Tablets are streamlining processes and providing self-service capabilities to customers in many workplaces today, including retail stores, car dealerships, real estate offices, construction firms and hotels. It’s no longer shocking to go out to dinner and have the waiter bring you the wine menu on a tablet or place your order with one.
Yet tablets are now entering the world of connected devices, or the “Internet of Things,” which ABI Research predicts will consist of more than 30 billion connected devices by 2020.
This concept, dating back to 1999, refers to the ubiquitous, wireless connections of devices and physical objects with embedded sensors, such as the “smart” refrigerator that alerts your smartphone when the milk is low or car that can park itself. Some of these concepts are far from mainstream, yet we are seeing the progression of connected devices emerging in the cutthroat food service industry.
When devices communicate instantaneously with each other, businesses can eliminate some of the manual, error-intensive work that goes on every day. In a restaurant, the process of taking a customer’s order and pushing it to the kitchen and back to the customer is one such clunky process.
A customer walks into a sandwich shop, places and pays for her order, after which a paper ticket is hung alongside 10 other orders in the kitchen. She waits for her order, but it’s taking a long time. Guess what? Her ticket somehow got lost in the shuffle. Now the front counter folks must place it again. When the order is finally ready, the cashier calls it out but the customer doesn’t hear it because she’s on her phone talking to a friend.
How tablets create an alternate ending
In a different world, the customer walks into the restaurant and sees a large digital menu display on the wall behind the counter. She doesn’t need to waste time inquiring about the soup of the day or the drink special. The cashier efficiently enters her order into a point-of-sale app on a tablet, and after payment is accepted, the order transmits wirelessly to a tablet or wall-mounted screen in the kitchen.
Each order is displayed chronologically so the cooks know exactly which customer has priority. When the order is ready, the kitchen staff touches a button on the display and the customer sees her name flash prominently at the top of the digital menu board. She grabs her sandwich and heads out, in less than five minutes from when she placed the order.
All of this happens through wireless technology that is readily available today. In another scenario, a retailer could use a barcode scanner connected to the tablet point-of-sale system to speed up the sale and update the back office inventory system at the same time. A liquor store owner could use a tablet or smartphone app to scan cases of wine as they come off the delivery truck, ensuring real-time inventory status for the front house employees using the POS application.
Mobile business apps such as point-of-sale, inventory, analytics and order tracking are delivering operational efficiencies and customer service benefits in verticals where speed, mobility and real-time information are critical for survival. Yet this is just the first phase of mobile business innovation. When we start connecting tablets to other tablets, computers and peripheral devices such as scanners and printers, even small companies like a mom-and-pop restaurant can operate as a connected enterprise where no customer is left behind.
(Tablets in Retail and Commerce will be a key session at TabletBiz conference & expo in NYC on Nov. 13)
Lisa Falzone is the CEO and co-founder of Revel Systems, which makes iPad point-of-sale software for restaurant, retail and grocery.