SINGAPORE - At seafood restaurant chain Fish & Co, guests are presented with an iPad when they are seated - to place their orders using the device instead of waiting for an available staff member to come by to jot down orders.
The food comes promptly too, even during peak hours, and so does the bill. If you call for it, a staff member whips out a handheld device, runs up your tab and handles credit card payments on the spot.
It's all chop-chop for the customer.
From the management's point of view, the combined use of the iPad by customers to give orders and the iPod Touch by service staff to take orders has helped its 15 outlets here raise staff productivity. Ordering time, for example, has been slashed 65 per cent, and this is a big deal, considering that front-of-house staff members spent a lot of time taking orders, said Fish & Co management director Hoo Hoe Keat.
That is not all. The turnover of its tables has gone up, and errors in the transmission of orders has come down - and significantly too, he said.
He believes that Fish & Co, which incorporated the electronic devices into its operations in early 2012, is among the first here to do so.
He added, however, that the resulting quicker turnaround of tables has not meant that the restaurant chain can do with fewer staff, because it believes in providing its customers a "full-service" experience, including keeping up interaction with customers and meeting their requests - even during peak periods.
Mr Hoo said the company adopted technology to streamline the time-consuming process of taking orders precisely because it wanted to give its staff members "sufficient bandwidth" to take care of customers.
In typical restaurants, service staff would take orders down on slips of paper, then go to a point-of-sales (POS) station to key these in. As there are usually only a few such stations per restaurant, a backlog builds up during peak hours as service staff await their turn to use the terminal.
Because of this waiting, staff become less free to tend to customers' needs or, in their haste, they may key in orders wrongly by the time they get to use the POS station.
At Fish & Co, the use of the iPads and iPods are integrated; they have the menus onscreen and can send orders straight to a printer in the kitchen. Seated diners use the iPads and those waiting to be seated during peak hours can give their orders to staff, who use their iPods to transmit these to the kitchen.
Today, 90 per cent of orders are made through the mobile devices. Because the mobile interface does not allow for much customisation, specific requests by customers are still made the old way.
Mr Hoo said making the transition to using the technology was not easy. The devices themselves were easy enough for service staff to pick up, but their long-time familiarity with the POS system also made them reluctant to switch over.
Mr Hoo said: "When you are used to a certain system, certain habits are formed, and it's very difficult to break yourself out of them, out of that comfort zone. It's akin to a Windows user going onto an (Apple) iOS platform (or vice versa) - it takes a long time."
Getting the system set up cost between $300,000 and $400,000, including the cost of a Wi-Fi network. Mr Hoo described the money spent as "worthwhile and necessary".
The iPad and iPod Touch aside, the restaurant chain introduced a third piece of hardware - a handheld device capable of printing bills and processing credit card transactions. These are in use at six of the 15 outlets - Tampines, Ang Mo Kio, Clementi, VivoCity, Paragon and the Glass House at Park Mall.
Instead of asking customers to pay at the counter, which is what most restaurants do to speed up the billing process, the mobile device brings the bill to the customer. Not only is the transaction completed in under a minute, it is also more secure, as the customer's credit card stays within sight through the process.
Technological innovations can erase the service element of the restaurant experience, so a balance needs to be struck between the two.
This article was published on April 7 in The Business Times.
Get The Business Times for more stories.