Tuesday, July 12, 2011

(empo-tuulwey) When the new tool isn't as good as the old

The Catalina Restaurant Group owns both Carrows Restaurants and Coco's Restaurant and Bakery. Both chains offer sit-down dinners, leaning toward comfort foods, along with desserts.

And both have recently introduced a new tool for use by the restaurant staff.

A little over a week ago, we visited one restaurant in one of the chains, and our waitress came to take our dessert order. We had noticed other waitresses were using small tablet computers to take the orders. Our waitress didn't, explaining that it was difficult to input desserts into the tablets, so she was going to hand-write our order for now and enter it into the computer later.

Last weekend, we visited another restaurant in one of the chains, and the waitress took our order using the tablets. After she entered the order, I asked her whether she was getting the hang of the tablets, and mentioned that the waitress at the other restaurant was having trouble with it.

Our new waitress said that the tablets weren't hard to use, but that it took a long time to enter stuff into them. She said that she could hand-write orders a lot faster, but that "we're not allowed to do that."

So how long before restaurants move to the next step? Some already have, according to Mashable. Two companies, E La Carte and Tabletop Media, provide tablets that allow customers to enter their orders without giving them to a waiter or waitress.

Why the interest in providing every table with their own touch-screen tablet? For starters, people buy more food when they can do so instantly, without waiting for service. In the six restaurants that ran a pilot scheme, according to CEO Rajat Suri, customers at E la Carte tables spent 10% to 12% more than those at other tables.

But I don't see this trend as being universal. As you can probably guess from the descriptions of the restaurants, both Carrows and Coco's cater to a slightly older clientele. And many of these people would prefer to give their orders to a nice person, rather than punch buttons on a TV.

And what about the wait staff at Catalina Restaurant Group? Presumably they shifted to these devices to improve efficiency, to ensure that orders are input correctly, and to capture metrics. All well and fine, but if your software users are complaining that your software is not useful, then you may have a problem.

I'll grant that it's early in the process, and perhaps a month or two from now both waitresses will be zipping through the tablet menus rapidly. But in the meantime, I wouldn't rely on the metrics being captured at the moment - in some cases, the meals might be entered into the tablets just before the bill comes.
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