2011.48 | iPad Table Ordering

While it’s been around for a number of years, interest in ordering food directly from the table has arisen again.  Here is one prototype that allows the table itself to act as the ordering screen.  We have had a food court conceptual solution that operates in a similar way using Microsoft Surface at the NCR demo center in Atlanta for some time.    It’s really very slick, but you have to wonder about the cost and complexity of filling a restaurant or even a mall food court with Microsoft Surface multi-touch units.

A  Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant has been piloting an ordering system for iPads for a month here in Mississauga that allows customers to order directly from the tables on iPads specifically deployed to the tables for that purpose. The solution is from Hubworks Interactive.   I visited the restaurant a month ago, but did not get seated at those tables to try out the system personally.  You can see the iPads sitting on the table in the background.  I like the concept, but a few thoughts come to mind:

  • The site is in here in Ontario.  In Canada, EMV is a requirement.  A pinpad is not visible on these devices.  Doesn’t that leave the restaurant on the hook if someone challenges the charge?  That is the general rule here.
  • How is the iPad secured so some nefarious soul can’t leave with it?  The iPad units I saw just sit on the table.  While they have a large pack on them to keep the battery charged and protect them, I didn’t see any securing of the solution. There was quite a large staff on hand, and that would defeat much of that potential but in a busy situation with 58 screens on the walls, and the proliferation of beer – some will probably walk.
  • I didn’t see a printer on the terminals, so doesn’t someone have to bring a receipt to the table anyway?  It makes it more convenient for clients to pay when they wish, but it doesn’t remove the effort of wait staff from bringing a receipt.  A paper receipt is required locally for debit and credit transactions.
  • Customers inevitably have some request that is not exactly as it appears on the menu.   (Soda water with extra lime, anyone?)  I assume that is handled by wait staff.
  • What about coupons for a free appetizer?  What about gift cards?  Are those accommodated?  Special offers and gift cards are a big part of the restaurant business.
  • Who is tasked with taking orders to the tables and validating that clients aren’t waiting too long?  When I asked about it at the restaurant, they indicated that the orders from the iPad ordering system are not identified any differently on the Kitchen Display system.  What is the influence on tipping when I entered my order on a terminal?  If it goes down will wait staff avoid those tables?
  • What is the care and feeding of such a solution from a technical perspective moving forward?  I’m not aware of much in the way of remote support tools for iOS units. The Hubworks Interactive website indicates that they use a cloud based solution which should minimize the management, but that work never goes away completely.  For example, these units have to be charged by someone at some point.  Cloud based solutions also mean that if the restaurant goes offline, those ordering units aren’t working.
  • How does the ROI work on these units?  The cheapest iPads are about $500. Add the cost of the case, software and ongoing support, and it must be at least $750-$1,000 per table.  While I can appreciate that there is a great deal of expense in a restaurant already with 58 televisions, the cost of putting iPads and an ordering solution at every table will add up.  There could definitely be a benefit of a perception of customer service, but is it worth it?

I applaud Hubworks Interactive for putting it together and Buffalo Wild Wings for trying something new.  Integrating new technologies into the grind of retail is always a challenge, and the only way to work out the kinks is to try it.  Time will tell if it works out.  I look forward to seeing how these fare in December 2012.

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