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Is there Really Any Value in Tableside Handhelds?


The on-going goal of improving both profitability and customer return visits is constantly on the minds of restaurant owners and mangers. While numerous articles and opinions have focused on how to use loyalty programs, aggressive (and smartly applied) promotions, and advertising through social media, these are not the only strategies that operators need follow in the pursuit of their goals. Handheld wireless ordering, which has remained under the radar as a way to realize tremendous costs savings and increased profitability for some time, is rapidly coming to the forefront as more proprietors recognize the value of such devices. What's more, new, low-cost technologies like Apple's iPod touch and iPhone, are putting handhelds in an even brighter spotlight.

For some operators, the benefits associated with the use of handhelds have been clear for years. Such is the case at Brian's Cheesesteaks, located in Rocky Mount, NC. Brian's had set out with the goals of improving overall operations and driving cost savings to their bottom line. After turning to Data Control Systems to install the Restaurant Manager POS system, and recognizing the immediate improvements it lent to operations, management decided that Restaurant Manager's Write-On Handheld wireless tableside ordering solution was an obvious next step.

The benefits realized were immediate, and haven't stopped since. For instance, because the handhelds enable servers to send orders while still at the table, this has led to five dramatic operational improvements which are impacting the bottom line, while raising customer service levels.

Five benefits
The first improvement realized was a decrease in the average amount of time a ticket was open (from order until delivery) at the table by a little over 40%. Servers no longer had to waste time walking to and from the point of sale (POS) station, wait to place the order due to being stopped by customers at a another table, or stand in line if another server was using the POS station to place their own order.

The second and third improvements that resulted were directly related to the decrease in the open ticket time. Speedier service led to increased table turns, and perhaps more importantly, a greater average check amount. Why? Customers now had time for dessert which was additional revenue that went right to the bottom line. Brian's was able to seat more customers during the day and generate a 10% revenue increase at the same time.

The fourth improvement came in the form of improved customer service levels. Not only did customers' meals arrive more quickly, but they knew that as soon as they told the server what they wanted, the order was off to the kitchen. That helped drive more repeat business. Believe it or not, customers pay attention to how long it takes their server to place their order after leaving the table. Since the order was placed instantly, servers simply moved on to the next table to make sure everything was all right, take the next order or up-sell that dessert.

A fifth improvement was a dramatic reduction in order errors. The kitchen no longer had to decipher hand-written tickets and eliminated the precious time spent recalling the server to clarify an order. That not only improved customer service and speed-of-order-delivery even more, but it directly took out cost and waste from orders read incorrectly and the resulting remakes.

A final benefit is that environmentally conscientious proprietors can "go green." It may seem trivial, but using handhelds significantly reduced power consumption. Even the most efficient POS terminals use a lot of electricity, but handhelds use only a fraction of that.

New technologies coming into play
Today, handheld POS ordering and payment solutions have moved toward low-cost, easy to use and intuitive devices such as an iPod touch. This is dramatically changing the attitude toward tableside ordering and payment. The iPod and iPhone interface is well known to today's generation of servers, and some input methods, such as using abbreviations, is as easy as texting without requiring servers to drill up and down through endless order entry screens. In addition, many servers already have these devices so there is virtually no additional cost as they simply download the POS app.

Brian's Cheesesteaks' solution, the Write-On Handheld from Restaurant Manager, for example has recently been enhanced to work on the iPod touch with an integrated MSR reader. With PCI Compliance and the ever-present threat of customer's credit card information being "skimmed," pay-at-the-table will soon come to the front and center as customers are more reluctant to let their credit card leave their sight.

The proven benefits of handhelds, along with the changes in technology, have put tableside ordering and payment more into the spotlight than ever before.

Brian Vick has been involved with the fast food business for nearly 30 years. He stated by first bussing tables then managing restaurants and eventually opening his own restaurant, Brian's Cheesesteaks, in 2001.

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