Last month, I was traveling through Newark and on an early morning flight. I got through the security line a little early, so I decided to sit down for a meal, rather than grab one and run. By chance, I walked into the Vanguard Kitchen. Needless to say, I was fascinated when I realized they had iPads at every table. About a year ago, I wrote a column about AppleBee’s thinking about using digital menus in their stores. Now I was seeing an example live and in person.
The fascination ended very soon. If you don’t have time to read the rest of the column, here is the take away:
DO NOT IMPLEMENT TECHNOLOGY IN YOUR ENVIRONMENT UNLESS IT WORKS!
As you can guess from that take away the technology did not work. Initially, upon sitting down it was not even clear to me that I would use the iPad to order my meal. I thought it may be a convenience feature to check on flight arrivals, departures, news and weather. A waiter came over, pressed the button to start up the ordering process, told me to use it to order and walked away. No problem, I am a techie, I can handle this. I fumbled my way around for a minute, as anyone would using a system for the first time. It did not amaze me as easy to use, but also did not strike me as particularly difficult. My order was done, it told me to swipe my card, I tried, and the app crashed. Oh great. Did I just order that, or did it crash before the order went through? If I go again, then am I going to pay for two meals? My brother, whom I was traveling with had the exact same thing happen to him. We have to wait several minutes and wave down the waiter. He of course, was not attending to us regularly as all interaction was to happen via the iPad.
When the waiter arrived he explained that the app sometimes does that and try again. He stood there as we did. We went through the process again, same result. At this point, we are over 10 minutes into our experience at the restaurant and have not even had coffee yet, because we can not get it ordered through the iPad. The waiter then told us that this happens a lot, and proceeded to try and order our meal (and swipe the card) on two other iPads before he got one to work. Not sure of the exact math here, but something like an 80 percent failure rate. It also left us wondering how many times that charge was going to come through on our accounts. Fortunately, the app had actually crashed before charging the meal, and we only go charged once.
I was really disappointed in this initial experience with digital menus and ordering. To be honest, it just did not work. Beyond the technical problems that I just explained there were other “user” issues. For starters, the iPads were stuck on the table (which is tiny to begin with) between my brother and I. It messed up our ability to have a normal conversation as we had to talk around the iPads. Next time you go to a restaurant, sit your menu upright between you and your guest and see what type of experience that is. A second issue is that each person needs to order their own food and swipe the card. So, if I had been with my family rather than my brother I would have had to swipe the card for four different charges. I can not just put them all on one. Finally, and perhaps the most annoying problem, is that I had to choose a tip when I ordered my food. At this point, the only thing the wait staff has done is sit me down. How am I supposed to determine what type of tip to give BEFORE any service is provided? Additionally, the technology raises questions about what amount of tip should I give. All the wait staff did was sit me and deliver my food. It was by no means your regular dining experience.
In retrospect, I think the entire implementation was deeply flawed. Technically, it was flawed, service wise it was flawed. In my estimation, from a business perspective it was also flawed. In theory, it should provide more efficient and faster service. Yet, if someone goes into a sit down restaurant in an airport, it is probably because they have time to burn between flights. Speed is not going to be the only determining factor. Second, the system may have been less efficient, due to the amount of time the staff spent trying to get the technology to work. This could be part of the roll out, but that needs to be considered, and should have been tested well in advance. From an efficiency and speed perspective, the restaurant could offer a self-order area, much like grocery stores have a self checkout line. People who go in those lines know they may run into problems, but are willing to do it for the convenience. Yet, many people choose to avoid them completely.
I end this column going back to my initial take away. Please, don’t implement technology unless you know it will work, from all perspectives. The iPads read that this was a OTG experience. Now that I have had an OTG experience, I would be happy to never have one again.