Bionic pizza

With today’s world moving so quickly, we here at PMQ realize that sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the new trends in restaurant technologies.

For both our technologically handicapped and technologically advanced readers, this article will help you utilize the latest and hottest technology and obtain a thicker wallet.

WIRELESS CREDIT CARD UNITS

If you’ve been in the pizza business for even a little while, you’ve faced the situation where one of your delivery guys calls you while he was out on a run and tells you that the customer wants to pay with a credit card. What do you do? If you don’t take credit cards, the answer is simple: no. But if you do, the situation becomes more complicated. You can take the number down, but then you don’t have the required signature. You can refuse the credit card and run the risk of alienating the customer.

Or you can say, “no problem” and have your driver use the handheld credit card processor he or she carries with them while delivering. The driver swipes the card and—depending on if the driver is out of range of the store or not (much like making a phone call on a cell phone)—the information is either sent immediately back to the store for confirmation, or held on the unit until it can be downloaded later. Regardless, a receipt is printed out for the customer to sign. Most wireless units are also capable of hooking up to a phone line for credit card processing. You also get the best rates using the wireless credit card terminal, which are swipe rates as opposed to keying in the number via the phone.

Wireless transactions can also be used as a way to speed up checkout time for your customers. Rather than have them wait in line, you can bring the terminal to their table and swipe their card, have them sign the receipt and they’re free to go.

KEEPING YOUR FINGER ON THE PULSE

Having problems with your employees clocking each other in and out? Fingerprinting, called biometrics, is now being used for multiple retail applications (tracking employees, for instance). With biometric finger imaging technology, you can keep up with who’s doing what, when and where. You assign different jobs to different people and know if they’re actually doing what they’re supposed to do. For example, if you only want one person running the cash register, you can give access to their finger image so that person can get into the cash drawer. Finger scanning eliminates the use of cards and codes to get into the cash register as well as friends punching friends in and out of work. With this, no one—not even you—can shout an access code across a busy kitchen.

Rather than taking an actual “picture” of someone’s fingerprint, biometric systems compare a scanned finger image with one previously stored in the system.  The finger image is actually a 250-character algorithm.  If the algorithms match, the person is “identified” as being known and allowed to continue on with whatever they were trying to do.

Not only can can biometrics be used to monitor employee activity, but merchants can also give their customers the convenience of paying for their meal by using their finger image. With this service, your customer scans their finger to authorize a debit payment from their checking account, much like scanning a debit card would do, but with lower transaction fees—close to 75 percent less on the transaction fees.

Depending on what you decide to use, you can purchase an entire system that supports the biometric technology (computer, finger scanner terminals and software). However, with your current software system in place, you may only need to buy the finger scanners. If you really want to get into it, biometric technology is available on anything from a free-standing, more traditional unit to a cutting edge reader included on the keyboard (to reduce the clutter from a separate unit) or on the mouse to your computer.

SELF-SERVE KIOSKS

Something that smaller franchisees are beginning to try out is a self-serve kiosk. This technology would probably work best for a bar/pizzeria. With this kind of kiosk, your customer orders what they need from a kiosk. Think about it: your customers are drinking and decide that they’re hungry.

Rather than having to wait for a waitress to make her way back around, they just hop up, order the food and continue on with their merry ways, knowing a pizza is on the way. The customer enters their order (the terminals are actually quite similar to a POS system and use push button or touch screen technology) and the order is sent directly to the kitchen via your POS system to be prepared. They can also pay at the kiosk with a debit or credit card, making it even easier for you to process the customer and their food.

McDonald’s is testing a few systems out next to their playgrounds so parents can order from there and watch their children all at the same time. Their order is sent to the kitchen and then brought out to them by an employee, keeping them from standing in line while trying to control kids.

PLUGGED IN WITH NO PLUGS

Internet technology has now advanced to the point that you can offer your customers access to the Internet within your restaurant or store. This is possible through a wireless technology called Wireless Fidelity, or Wi-Fi, which allows your customers to connect to the Internet without all of the messy wires and cables that usually follow a computer. You’ll usually find Wi-Fi in places that want to attract and keep customers for a longer period of time and aren’t aimed at flipping tables several times during a night (think Starbucks, sports bars and other ‘modern’ café-type restaurants). It works like this: your restaurant subscribes to an Internet connection in order to become a “HotSpot.” As a HotSpot, your customers can access the Internet via a wireless connection system (a laptop or pocket PC) inside of your restaurant.

Your customer hooks up one of three ways. The first, you provide, free of charge, a pre-paid card with a number on it that allows for a certain amount of time on the Internet (usually an hour). This keeps your connection inside your shop—no one outside benefits from it—you have to come in—and it still allows you to ensure that the table eventually turns over. If you don’t want people just sitting around and not adding any revenue, give the cards out with a $5 purchase or, sell them. You can also print the number on the receipt and skip the cards altogether or you can just provide free access with no cards and no numbers. Of course, with the last option, there is a possibility of people outside of your shop taking advantage of your Internet connection.

POS SYSTEMS — WIRELESS AND LAND-BASED

Many of the products mentioned in this article rely on a POS system. Updates and new product abilities, coupled with the number of available systems at varying costs, means that you’re almost guaranteed to find what you’re looking for (check out PMQ’s in-depth research of POS systems at www.pmq.com/ mag/2003winter/possystem.shtml). Some of the recent ‘new’ offerings in POS include fingerprint scanning integration (see previous section for more about finger printing), web-based reporting, web-based ordering and reservation schedulers.

The web-based reporting is best for pizzerias with more than one location. Rather than having to phone or visit several different places to get an update on the location, the manager of every location would fill out the report and submit it electronically, which would give you a basic overview of the biz from the comfort of your home or office. With the integrated online ordering, your POS system checks the order server every 20 seconds, collects orders and sends out a confirmation number to the customer, as opposed to normal web-based ordering that actually faxes and phones the order into the business.

With the reservation scheduler, your customer can schedule a reservation from anywhere within a restaurant, or if you have multiple locations, across locations. That same software tracks your customer’s preferences so they can receive true VIP treatment with their reservation.

A couple of newer features for the POS system is the hand-held POS and a surveillance option. Used in bars, nightclubs and stadiums for several years now, wireless POS units allow your waitstaff to take the customers’ orders and transmit them immediately to the kitchen. With surveillance, your DVR system monitors your store through a set of strategically placed cameras (you decide where you want the cameras placed). The information recorded is saved on a hard drive for 30, 90 or 120 days and can be transferred to any type of medium for further storage, such as a CD or DVD. This can also be integrated with each POS terminal to superimpose every transaction over the video.

PAGING THE FUTURE

You’ve seen the pagers that some stores use to ‘call’ the next customer in line for a meal. This is an interesting twist on that concept. When the busboy clears the table, he hits a button, which alerts the hostess to the empty table and sends a buzz out to a pager held by the customer next in line to be seated. Everything is done automatically and efficiently. There are also systems that allow the customers to push a button at their table to page their waiter.

As technology advances, the pagers are becoming more and more complex. Some pagers now come integrated with the option to play games (and include anti-theft measures) or even allow customers to fill out a guest survey at the end of the meal. If the survey is bad, a notification is sent to the manager on duty—through what else, but a page—and the bad experience can be dealt with right then, before it becomes more of a problem.

NO HASSLE APPLICATIONS

This particular product is probably best used for people with multiple stores and a relatively high turnover rate. A job applicant kiosk gathers names and numbers for an initial interview. Through a series of questions, the program can gauge an applicant’s personality and even rank them, according to the test results, in the most appropriate positions. It can also provide the hiring manager with a list of interview questions for the applicant, designed to further increase the likelihood of hiring the “right” person for the job.

The plus side of the kiosk is that it takes at least some of the guesswork out of hiring someone new. Often times, managers with no previous hiring experience are put in the position of hiring/firing. Yes, you can do most of what the kiosk does through a website, but the suggestions make the kiosk an invaluable tool, especially if you don’t have the time or inclination to interview every applicant that comes through the door.

WIRELESS ALARM SYSTEM

Traditional, land-based alarm systems are now becoming obsolete. Rather than using a phone line, the new system relies entirely on cell phone technology. It works much like its predecessor, yet can protect outdoors as well as indoors, with sensors placed up to half a mile away. Plugged into an electrical outlet, it uses sensors to keep track of what’s going on in the area; entire businesses are protected with just one unit and up to 16 sensors. The system comes with a wide variety of indoor and outdoor sensor options. You can have motion detectors, door/window sensors, long-range door/window sensors, smoke detectors and glass breakage detectors. In case the power goes out, most wireless alarm systems also come equipped with a battery back up.

The wireless alarm system is fully mobile. Moving to a new location? Don’t worry—you can take it with you and install it in your new premises. The different pieces also have a tamper sensor. If someone messes with the alarm without entering a code, the alarm goes off and sends a report to the central monitoring center, which then contacts whomever you have chosen: yourself, your manager, as well as the police department. Some even come equipped with an “expansion” plan. A wire with a wireless remote can loop around whatever you want to include in the system (think product wires that tie an expensive product to the rest of the products and finally to a sales rack). Connect the ends into each other to complete the “loop” and broadcast the wire’s signal to the base of the alarm.

SIGHT AND SOUND

Video displays and the sounds to go with them are often the first with innovations in technology. What once was tied entirely to television sets, advances in projectors now allow you to run videos on special screens, designed especially for a restaurant setting. With one type of screen, using a rear projection method, you hang it in a window, facing the outside. It’s designed in such a way that customers on the outside can see the screen and what’s on it without the sunshine overpowering the image and making it hard to see. This screen works well as an ever-changing advertising billboard. It also works great in a patio seating area. The other type of display screen is made from a very thin material that allows the projected image to appear on both sides of the display, giving you as close to 360˚ of visibility as you can get. Both types allow you to show either something you’ve programmed into a computer (digital signage) or TV programming (such as a game at a sports bar).

For sound, there are now wireless speaker systems that you can offer to your customers. The units come with either four or eight buttons, depending on how many programs you want to offer audio on. With this, your customers can control the sound volume individually. The sound is broadcast from a transmitter to the unit. The speaker is designed to bounce the sound off the table, keeping it to a noise level suitable to hearing at the table, but not any further away. The units have a battery life of around 29 hours and then must be recharged for six hours. They also come with a permanent mount option where you attach them to the table and plug it in, eliminating the need to recharge a battery. (Check out a previous article on sound and video innovations at www.pmq.com/mag/2004march_april/ sign.shtml)

WEB-BASED ORDERING

Another service that’s finally catching on is web-based ordering. With this service, your customer logs onto your website—either provided by or linked to the service—and orders their meal. It goes straight to your POS system or automatically faxes your business. With this system, your customers can use a credit card and are sure to get exactly the pizza they want.

Web-based ordering is quicker all around. Your customer gets what they want with no hassle to either you or them. This kind of service can work anywhere, but you do have to promote it so that your regulars know that the service exists.