Restaurant Table Management System Provides Better Service for Customers
Have you ever been in a busy, crowded, restaurant and had difficulty in attracting the attention of a waiter? Have you ever been sat waiting at a table ready to order and watched the waiter attending to another customer who arrived much later than you?
Have you ever been in a small restaurant (or a large restaurant when it wasn't so busy) and had the waiter or waiters hovering around your table, constantly asking if you would like anything, or asking how your meal is, especially when you just want a little privacy to have a nice quiet meal with your partner.
In each of these scenarios, the service does not match the customer's needs; either the customer feels ignored or else harassed. In my own case, if I'm in a restaurant I want service when 'I' want it, I don't liked to be ignored (and I have often left a restaurant for this reason) neither do I want to be constantly pestered.
However, this service imbalance is rarely caused intentionally by the waiters themselves, it is often just that they are overloaded and can't provide sufficient service to each customer under their current table management system. Alternatively, in the case of a quiet period or smaller restaurant, it is often just that the waiters don't want their customers to feel ignored. The problem in both cases is that the service is mismatched and not optimised to suit the available resources.
Research Confirms How Customers Feel About Table Service in Many Restaurants
I will explain how I developed a product to help solve this service delivery mismatch in the next section, but first I just want to summarise the main negative service experiences based on our own research into a sample of a hundred or so restaurant customers. It took a few weeks to complete this research and yes, we did have a lot of help and opinions from friends and relatives too; but the following results were useful enough to convince me to develop a product/system.
- Many customers had difficulty getting served. (This was either because the restaurant was very busy or understaffed, or because the staff were not properly trained). As a result of this, customers tended to leave the restaurant soon after their main meal was finished without ordering a sweet or additional items such as more wine, coffee etc. In some cases, customers that were ignored in this way, left the restaurant before ordering anything at all.
- Another problem for customers was receiving attention too soon! (Often, a waiter would ask for a customer's order as soon as they had sat down or shortly after receiving their menu.) Customers felt under pressure to choose quickly and often ordered a less expensive meal than they would have done, given more time.
- Sometimes, a waiter would disturb customers by visiting their table too often. Continually asking customers if they would like anything else made them nervous and uncomfortable and disturbed their conversation and privacy. Customers saw this as pressure to order and it had the opposite effect, in that they did not place any more orders and they left the restaurant early.
- Finally, one of the worst things was when customers were served out of sequence. An existing customer placed an order, then later on another customer ordered the same meal and got served first! The original customer felt neglected and under-valued.
In this case I have already designed and developed the end product to solve this problem. I named the product 'TMS100' Restaurant Table Management System. A patent was applied for by a third party many years ago, on an initial solution this problem, however their application was not followed through and was allowed to lapse. The market again became open for the design of a more modern and effective solution which I believe I came close to providing, with the TMS.
My wireless TMS100 system provides a solution to the problem by enabling customers to request service whenever they choose and however often they choose. It also guarantees that they are served with the correct priority.
The TMS system works by providing each table in the restaurant with a service call button/transmitter. The call button is numbered internally using dip switches to suit each table. The TMS receiver unit is placed near the reception and larger remote displays can be placed in various locations around the restaurant to allow staff to monitor orders.
When a customer presses a call button it sends a service request to the receiver which holds the request in a queue along with other previous service calls. The oldest service request table number is displayed on the receiver and remote display units - this indicates the customer which has been waiting the longest.
As each customer is attended too, the waiter can remotely remove the currently displayed service request which is being dealt with, and the next request in the queue will appear on the displays. This allows another waiter to deal with the next customer in the queue and so on. It's a fairly simple principle and it works well. There are a few more features but that covers the basic operation.
Uses / Benefits / Applications:
These are some of the benefits for restaurant owners and customers.
- Customers are more relaxed and comfortable and feel more inclined to place extra orders after their main meal is over. e.g. More sweets, wine, coffee etc.
- Customers have more time to study the menu without pressure and tend to order more interesting (and often more expensive) meals.
- The TMS allows customers to enjoy their conversation and meals in a relaxing and pressure free environment, this increases their appetite and their desire to stay longer. As a consequence, they eat more and continue drinking over a longer period.
- Because their dining experience is more satisfying, customers return more often and also feel able to recommend the restaurant to their friends.
The TMS would be very useful in restaurants with more than one floor upstairs or downstairs, and also in restaurants where there are ‘blind spots’ or corners where it is more difficult for customers to attract attention.
The TMS also has a ‘chef call’ button that allows the chef to call waiters when meals are ready to be served.
A further ‘four’ special call buttons can be used for other uses for example, one may be placed in the manager’s office, at the reception desk or perhaps in a disabled person’s toilet.
The TMS could also be used in cafes, hotel bars and receptions/waiting areas, airport eating areas, theatre bars and cafes, cinemas (although many already have a wired system), pubs which provide meals, or any other service environment where customer service has to be prioritised and matched to the available staff resources.
The TMS100 was based on another product of mine which I will also post here on my blog later. Most of the electronics, artworks etc., are the same, though from memory, there are significant differences in the programming. I did not complete all the artworks for this product, for example the table service request buttons/transmitters, since I was anticipating changing the enclosures. However, there is enough data and information below to allow anyone to construct a working sample.
Zip file containing pcb artworks, pic programs, parts lists, memory maps etc.