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The Future of the Restaurant Industry?

A few weeks ago, while out to dinner with my brother and his wife, we had a rather interesting conversation about possible future enhancements to the restaurant industry.

Both my brother and his wife are training to become chefs, so I usually defer to them or my older sister when it comes to culinary issues.

The discussion was centered around something they had seen while watching a show like Kitchen Nightmares or Hell’s Kitchen (something along those lines, I’m not sure which and I don’t watch either of those shows), where a restaurant was operated with a much higher level of technology than any restaurant either of them has ever worked at or visited.

In the featured restaurant, each of the servers carried around either an iPod touch, iPhone or other compatible smartphone, which were loaded with an application for entering in each guest’s selection, and then that data was sent directly to a computer in the kitchen.

Hearing of a restaurant that does something along these lines was very interesting to me. It sounded like such an advancement over the current system most places use, where the servers jot down orders on a small piece of paper, which then gets entered into the computer or the scrap of paper physically makes its way to the kitchen for the order to be delivered to the kitchen staff.

Eliminating that extra step of transferring information into a second system, just seems like a smart move to me. If the technology is available, and at a reasonable cost, why not take advantage of it?

I’ve never really worked in a restaurant environment (other than one summer during high school, where I worked maybe one day a week and remember hardly anything from that experience), but this more advanced system seems like it would make the whole process of entering orders into a more streamlined and efficient system– with much less room for error.

There are several reasons why this concept could be beneficial and really take off, but a few issues that may arise when trying to implement it.

Instead of writing something down, only to immediately enter the data elsewhere, why not just be able to enter it into the actual system, and make any special notations or specific requests at the same time? The need to decipher a server’s potentially sloppy shorthand, or possibility of mis-reading a special instruction about the patron’s request would be eliminated.

Implementing such an advanced system probably wouldn’t be that difficult once applications are designed and tested/modified to fit a specific restaurant, as most people I see (this may be a little biased since I work for a cell company) carry a smartphone of some type, so it could be feasible for a restaurant owner to have their employees just download an app onto their existing device, and go from there. In the rare cases where an employee doesn’t have a compatible device, the idea of a company owned iPod or other compatible device could be used by those employees during their shifts.

The possible issues with this idea are that employees may complain about having to use their own equipment for work purposes, which then may require the company to offer some sort of compensation for such use. This might not be very cost-effective for a restaurant to suddenly have to add cell-phone reimbursement/discounts to an existing budget.

Also, allowing employees (or rather actually encouraging them) to use personal cell phones/PDAs while on the clock could make for a lot of distractions with the employees having even more accessibility to text messaging and social networks while they are supposed to be interacting with customers might severely impact business. The perception of the average customer of an establishment might think that the server is texting or playing games, while in reality they are uploading an order from another table or doing other work from their device. Policing behavior on a personal device while at work could potentially be a logistical nightmare for management, especially in busier establishments that require a large serving staff.

After weighing out some of the benefits and problems with this concept, I’m still on the fence about how good of an idea this really might be. Of the restaurants I’ve visited recently, none had systems like this in place, but I’m sure a quick search on Google (which I haven’t done yet) would turn up a list of local places using this system or a similar one if I really wanted to see how it works firsthand.

Have you visited (or worked at) a restaurant with this type of system in place? Is this the future of the restaurant industry or simply a fad that will probably disappear before it even becomes something widely used?

Any other thoughts about this idea (is it a good idea or bad idea, other possible issues, etc) are welcome feedback, and I’ll just apologize in advance for the lack of research I did before writing about this one– I just didn’t want my thoughts to be clouded by other’s opinions before getting my own written down. 🙂

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