Should Your Waitstaff Trade In Their Notepads for iPads?

Restaurants can save thousands per year by switching from POS systems to iPads.
Freelance Content Marketing Writer and Strategist, Freelance Writer for National Brands including IBM, Ameriprise, Adobe, Samsung and Hewlett Packard
March 19, 2012

It seems that everywhere you go these days, someone is using an iPad to catch up on work, surf the internet or watch a movie. Tablet computers are even finding their way into the hands of waitstaff at restaurants across the country. With a number of apps and services on the market, restaurants are using the iPad in a variety of ways, including displaying menus and having servers enter customer orders instead of writing them down. Some are even handing the tablets directly to customers.

Incorporating iPads into your restaurant is an important decision, both in how you run your restaurant and for cost purposes. Before you jump on the latest technology bandwagon, here are five questions to help you decide if you should trade your notepads for iPads.

Can you save money with a tablet system?

Depending on your situation, a tablet system can save you a lot of money on equipment and fees compared to point-of-sale systems. The cost savings can be high for those opening new restaurants who want to use the technology instead of purchasing a POS system, but can vary for existing restaurants who would need to convert.

When Joe Frado opened the Pink Rose Restaurant & Lounge in Portland, Ore., he decided to use iPads with the POSLavu app, instead of a POS system. He says he would have spent $15,000 to $20,000 on a POS system, while three iPad’s and the software for them cost him only about $6,000, which also included monthly fees associated with the software.

Another area of savings is the benefit of free and frequent updates. “With a traditional system, it becomes outdated every two years or so. With an app, the service tells you when an update is available, and you never have an outdated system,” says Frado.

Could a tablet system increase your efficiency?

Think about your restaurant and how implementing a tablet system can help you provide better customer service.

Because the Pink Rose has stairs in the restaurant and an outside seating area, servers are able to save a considerable amount of time by entering the customer’s order because
they do not have to spend the time walking to a POS terminal. Frado says that he also puts a printer out on the patio so servers can print checks out for the patrons without having to go back inside.

Another way he increases efficiency is by looking at real-time sales statistics of the restaurant while off-site and making management decisions. “Since I can see the sales so far for the night and the number of tables, I am able to make the decision to send a server home because it is a slow night without even being at the restaurant,” says Frado.

Is there potential for higher revenue?

In addition to the purchase and ongoing costs, consider the opportunities for increased revenue because of efficiency and interactivity offered by the iPad. Restaurants able to provide quicker service have the potential for increasing the number of customers per night. Also, being able to see pictures can increase the amount of up-sells on appetizers and desserts.

The Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., uses Uncorkd, which enables restaurants to create and manage iPad wine and beverage menus. When customers are seated, servers hand them an iPad to browse the wines available. “Wine sales are definitely up in both bottle sales and wines by the glass,” says food and beverage manager Rhys Williams.

Are you comfortable with technology and troubleshooting?

Determine if you or someone on your staff has the technical knowledge to manage the equipment and its apps.

Many apps provide customer service for questions regarding the software, and others such as Uncorkd even offer a 30-day trial period. However, you will be on your own to troubleshoot issues with the tablets and wireless network. Most restaurant owners say you do not need to be an IT specialist, but since you will be uploading the menus and troubleshooting you need to have a moderate comfort level with tablet computers and wireless technology.

Can you use the tablets in other ways?

Think about other ways that you could use iPads in your restaurant to maximize your investment. Since the menus and other information is already loaded into the tablet, restaurants often use the iPads to educate their staff. “We use the iPads as a training tool for our service staff to help them better understand the wines and their varietals; [it] makes for a more confident sell,” says Williams.

Frado has also installed several other apps on the iPads that help the restaurant run more efficiently, especially EverNote. “I can use the application from my phone so that the staff will have notes on the iPad to help the restaurant run more efficiently, such as if we are out of food or someone will be coming in late,” says Frado.

Most people agree that tablets definitely have the cool factor both for customers and employees. But by making sure that it makes business sense, you will ensure that you are heading in the right direction to continue to grow your bottom line and keep customer's coming back to your tables.

Jennifer Gregory is a journalist with over 17 years professional writing experience. Jennifer blogs via Contently.com.

Photo credit: iStock