In 2006, computer programmer Andy Lim’s friend opened a Sushi restaurant in Alberquerque, New Mexico, and asked him to develop a point of sale system to minimize the amount of money he had to spend before opening.
The technology being used in restaurants was dominated by expensive proprietary systems and to develop a competing system would require too much work, Mr Lim thought. He declined, telling his friend he couldn’t do it for under $100,000.
But by 2009, a vastly different technological landscape existed. “When we saw the iPad was going to be released, my business partner, Corey Fiala, and I decided to figure out the programming to create a point of sale system that restaurants could use with the device,” Mr Lim said.
The two partners created POSLavu, an iPad based point of sale application that allows restaurants to use the tablet instead of investing heavily in the traditional proprietary systems that can cost upwards of $30,000. iPad based POS systems typically cost a fraction of that.
For example, a resturant using POSLavu can set up its system for about $1,800 including an iPad, printers, register and the software licensing fee.“Within two weeks of creating our website,” said Mr Lim, “we had around 200 enquiries about our product. Since then we have seen a hockey-stick curved growth in our numbers.”
When they launched in early 2011, POSLavu had 50 customers. By year’s end, the number had grown to 1200. They now have over 1600 different restaurants using their services.
The use of technology in restaurants is proliferating rapidly. Nearly four out of every 10 consumers said that they would be likely to use an electronic ordering system and menus on tablet computers at table service restaurants, according to a 2012 study done by the US National Restaurant Association. About half also would use at-table electronic payment options and a restaurant’s smartphone app to view menus and make reservations. The association expects these percentage to grow even more.
PC tablets like Apple’s iPad, or rival tablets based on Google’s Android operating system, allow restaurants to engage with customers, pair food suggestions, provide pictures of dishes, utilise social media and offer email receipts. In the US restaurant industry where diners are expected to spend over $630bn this year, there is an enticing pecuniary incentive to use technology to both improve customer relationships and efficiency.
It is not just upscale restaurants that are tapping into the PC tablet trend. At the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que restaurant in New York’s Harlem district, iPads are used to create a wait list for customers looking for a table. The honky tonk rib joint uses an application called BuzzTable to automatically send SMS text messages to diners when they arrive at an establishment and when their table is ready.
It can also be used to generate rewards for regulars and Garth Caruso , manager, said the company is considering extending their use to incorporate Twitter and Facebook.
Chef José Andrés has also started using tablets at his two Jaleo Tapas restaurants in Washington, DC and Las Vegas and Lucas Paya, wine director, has created an interactive wine list which diners can explore via one of the ten iPads in each restaurant. The iPads display everything from vineyard to vintage in a multimedia package so that diners can make a more informed decision.
Restaurants are also using technoloy to ‘upsell’ customers and persuade them to spend a few extra dollars by adding bacon to burgers and drinking glasses of Muscato with desserts. At the same time, the tracking of sales in realtime allows restauranteurs to spend less time on ordering and bookkeeping, as the programs are designed to make these arduous processes more intuitive.
After nearly 30 years working with point of sale systems for hospitality, Paul Perri founded ISISPos – an iPad point of sale system – two years ago when he recognised the potential in the space.
“I have worked for a lot of traditional POS companies since the mid-80s,” said Mr Perri. “Every once in a while there is a revolutionary step. We went from keyboards to touch screens. When Apple hit about 8m sales of the iPad, we knew that was happening again.”
Mr Perri said that the industry had been waiting for this type of development for years. Tablets provide a reliable, intuitive, and cost-effective addition to restaurants. “This is more than a fad. We are working with small independent restaurants to large resorts and chains,” he said. “Most are busy restaurants that handle anywhere from $500 to in excess of $45,000 worth of sales per day using the iPad systems.”
One of the most notable uses of ISISPos has been with mobile food trucks. As food trucks have become increasingly popular, the need for portable payment systems and kiosks also becomes more important. This provided the impetus for restaurant chain Sizzler to use iPads as portable kiosks and payment systems when they launched a food truck last year in Los Angeles.
“It helped increase sales as we were able to take more orders,” said Rudy Cordero, Sizzler’s point of sales administrator, who brought ISISPos into the company. Now customers can peruses a menu, order food and pay, all using an iPad.
David Matthews, the National Restaurant Association’s chief information officer, said that there is no question the interest level in tablet technology in restaurants is very high. “The push to mobile entainment and the overall pressure from marketing will mean a rapid development,” he said. “It is clearly one of the things at the foreground of restauranteurs minds.”
While some diners may worry that technology will detract from their dining experience, Mr Matthews counters that the benefits of interactive media and the ability for servers to spend more time interacting and less time fussing with paper will mean finer dining.
“There is not in any way a negative impact,” he said. “There is not a lot of resistance to this. It is very exciting and it is opening up a whole new avenue to interact with customers.”