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Restaurants make technology their special of the day
Imagine sitting down at your table in a restaurant, perusing the menu, ordering food, choosing a wine and later paying your bill, using an iPad or smartphone, while never having to deal with a waiter.
It’s not in Nashville yet, but it’s coming soon.
And in the meantime, several local restaurants already are employing similar technology for walk-up orders, or they’re making use of iPads, iPhones and other smartphones to let patrons make last-minute reservations or take advantage of special offers.
At the Sloco sandwich shop on 12th Avenue South, diners step up to the counter and place their orders, which are then entered into an iPad mounted on a swivel stand, using a few touches on the screen.
Individual items, prices and the total charge automatically appear on the screen. A restaurant employee then scans the customer’s credit or debit card through a small device called a “Square,” attached to the iPad, which does the same thing that traditional card readers do. No receipt is printed, but the customer can opt to enter a mobile number or email address to receive a receipt via a text or email.
“What appealed to us was the idea of getting rid of all the paper in a traditional POS (point-of-sale) system, and being as modern as we could be for a quick-service sandwich shop,” said Sloco owner Jeremy Barlow, who also operates the upscale Tayst Restaurant and Wine Bar on 21st Avenue South.
He believes that such technology also will attract younger customers into his restaurants.
“For Sloco, we didn’t want a big fancy system,” he said. “We wanted to use the iPad, something that would be neat from the get-go.”
There’s a second iPad on the wall behind the counter tracking online orders that customers submit through Sloco’s website — and most of those come from mobile devices, Barlow said.
In the nine months that Sloco has been open, the system (developed by Square, the San Francisco company that provides the card-reading device) has been upgraded at least four times. Today, it can accommodate discount and customer-rewards programs.
At the Wild Hare on White Bridge Road, servers take orders tableside, then walk to the rear of the restaurant to enter the orders on one of four iPads, said owner Elizabeth Bills.
“They are our entire point-of-sale system,” she said. “We started out with the servers carrying the iPads, but that became somewhat of a distraction, so now they are mounted at the back of the restaurant. We have one at the bar, too.”
The Silly Goose on Eastland Avenue began using three iPads as the restaurant’s entire point-of-sale system a year ago, and servers even take them to tables to process diners’ credit cards.
“I don’t even have a cash register,” said owner and chef Roderick Bailey. “My entire menu is loaded on the iPads. At the end of the night, the program computes everything, shows my cash and credit card sales, and even totals up sales taxes.”
It’s a lot cheaper for restaurants to buy an iPad system such as Square’s instead of traditional point-of-sale ordering and payment systems, said Craig Cliftt, manager and partner with Randy Rayburn in Cabana restaurant on Belcourt Avenue.
“It’s the difference between paying $500 for the iPad or $3,000 for a stand-alone POS terminal,” Cliftt said. But he’s not ready to replace the system he already has at Cabana, which represents a $60,000 investment.
OpenTable goes mobile
There’s another nifty iPad/iPhone/Android app that Cliftt, Rayburn, Barlow and several other Nashville restaurateurs are making use of — OpenTable, which allows customers to make instant reservations from their mobile devices.
While OpenTable has been available on desktop and laptop computers for several years, it recently has added the mobile app, and those are particularly popular with visitors to Nashville looking for a restaurant with immediately available seating, said Wendy Burch, who operates the F. Scott’s and Table 3 restaurants in Green Hills.
“Reservations come in on a computer screen they supply to us, and they go right into our reservations book,” Burch said.
Information about customers can be stored, including seating, food and beverage choices, birthdays and anniversaries, she said.
Burch said she isn’t using iPads for tableside or takeout ordering or payment, although she knows that’s coming.
“I’ll be considering it for Table 3, but I’m not sure that would work for fine dining like we offer at F. Scott’s,” she said. “People at the higher-end restaurants seem to want human interaction with a server.”
An iPad system also could help restaurants keep track of wine inventory and notify managers when a particular item is out of stock, so it can be removed from the wine list.
“A lot of wine lists are going to iPads,” Cliftt said. “And reports show that people are spending 30 percent more for wine at places where wine lists are on these devices. That helps offset the costs of buying the iPads.”
Knoxville-based DineTouch — “Food at Your Fingertips” — will roll out a table-based ordering and payment system later this month at Sunspot, a Knoxville restaurant. The company plans to expand its service to Chattanooga later this year and to Nashville early next year, said CEO Joey Natour, whose family is also in the restaurant business.
DineTouch has iPhone/iPad/Android apps that customers download to their own mobile devices, then use them to order and pay at their tables.
“We’re very much into the customer experience,” Natour said. “You can put in your order when you want to, and pay your check when you want to, without having to wait on somebody to come to your table.”
Natour believes the concept will be more suited to casual dining establishments.
“The key, though, is to give customers the option, rather than making it a requirement that they order from the mobile device,” Natour said.
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