network, including those outside of the Hostess application, such as a POS terminal. This enables any authorized employee to indicate that table is dirty or cleared, or update a check as "printed" or "closed," for example. 

Later this year, the company plans to roll out the full release of its ConnectSmart Reservations module for web-based reservations (ConnectSmart WebReserve) and web-based call-ahead seating (ConnectSmart WebAhead) for guests who wish to join the wait list through the web rather than via the telephone.

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