"Nothing useless can be truly beautiful."— William Morris
Think about that quote then consider similar questions:
- What's a gorgeous car that doesn't run?
- How grand is a smartphone that doesn't work?
- Is flowery poetry really beautiful if it doesn't inspire us to do something?
If you take Morris' words at face value, you can conclude that beauty lies not just in the way something looks and feels, but in the way it functions. Work in virtually any industry and you’ll likely encounter a tool or product, a computer or software, that makes your duties easier. If you're operating a restaurant, you've probably seen how technology can help you, whether it's in maintaining efficiency or keeping guest satisfaction standards in check.
However, can a commercial product, or piece of technology be beautiful? Maybe that's debatable. Many identify "designing" as the marriage between form, function, and usability. By this definition, a product must be visually pleasing and perform some task that's relevant to the user. So while aesthetic beauty truly lies in the eye of the beholder, its usefulness likely won't. By understanding the concept of ease-of-use, and then considering how to identify it in your restaurant technology, you’ll be better able to make informed audits of your current setup that guide any future purchases. Remember, real quality is in both form and function. You can eyeball the way it looks, but understanding its ease-of-use goes a bit deeper.
Ease-of-Use becomes most important when working with something you, or your staff, use often. An unruly, difficult product will frustrate your staff and cause them to stop using it. In more extreme cases, a product that causes frustration might incentivize them to seek other employment. In an industry already fraught with high turnover, you can't afford to drive them away! Additionally, poorly designed products make onboarding slower and training more difficult, which make troubleshooting snags and problems more difficult along the way.
A poor ease-of-use experience will also drive business away. Consider a sloppy website that's difficult for customers to navigate: Most will not bother fussing with it for long before seeking something else.
To determine ease-of-use for things you have in your restaurant, consider the five E's for ease-of-use:
When identifying ease-of-use you must first determine if the item effectively does what it is supposed to do. Most technologies will have an advertised purpose; for example, a kitchen display system might promise to help route orders to maintain efficiency or provide analytic reports for you. On the outward facing front, perhaps you have an ordering widget on your website, which is supposed to help incentivize the user when placing online orders.
Before determining ease-of-use, you must first know the product’s intended function, so you can evaluate if it's doing what it should. Not performing as expected? Then is it a user error or an actual product defect? A keen understanding of intended function will help you out here.
Your software and technology should make things easier; it should remove steps from the process, or even automate them, and not create more. Examine your restaurant technology to ensure it meets these criteria. If you notice that your tech is slowing down your workflow, or creating extra work, try to locate the source. Here are a few questions to ask:
● Are you, or your staff members, using it incorrectly?
● Is it not suited for the job?
● Is it continually breaking or shutting down, so that you must restart it?
Sometimes you might find a simple software upgrade or adjustment to your staffing that could fix the problem. However, if you discover your technology is creating more unnecessary tasks than it's removing, you're likely elongating your ticket times beyond what’s needed and would find significant productivity gains by choosing new technology.
An engaging product is one that's pleasing to use and provides actionable feedback within its features to let the user know the process they've employed. For example, many modern cellphones issue a "click" haptic, informing the user that they've selected something. Think about how a computer cursor hovers over something clickable. Now, some products are more visually stunning than others. For example, an app needs a clean, easy-to-navigate interface to be engaging. It should provide visual cues, readable fonts, and where applicable, visual aids. A deep fryer probably doesn't.
Non-engaging products that are difficult to interpret and don’t provide visual cues will create problems by jamming up the flow. For example, if a kitchen display system is designed to help manage your order traffic, it should give some intuitive visuals to assist you. Perhaps this means color-coding orders which have gone long or sequencing them by their delivery target. Be wary of a product's interface and pay special attention to its graphical output. No one wants to scan a wall of text, especially when in a hurry.
A product that's easy to break isn't easy to use. Make sure that any restaurant technology you use can withstand the unique kitchen environment, and all the hazards presented there, like high temperatures, oil, and the like.
Furthermore, avoid buying technology that a user might accidentally break. Instead, look for technology that offers "re-do" or "undo" functions, preventing erased data from one mistaken click or push. Error-tolerance will vary in different industries. For example, a layperson might easily misuse a heart-defibrillator, where a first responder will find it much more intuitive. In terms of restaurant technology though, you want to ensure that the tech is as "error proof" as possible. The last thing you want is someone in your kitchen accidentally changing or erasing settings or data.
A valuable product is an intuitive one, but also one that is easy-to-learn on the job. While you can't always expect hired staff to immediately know how to use the software, you should be comfortable knowing that they can learn easily. Good technology will present a good safety net so that your team members can find resources and refreshers if needed.
So you won't be left stranded with a non-functional hunk of paperweight plastic should the unthinkable happen, look for products and software that provide learning resources, or access to support.
You can take this out a bit further, opting for easy-to-implement products. While there's always a slight disruption when introducing technology into your operation, it should be as seamless as possible.
You're the best judge of a product's ease-of-use, and many of the tenets are reasonably straightforward. Always remember to consider the user and the scenarios in which the technology will be used when determining a product's value for your restaurant. You want something nimble to your environment, simple to learn and use, and that's stable over the long run.
Lee Leet is the CEO of QSR Automations and founded the company in 1996. QSR has become an industry leader in technology stack integrations, after developing industry solutions that advance restaurant innovations and empowerment. ConnectSmart Kitchen, a kitchen automation solution, and DineTime, a guest management platform, help restaurants efficiently manage resources, time, staff and the dining experience — all of which have been created by QSR.