I don’t know about you, but I long for the day when I won’t have to leaf through filthy restaurant menus, caked by spaghetti sauce and other assorted “unknowns”. Printed menus have long been a thorn in the side of restaurant owners and general managers, due to ever increasing print production costs and the inflexibility of revising pricing and menu items as needed. Often you’ll see hastily prepared and unprofessional looking special sheets added to the menu as an afterthought. Or what about those multi-colored chalk boards announcing the daily specials as you enter the restaurant? If you’re a diner like me, you want the selection and ordering process to be as enjoyable as the food.
There may be an answer to these issues. Within the past year or so, particularly with the advent of the tablet computer, there have a number of restaurants transitioning their printed menu to a digital version, through the use of an iPad.
Basically digital menu technology works something like this example. A group of 4 diners enter a restaurant and approach the maître d’ station. Instead of pulling out 4 menus, a wine list and a specials menu, the maître d’ undocks an iPad, and assigns it to a table number via the POS system. The diners are seated then take turns ordering from the iPad…drinks from the bar, appetizers, salads, main courses and eventually desserts. By the way, items can be ordered as desired; not all at the same time with traditional menus. The menu selection experience is much more interactive than ever before. Crisp appetite-appealing images of the menu item entice the diners, along with accurate portion sizes, complete nutritional and food allergy information, even a comments field.
The orders are then transmitted to a head server equipped with a similar device or smartphone, who is responsible for verifying each diner’s request, and then subsequently pushing that order into the kitchen or bar for preparation. In the kitchen, the order would print to a kitchen printer or display on a flat screen monitor. Additionally the functionality of the digital menu system is integrated seamlessly into the restaurant’s POS system to ensure a turnkey solution.
While the order is being prepared, the iPad would re-charge at a tableside docking station, or back at the maître d’ station. Newer versions of digital menu software have built-in social media links to Facebook and Twitter, enabling guests to Like or Tweet their overall experience at the restaurant, or just review a menu item they enjoyed. Additionally some iPads are loaded with interactive games that allow diners to pass the time as they are waiting for their order to arrive. Other add-on technologies could be an integrated digital signage system that prominently displays kitchen or bar items, restaurant events and promotions to patrons.
Once the meal is finished the restaurant POS system reconciles the check, and the head server could attach a mobile processing card swiper to the iPad so diners can easily pay their bill, sign the screen and leave.
For the restaurant, this appears to be a win-win scenario. While there is an investment of hardware (iPads) and software (digital menu customer facing application and backend technology) to launch the system, the bonuses far outweigh the drawbacks.
- No more printed menus. It is extremely easy for the restaurateur to create or modify his menu items. This is a major reduction of costs for the restaurant.
- Pricing can be revised at any time, not just at the menu print date.
- Do they really need all those servers now: memorizing orders and shuttling back and forth from the kitchen to the table? Perhaps just a head server “captain” and some glorified “bus people”…
- Reduction of errors. No more memorization of orders, particularly with those finicky diners.
- Restaurant would be creating a new kind of ambiance…iPads or tablets at the table. New concepts like this create a buzz in the restaurant industry.
- Integration with POS. This fully digital system for the restaurant owner enables him to easily focus on the business side and ensure that items are priced correctly, inventory is sufficient and profit margins are acceptable.
Digital menus are not for every restaurant. However for a restaurant that is on the cutting edge of technology and wants to reach out and engage customers, this may be the right solution. Digital menu vendors are offering options of complete purchase and leasing options to restaurants. Essentially the technology is really the proprietary software created for the menu application and the backend module that integrates with various POS systems. In theory, restaurants could provide their own tablet computers and contract with a vendor for the software application and continuing support package. Look to Alpha Card Services offering this digital menu solution as part of our POS system…
As a diner who is always looking for the next big thing, digital menus are something that I would like to see more of in the near future. I’ve attached link of a video of a restaurant in Atlanta that has this same thinking and what they are doing.