Wireless Waiters Ensure Speedy Service

Discussion
Jul 29, 2009
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

According to an independent survey from Motorola,
53 percent of decision makers in the hospitality space believe wireless
ordering and reservations will provide the greatest technological impact
for their organization within the next five years.

The most obvious benefit is in time as the
survey showed that mobile applications saved hospitality employees an average
of 44.1 minutes per day.

At a presentation Tuesday at City Winery in
Manhattan, Andre Nataf, business development manager at Digital Dining,
a restaurant POS systems provider, said wireless devices address many of
the “natural inefficiencies of restaurants and hospitality concepts.” (Hospitality
also includes hotels, gaming and sports stadiums.)

The largest inefficiency involves taking an order or a credit
card and then needing to walk over to a terminal to input the order or
process the card.

“So many inefficiencies often happen after a server takes
your order initially,” said Mr. Nataf. “They may get stopped and have to
take another order, they may get paged to pick up food from the kitchen
– all these things in restaurants that happen no matter how good they are
as an operator. Having mobile is like having the terminal with them at
all times.”

Mr. Nataf also said wireless devices present upsell opportunities
through more attentive service.

“The National Restaurant
Association has for years said the number one customer complaint is getting
the check when you want it and I think we’ve all been in situations where
we would have ordered another drink or appetizer if we could find a server,’
said Mr. Nataf.

Other benefits of wireless devices in the hospitality space,
according to the session, include an increase in inventory visibility since
the devices instantly show what’s in stock. Orders are also found to be
more accurate when keying them in at the table, especially since many restaurants
still rely on a waiters’ memory rather than a notepad to tally orders.

Employee retention also tends to improve, and Mark Self, Vice President of Industry Solutions, Motorola Enterprise Mobility Solutions,
said wireless can dramatically enhance a server’s performance.

“It used to be all about hiring the “great
individual employee” at a restaurant as opposed to supporting them to move
from good employee to a great employee like other industries,” said Mr.
Self. “But we’re finding if you put mobility in the hands of a number of
workers, particularly customer-facing workers, we’re seeing opportunities
to increase service levels.”

The top five key mobility benefits were increased
employee productivity/efficiency, increased customer/partner satisfaction,
increased business revenues/sales results, reduced labor costs via automated
processes, and increased order fulfillment accuracy.

The top five mobile challenges: cost of hardware;
security concerns/risk; cost of software, integration, service and support;
difficulties in employee training and support; difficulties integrating
mobile apps, existing infrastructure.

Asked about mobile applications for retailers,
Adrees Ali, a manager at Brooklyn Bowl, a recently-opened restaurant/club/bowling
alley, noted a situation when his staff was able to use a mobile device
to quickly corral a shirt from another floor for a customer who had a tray
of drinks spilled on him. Michael Dorf, owner of City
Winery, said at a general admission concert, his staff used mobile devices
to sell tickets to a long line that had gathered outside the establishment.

Mr. Nataf said his
firm has been contacted by a large supermarket
that found that they had “lost the service element” by using deli ordering
kiosks and were looking at mobility “as that hybrid between talking to
a machine and talking to just a person who is taking an order verbally.”

Frank Riso, Motorola’s
senior director of retail solutions, said the applications vary across
mediums but the results are similar.

“Bottom line, it’s customer service, inventory
management and worker productivity. That kind of cuts across all parts
of mobility,” said Mr. Riso.

Discussion Questions: Do you think mobile
technologies have the potential to likewise reduce the “natural inefficiencies” of
sales employees on retail selling floors? Which wireless applications
available so far make the most sense for retail?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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19 Comments on "Wireless Waiters Ensure Speedy Service"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

The trend toward wireless technology in service-oriented businesses is showing up not only at restaurants but also in more forward-looking retailers like The Apple Store. It can add a lot to the customer experience in terms of perceived efficiency, and can help retailers of all kinds “do more with less” or at least with the same levels of service. But will wireless technology totally displace good customer service, or merely reinforce it? I still believe there is no substitute for a competent and well-trained sales associate (or food server), no matter what kind of reinforcing technology is in place.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
11 years 9 months ago

This has so much potential. With technology today, there’s no need for a waiter. Just have a touchscreen and anyone can order, etc. Of course, upscale restaurants will want to change their style and maybe just have a button to push for additional service, etc. This application, if deployed correctly, could dramatically reduce labor cost, increase customer service and create a fun experience.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
11 years 9 months ago

I think the experience a customer has at a restaurant is more dependent on the food, ambiance and service. And while technology may help make certain processes more efficient, at the end of the day, they are of little compensation for a less than enjoyable dining experience.

I see this as just another situation where technology is being hailed as a solution to a core problem that can better be fixed by focusing on the human element.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 9 months ago
Mobile devices for use at high-end restaurants may not be as attractive a solution yet. People are more focused on food, atmosphere, and personal service. However, using mobile technology at major chains including Chili’s, Applebee’s and Outback could be very beneficial for several reasons. Speed of service, accuracy of orders, post analysis for the chain, and improved security for customers are just a few benefits. What would really be interesting is the development of a third-party app that restaurants could subscribe to and customers could download to their phone. Restaurants would have the ability to update their menus including specials, pricing, etc, each day. When a customer was seated they would enter the mobile app and select the restaurant. The waiter would give them a table number so orders would go to the correct customer. Then customers could order rounds of drinks, food and request to speak with the waiter or even the manager. All of this would be done by using their own personal phone/PDA. This solution is interesting for several reasons. It is… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

We need to remember that one this is not research, it is just a survey that someone is trying to spin as research.

The the selling points look great and there are definitely some potential savings if used correctly and the staff is trained to use the tools provided properly. But if a waiter can print out and take payment at the table, that is great…but I still need to get the waiter’s attention so that I can get the check and pay the bill.

Here is what I see happening. The wait person with technology is more efficient, so we cut back on the number of wait staff. Service either stays the same or goes down–no net improvement.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 9 months ago

There’s a balance that needs to be struck between cold, hard efficiency and genuine customer interaction. I think Apple stores are a good example of that balance being struck. My experience with skilled waiters with hand-helds has been mostly positive as well. But as we’ve seen throughout the retail industry over the past few decades, efficiency driven technology all too easily swamps “inefficient” human interaction.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that we’re not going to go down this wireless road. Volume-driven, cost-driven, low-price mass-market retailers and restaurants will clearly benefit most from this technology. That will leave upper-tier niche specialists with the opportunity to strike the right balance between the technology and the human experience, and further differentiate and distinguish themselves from the masses.

Bob Livingston
Guest
Bob Livingston
11 years 9 months ago

Apple “tallying the bill” after the product selection, a restaurant server “wiring” your order to the kitchen, all practical uses of wireless technology already in place to enhance the experience, not draw away from it. The experience itself is still created by how the individual server or sales clerk does what they do. If these approaches save everybody time, great; a win/win.

In matters of service, the litmus test should always be that the technology enables the experience and is not–in and of itself–the end solution (ATM cards and Disney Fast Pass being early technology exceptions).

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

I’ve talked with several CIOs of quick serve restaurants who think that this technology is huge. They note that it allows servers–who tend to be outgoing and engaging–to remain with customers, instead of rushing back and forth. Their pilots have shown that customers enjoy having easy access to the server; they’ve also shown that, with a little tweaking, the electronic system can help boost sales by optimizing the timing of bringing items to the table. This is one development that won’t be a fad.

Jesse Rooney
Guest
Jesse Rooney
11 years 9 months ago
There’s a lot of potential here to reduce inefficiencies and increase service levels, however, I can see several potential issues. The first one concerns a potentially high capital outlay required to outfit servers with these wireless devices. For many large chains, this may not be a significant issue, however, a great many restaurants are truly mom and pop enterprises. For those smaller businesses, the cost of supplying their waitstaff with these wireless devices could be prohibitive. Secondly, I wonder if the reduction in inefficiencies and the increase in up-selling will result in a resizing of the service workforce. It seems to me that giving the waitstaff wireless palms and then letting a quarter of them go wouldn’t do much to improve service or that all important wait time for the check. Finally, I wonder if there’s a potential for less flexibility or more error due to these devices. Potentially, a lot can go into to a meal order. I’m sure the devices can handle a Delmonico cooked rare, but what if the diner would like… Read more »
Valerie Bostic
Guest
Valerie Bostic
11 years 9 months ago

If you love having your lunch or dinner order taken by 1 person, drinks delivered to the wrong person by 2nd person, lunch or dinner delivered to the wrong person by 3rd person, and check brought by 4th person then just imagine how adding another order-taker wirelessly will help with the personal experience in a bar or restaurant! Corporate Chain Management wants to turn a personal service restaurant/bar experience into fast food experience! The corporate accountants/efficiency experts and corporate management are ruining the personal restaurant/bar industry in the U.S.A.! We already have trouble getting people to go out to eat and drink! They should spend the money on detail-oriented personal service training of waiters and waitresses instead and allow the server to be the only service person at a table! Serving is not a TEAM SPORT!

Roger Saunders
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

As long as Retailers thoroughly and effectively train their associates on value to the Consumer via added technology, all parties–Consumer, Sales Associate, and Retailer–will experience Customer Service Satisfaction.

When the Banking Industry first introduced “cash machines” back in the ’70s, you would still see people queuing up in long teller lines for cash, deposits, etc. We used to go through airports, and all line up with a ticket agent, a time consuming process–now we go online the night before, and have our ticket printed for us.

As long as Retailers make the Consumer a part of the technology advantage, they’ll find Satisfied Consumers, Satisfied and More Productive Associates, and an opportunity to bolster their own bottom line.

Scott Thomsen
Guest
Scott Thomsen
11 years 9 months ago

I agree with many of the comments above. Wireless services will serve to enhance retailer/customer interaction in a couple of ways. First, the ability for customers to easily access information, reviews, competitive pricing, etc, at the point of sale will quickly become their expectation and not a happy surprise. This information will lead to a more thoughtful and shorter interaction with store associates. Smarter customers demand smarter associates and better service.

Retailers who understand this cycle and move aggressively to enable it will reap the rewards of both lower labor costs AND greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

This will be a marginal help at best in retail. I believe the biggest inefficiencies on most retail sales floors are (1) unmotivated employees and (2) getting the right job done at the right time (i.e., getting a sales employee in front of a customer that has a question, restocking the shelves, cleaning, getting labor at the checkout, remerchandising items from the fitting room, etc, etc.). I don’t see how this technology really helps with either of those issues, beyond the technology that exists today.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 9 months ago

Susan, LOL. (I got it.) There was also great potential and efficiency in outsourcing customer service queries and supplying DIY checkout terminals. Of course, that also helped get us to 10%+ unemployment and therefore a citizenry with less money to buy those computers, clothes, groceries, and restaurant meals that were being made so much more efficiently.

Liz Crawford
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

Efficiency for the retailer is one aspect, consumer desires are another. Fortunately consumers, especially younger ones, are very interested in controlling their shopping and hospitality experiences. Putting the control in their hands will please them in addition to driving efficiencies for those enterprises.

Kai Clarke
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

This is a natural progression for customers serving themselves. Why wait for someone else to “get around” to taking your order when you can wirelessly transmit this, from anywhere! This is already available in China (people place their McDonald’s orders from a Kiosk on the Subway) and some restaurants are moving in this direction. Pizza and other fast food restaurants offer this from your cellphone and more. So much of retail is self service, this just seems to be a logical move as we become a wireless society.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
11 years 9 months ago

Mobile tech definitely holds the potential to benefit merchants and shoppers in many ways, e.g., line busting, inventory check, product ordering, etc. But there’s another benefit that’s also important and one that Motorola’s Mark Self notes in the article, i.e., using the tech to help make good employees into great employees. That in itself can reap many benefits via the creation more confident, knowledgeable and happier employees who are willing to serve customers and, in doing so, create a pleasing shopping experience that makes consumers want to return.

Anna Murray
Guest
Anna Murray
11 years 9 months ago

Wireless is definitely the way to go in restaurants. However, based on what I have seen, the devices are not up to speed with where they need to be. They seem to be cumbersome to carry and waitstaff valiantly try to enter special instructions.

Just like the Apple Newton in the early 90s eventually became the SmartPhones we have today–so wireless restaurant technology needs to mature to become a transparent part of the process.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

In my experience, there are two distinct types of wait staff; those that are good with people and those that are not. While technology may help speed up reaction time, how service is delivered–honestly, sincerely and with passion for the company, makes all the difference to the guest. The neat gizmos might attract the customer once, particularly if is made a significant part of the show. But a meal presented hot and on time, a compliment to a customer who looks great in that shirt your networked found, or being taken to your hotel room by a courteous and informative hotel employee is a longer lasting memory.

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