Tableside Ordering and Payment Answers

By Steve Brooks, Director of Mission Control, Tumbleweed Southwest Grill | July 17, 2008

As the presence of wireless tableside ordering and payment devices becomes more visible throughout restaurants nationwide, many operators find themselves weighing their options and asking a lot of questions.

"What are the benefits? What do I need to do to get this up and running? What are the associated costs?" The list of questions and concerns is limitless, but if you find yourself among the group thinking about tableside ordering and payment, then keep reading.

Big Benefits all Around
Initiating a tableside ordering and payment solution offers big benefits for everyone involved due to the efficient nature of the product. By giving servers the ability to place orders that are immediately beamed to the kitchen, and then to be able to print out and pay the bill tableside, restaurateurs will increase table turns. And faster table turns translate into higher tips for employees, faster greet time, more attentive service, and shorter wait times at the host stand during peak hours. Servers will also make fewer ordering mistakes because they do not have to manually write down orders and then enter them into a free standing point of sale (POS) terminal. The smoother flow of tickets to the kitchen results in faster food and drink service. Plus handling large parties becomes much easier because the tables in the system can be organized by seat number and checks can be split up more easily.

Not only will guests appreciate the accuracy and speed of service but they will also appreciate the additional payment security measures in place. Whenever a guest pays with a credit card, it is swiped through the tableside device never leaving its owner's sight. Theft occurrences will decrease while upholding PCI (payment card industry) compliances.

At Tumbleweed Southwest Grill, a table-side ordering and payment system has resulted in investment returns though increased guest counts, higher guest check averages, sales increases, lower comps, higher percentage of soft drinks rung, less deletes, and lower labor costs. Overall the timeframe for ROI (return on investment) on tableside ordering can be as quick as one year and no longer than two years.

Implementation Challenges
When installing a tableside ordering and payment option, operators will come across a variety of challenges, the first of which is picking the correct device that will work with your existing POS system and one that is user friendly. Devices should be small enough as to not get in your server's way, but they also need to be rugged enough to stand up to occasional spills and bumps. Operators should also model the menu screen to match their old terminals so that servers don't have to struggle to find items. Once you have decided on a model, test it out in a smaller property and solicit feedback from your servers before bringing it into your flagship location.

Now that you are set on a device, how should you train your staff to use it? When it comes time to train your employees to use the wireless device, a bottom-down approach is the most beneficial. Start by training managers first before moving onto the rest of the staff.

Devise damage and loss important considerations, particularly because the cost of each device can run as high as $1,000. One option is to make your servers accountable for the devices by signing them in and out during each shift. In some cases, servers could be required to sign a waiver to replace some or all of the device's value in the event of damage or loss.

Last, but not least, it is vital to have a reliable food runner system. This will not only save labor and reduce the possibility of device damage, but it will speed up table turns.

Associated Costs
There are a number of costs associated with implementing both the hardware and software in order to get these wireless devices up and running. On the hardware side you will need the hand-held units themselves, as well as the magnetic strip readers, batteries, coffins to charge the batteries, cradles, routers, warranties and accessories. Assuming that you need 15 wireless devices for a 6,000sq/foot space, the cost for this alone can run near $25,000. On the software side, POS licenses can run near $7,500; but if you already have a POS license and you are taking away terminals, try to negotiate a deal where those terminals can be converted. Lastly, don't forget the costs associated with installation, training, and wiring, which can run near $11,000. All of these prices are based on what it would cost to implement 15 wireless devices in a 6,000 sq/foot location (that comes out to one device per five tables) and will vary depending on the size of your property.

Tableside POS Check List
Installing a tableside ordering and payment option requires a multitude of moving pieces and there is a lot to take into account during each and every phase of deployment. As you move ahead, keep the following checklist of questions in mind:

ÃÆ'Ã.‚¬Å¡Ãƒ•Ã‚· Will your POS system fit on a mobile POS device?
ÃÆ'Ã.‚¬Å¡Ãƒ•Ã‚· Do you have a support system in place (food and drink runners)?
ÃÆ'Ã.‚¬Å¡Ãƒ•Ã‚· Do you have an IP system for printers and POS?
ÃÆ'Ã.‚¬Å¡Ãƒ•Ã‚· Do you have PCI compliance issues?
ÃÆ'Ã.‚¬Å¡Ãƒ•Ã‚· Do you have new stores opening or remodels in the next year?
ÃÆ'Ã.‚¬Å¡Ãƒ•Ã‚· Are any of your stores ready for new equipment?
ÃÆ'Ã.‚¬Å¡Ãƒ•Ã‚· Are training sessions in place?
ÃÆ'Ã.‚¬Å¡Ãƒ•Ã‚· Will you be able to give wireless POS a complete test?

Steve Brooks is the director of mission control for Tumbleweed Southwest Grill, headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. Tumbleweed has 62 units, including 44 domestic,13 international, and 5 cafe locations. Brooks was a restaurant manager and area director before directing the MIS department now known as "Mission Control."

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