The rise of mobile
From taking orders to managing inventory, mobile devices are becoming ingrained in foodservice operations.
When Posera introduced its mobile point of sale (POS) service in 2003, the new technology wasn’t a hit.
In the early 2000s, the notion of using a handheld computer to take orders wasn’t resonating with foodservice operators.
“We couldn’t figure out for the life of us why people weren’t buying those,” said Shannon Arnold, marketing director for Maitre’D, Posera’s POS software.
The business case for arming front of house staff with tablets was obvious.
However, the price of the hardware, as well as the ability to understand the product, was out of reach for potential clients.
“It didn’t really become as mainstream until Apple released iPads and iPhones,” Arnold said. “Now people are using them for everything in life. I think it’s more natural.”
With the price of tablets now falling below $500, mobile POS represents two out of three inquiries for service at Posera.
“It’s pretty crazy, now. It never really became popular until the last two years,” Arnold said.
Alex Barrotti, chief executive officer of TouchBistro, a mobile-based POS app based in Toronto, said North America is behind in its use of technology in foodservice.
“It’s a phenomenon that’s been happening in other parts of the world for years,” Barrotti said. “In both Europe and Japan it’s quite common that someone brings a device to the table to take your order.”
However, North American markets are playing catch-up. When TouchBistro first launched about four years ago, it took about six months to land its first 35 clients. Last month, the company signed on 240 new restaurants. Touch Bistro is now used by more than 3,000 restaurants.
“The most growth was in the last 12 months,” Barrotti said.
When the idea of incorporating mobile into restaurant service first began to surface, Barrotti said the technology was received as a gimmick.
“The initial reaction was ‘that’s kind of cute.’ It was sort of a novelty, a curiosity,” Barrotti said. “Now people are seeing it more and more and realizing you can actually do work with them.”
Mobile technology in restaurants has evolved beyond taking orders. Last year, Posera introduced DataBoard to expand its mobile capabilities. The app complements Maitre’D by providing real-time key performance indicators like sales and labour costs, alerts and an ability to monitor several restaurants from one mobile device.
“The app allows restaurant managers to manage and monitor operations remotely,” Arnold said. “That’s been quite successful for us. People are on the go all the time now.”
SilverWare POS also introduced new upgrades to its mobile options. In the last year, the company released real-time cloud reporting, mobile push alerts and analytics.
“The response to these products exceeded our expectations,” said Alex Thalassinos, an account manager with SilverWare. “We will continue adding functionality and depth to such tools.”
SilverWare’s analytics option allows operators to organize data based on the information they want to receive. The information is delivered to a mobile device in a similar fashion as Twitter.
“These tools allow our customers to manage their environments in real time from anywhere — from operational decisions to viewing analytical and business intelligence,” Thalassinos said. “This provides the ability to make knowledgeable decisions on the fly.”
While many companies are developing POS apps to assist operators, other foodservice mobile apps focus on the customer. Kabir Daswani created Grabb as a solution to waiting in line. Daswani questioned the need for long lineups where production of the product is quicker than the ordering process.
“While I was in business school at Queen’s University, ordering something as simple as a coffee would take 10 minutes just because the lineup was so long,” he said. “It was not the production time.”
Grabb, which launched earlier this year, allows customers to order and prepay via a mobile phone or tablet.
“Essentially, it’s getting rid of the bottleneck that occurs at the cashier,” Daswani said. “It automates the order-taking process and puts it in the hands of the customers.”
The customer’s order is received on a tablet and staff “tap” to acknowledge the order is being prepared. A second tap indicates the order is ready for pickup. Users are also provided with an estimated wait time based on previous data. Many of the app’s participating restaurants also set up Grabb lines to expedite sales.
At Hero Burger, one of about 100 restaurants using Grabb in Toronto, a regular order takes 45 to 90 seconds more staff time.
“Grabb essentially streamlines the process from 45 to 90 seconds to two taps,” Daswani said.
The app also provides exposure for a restaurant to Grabb’s 12,000 users.
“If we add restaurants, those restaurants are now getting exposure to customers on our app,” Daswani said.
Mobile bar inventory
Innovations in mobile technology may also assist in completing inventory. Partender, for example, allows bar managers to check their stock using a mobile device.
Partender works by taking a photo of a liquor bottle using a mobile device and tapping where the liquid level sits. The app then calculates how much liquor is left in the bottle.
“We’ve developed proprietary algorithms based on bottle curvatures, glass thickness and more that lets you just use an image of a bottle to do inventory faster than you ever have,” said Anjali Kundra, Partender’s vice-president of operations.
The app boasts a 99.2 per cent accuracy level, and completing a bar’s inventory may take as little as 15 minutes.
“We’re a team of food and beverage veterans that also happen to be cocktail-drinking calculus nerds,” Kundra said. “We do the math. We want our industry to be able to have more time, control, and knowledge for success.”
Outside of inventory, Partender allows its user to automate purchase orders and instantly view analytics like usage and beverage costs. The app also helps reduce over-pouring at the bar.
“Don’t you count the cash in the drawer at the end of the night?” Kundra said. “What about your liquid cash, which is typically worth thousands more than what’s in the drawer?”
Barrotti added the rise of mobile apps is an evolution of habit. Apps — whether for business management or social media — are becoming ingrained in day-to-day life.
“Mobile is becoming the de facto standard in people’s mindsets,” Barrotti said. “You might leave the house without your wallet, but rarely do you leave without your cell phone these days.”