Canadian Pizza Magazine

Marketing insights: June 2014

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Apps and appetizers

While having lunch at a trendy Toronto bistro last summer, I was taken aback.

While having lunch at a trendy Toronto bistro last summer, I was taken aback. The server approached our table, and as we began to order, pulled out her iPhone, hunched over it and began clicking away with both thumbs. I was momentarily surprised because I thought she was ignoring us in favour of texting her boyfriend but then I realized she was actually taking our order. The restaurant was using handheld POS (point-of-sale) technology presumably to provide us with a better service experience and the restaurant with improved efficiencies, but that goal was somewhat hampered by my initial confusion. It got me to thinking: when it comes to technology in restaurants, are we in danger of losing our human touch?

The traditional process for ordering in a restaurant sees the customer tell the server what they want. The server writes it down or memorizes it and then goes to a central terminal where the order is rung in and relayed to the kitchen for preparation. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows that if the server is detained before getting to the terminal, it will delay the order being entered. 

From the customer’s perspective, the order was in play the minute they handed back the menus to the server. From the kitchen’s point of view, the order is live from the time they receive it. The actual difference between these two realities can be significant if the restaurant is busy, the server is pulled in several directions at once and the order isn’t logged for a few minutes. Handheld POS relays the order to the kitchen as soon as the words are out of the customer’s mouth and some systems allow the server to fire off the drink and appetizer order while still taking the order for the mains and desserts. Imagine the appetizers and drinks being prepared even before the table is finished ordering. If the guests have had time to finish their drinks before the food arrives, chances are excellent they’ll order a second round. Tables could be turned even faster. With opposable thumbs tapping away – the server types the order, hits send and all is well. That is, all is well except for dinosaurs like me who can’t appreciate this more efficient process because I’m feeling ignored by the server. Process innovation wins; customer service loses.


You see, for people of a certain age, the sight of a young person hunched over a handheld device evokes feelings of angst. For many baby boomers, the smartphone is something their offspring use to erect a wall between themselves and their parents. To truly enhance the guest experience, the interaction must remain between the server and the guest, not between the server and the device. Integrate the handheld POS into your steps of service. As the server greets the table, they should introduce the handheld device as the means by which they will be communicating their order to the kitchen. Your team could even explain how it allows the kitchen to start on the preparation right away. This information should promote a very positive first impression regarding your restaurant’s commitment to service and set the stage for a pleasant interaction between server and guest. Encourage your team members to make eye contact with each guest as they are ordering and to make conversation while they’re entering the order onto the device.

Many of these systems can be linked to your inventory, so if the kitchen runs out of something your servers are able to know in an instant and avoid the embarrassment of having to return to a table to inform the guest that something they’ve set their heart on eating isn’t available. Many systems can call up images and fact sheets that you link to the POS, which in turn allows the server to give guests tasting notes and the inside scoop on delicious menu items. It can link to pictures that allow the server to show the guest what the dish looks like. Encourage your team to show the screen to the guest and to describe the item in a conversational manner using the device to support the human interaction, not to hijack it.

Devices armed with chip readers allow the server to process the payment right at the table. Handheld POS devices are also perfect for line busting in establishments such as QSR restaurants that don’t have table-side service. Handheld POSs can make your business able to serve more customers using less labour, committing fewer errors and providing more security. However, none of that matters if the team members forget that the experience is shaped by them – not by the device.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in brand strategies.

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