Join the E-RevolutionOctober 6, 2011 By: Alissa Ponchione Night Club and Bar Magazine
E-Tablets Can Drive up Checks, Speed Service Times and Heighten Hospitality
When it comes to new technology, there’s no shortage of innovative products. Although it’s hard to discern which ones have longevity, it’s important not to turn a blind eye to novel concepts being introduced to the industry, such as the new e-tablet ordering and point-of-sale (POS) systems that cater to an operator’s basic goals. Boasting efficient service and ease of payment as well as prioritizing customer focus — so you’re selling more of your profitable menu items — e-tablets are designed to increase sales with the touch of a button.
What Works for You
E-tablets are fairly new to the game — while pioneers appeared on the market two years ago, most debuted this year — and although they come in many forms, each has the same purpose: to drive higher check averages and table turn rates as well as enable a more efficient workflow for your establishment, ultimately translating into bigger profits.
Laura Olson, co-owner of The Social, a 12,000-square-foot ultra-lounge/restaurant and nightclub set to open in Seattle later this year, plans to use HubWorks Interactive systems in the venue’s 12 VIP booths. HubWorks runs FoodHub and DrinkHub for foodservice and bars, respectively; software is compatible with any iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system, allowing patrons to place orders and pay from table-mounted iPads on which pictures and descriptions are visible. For help, customers page a server by clicking on an “assistance” button; a pop-up menu appears with a list of customer needs, including ordering refills, asking for condiments and needing menu help, minimizing table trips for the server.
HubWorks Interactive displays menu items and entertainment options on its screen.
HubWorks software provides patrons with entertainment options as well, including the use of Facebook and Foursquare. This is ideal for Olson, who plans to use HubWorks to stream check-ins, live chats and photos on large projection screens throughout the venue.
“It’s not just an ordering system,” she says. “It’s a really big part of building a community,” not only by personalizing guest experiences, but also by decreasing wait times for patrons.
E-tablet devices vary. At The Post Sports Bar & Grill in St. Louis, Owner Adrian Glass chose eTab International’s eTab device; it has its own interface that integrates seamlessly with existing POS systems. Described as iPad-like but smaller and more compact, eTab allows customers to place orders using a touch screen. Servers are notified on handheld devices when they’ve been paged for menu assistance, food has been ordered or a customer is ready to pay.
“It’s going to be the future of the restaurant industry,” Glass says. “It’s going to enhance the customer experience.” In fact, Glass hopes his patrons will be able to use eTab to check fantasy-league scores in the future.
For many business owners, e-menus may seem daunting, but wireless POS systems that integrate with common handheld devices, such as Apple products, can provide a conduit to this evolving technology.
Service at Jones, a large restaurant and bar with an 8,000-square-foot outdoor rooftop patio in San Francisco, is streamlined with POSlavu’s system. Servers access the POSlavu application on an iPod Touch or at an iPad terminal; 10 iPad terminals are available to staff at Jones, with eight at the three bar areas. Servers can see table arrangements, take orders and, if they’re using the iPod Touch, show customers high-definition pictures of the food as well as customize orders on the spot. Orders are sent to the kitchen or bar area where a receipt is printed.
Mike Reigle, co-owner of Jones, chose POSlavu not only because it’s “a cool, new technology” but also because it’s “more user-friendly for the servers,” allowing them to spend more time interacting with customers and fielding menu questions.
Guests at The Post are greeted not only with a friendly smile but also an eTab device. After a server checks them in via eTab, the customers have free reign over the menu.
“When people come in here for a game, they’re in here for hours,” Glass explains. “They might wait five or six minutes [for drinks],” but with the eTab menu, patrons are getting their rounds more quickly, which translates to more profits for The Post.
For Glass and his team, eTab is “supplementing the server’s job,” not replacing it, something he’s quick to acknowledge. “I don’t foresee that happening,” he reiterates.
HubWorks Chief Executive Officer Aaron Gabriel explains that with these devices, staff isn’t overwhelmed with too many tables. “We hone in on the customer experience,” he says, by allowing the server to spend more time with the guest.
Adrian Glass, owner of The Post Sports Bar & Grill in St. Louis, says eTab enables quicker service.
Because orders come out more quickly, check averages are higher and tips often increase. Customers get what they want when they want it, Gabriel adds.
For Reigle, using POSlavu is fast but also efficient because “I can log in and see how busy the bar is and run reports [from anywhere]. That’s the heart of the system,” he explains.
Additionally, because these devices are digital, payment is easier. With HubWorks and eTab, patrons check out on a device, use the tip calculator to add the tip and swipe a credit card to pay; a server is paged to take care of cash interactions. With POSlavu, servers are tableside when they click the checkout option on an iPod Touch, either swiping credit cards or taking cash payments.
Whether paying with cash or a credit card, a customer signs the receipt on the device and receives it via email, helping operators capture email addresses and adding to email distribution lists for future promotions or specials.
Check the Costs
Forgoing old, reliable systems is difficult, especially when adding new technology means spending more capital; however, when researching what system works best for you, an e-tablet can be cost efficient as an alternative to traditional POS systems.
The eTab team provides equipment for no cost but charges $400 a month as a service fee for maintenance, programming changes and updates. Installation and staff training requires approximately four hours. HubWorks also charges a monthly maintenance fee.
Travis Kellerman and Ben Harrison, members of POSlavu’s core founding team, note that their system consistently costs 75% less than a traditional POS system, which requires proprietary hardware. POSlavu uses standard Apple equipment, meaning Reigle can have things up and running in 10 minutes.
“It’s a fraction of the cost” of a traditional POS, he notes. “When we were pricing out, a traditional POS system was $6,000 to $7,000 per terminal. We’re between $1,000 and $1,500 per terminal [with POSlavu].”
Olson is willing to invest in HubWorks at The Social because of its marketing potential. “With the Facebook app, [guests] can log in, then check in at The Social. They can get a special deal, and the ad blasts off to all their friends to see the special,” meaning more people will seek out her venue.
Terry Bader, vice president of marketing and strategy at eTab, knows the possibilities are endless when it comes not only to marketing bars or clubs but also brands.
“Someone goes to a vodka menu, and if ABSOLUT is launching a new product, we can communicate that to a patron. Similarly, whatever promotions or specials [the operator] wants to push out, instead of flyers or table tents, it happens whenever the restaurant wants it to happen [on the eTab].”
Although other operators hesitate to invest in new technology, Glass jumped in head first, and because he’s on the cutting edge of this trend, he’s already seeing the benefits. “I really believe in the future — in five, six or seven years, these will be prevalent in most restaurants. The customers who don’t want to deal with them now will eventually use them.” NCB
Web Exclusive: E-Tablets and Preserving Service
Click here to find out what Sean Finter has to say about how to properly implement e-tablets in your business.