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Some Radical IT Ideas From An Exasperated IT Exec

March 18th, 2010

Creating A Richer Interaction For The Guest

We are still in the infancy of leveraging technology to enhance the guest experience. There is a lot of talk about digital menu boards. But that talk is mostly coming from the people who sell them not the people who use them. And it seems like just about everyone is trying to sell them these days. In my opinion, digital menu boards just don’t make a lot of sense for most restaurant concepts. Sure, the great pictures and moving animation might catch diners’ eyes and convince them to order something else. But the impact will be short-lived–and not long enough to justify the costs.

To me, installing a digital menu board is like painting your restaurant. Sure, it will catch people’s eyes and cause more people to stop in. But eventually people will get used to that new paint, and the effect will wear off. I have no doubt that as technology costs drop and content management systems improve, digital menu boards will become commonplace in most quick-service restaurants. It will become something that you “have to do” just to be in the business; it will no longer be a differentiator. For instance:

  • What if restaurants gave guests their menus on an iPad?
  • What if that menu was customized to each diner’s likes, dislikes and allergies, as provided by their phone communicating to the iPad or even from the restaurant’s CRM system?
  • What if guests could custom-order a dish based on the known ingredients in the restaurant at the time of their visit?
  • What if there was a digital photo frame in the booth that could show guests a Facebook photo album?

I’m still not thinking big enough, you say? What about a restaurant booth that has a video-conferencing setup (similar to Cisco’s Telepresence) that allowed to people to have lunch together without being in the same restaurant? It may sound like stuff out of a science-fiction movie, but all of this technology exists today.

Store Operations

At the end of the day, the restaurant industry is, and always will be, about people. So what about using technology to enhance your customer service or even just the lives of your crew?

One idea is using Bluetooth headsets to communicate in real time. Maybe it is a manager explaining to a crew member how something can be done better. Or maybe it is an automated message from the CRM system giving a server a little bit of insight into the customer.

What do you think? Love it or hate it, I’d love to gain some additional perspectives. Leave a comment, or E-mail me at


4 Comments | Read Some Radical IT Ideas From An Exasperated IT Exec

  1. beefyfunk Says:

    I can’t imagine a scenario where you could pay for something using facebook credits. In order to authenticate with facebook especially, you don’t even store credentials, just oAuth. You’d have to ask the customer each and every time to input their username/password? That’s surely not faster or easier.

    i know that tasti d-lite first, and now starbucks (and who knows who else down the line) have started rewarding their customers for social network posts (especially with foursquare).

  2. steve klebe Says:

    Understand the exasperation but you need to understand more about the underlying challenges in order to come up with viable solutions. The article you referred to in wired was ridiculously off base written by someone who obviously knew nothing about payments. PayPal would be worse for your restaurant than what you take today because the transaction would be considered Card Not Present and the Interchange would be higher.

  3. Steve Sommers Says:

    Three points I would like to make. First, no merchant is required to take credit cards. There are plenty of vendors that will install ATM’s at the merchant location to allow the customer to buy cash if they didn’t notice the “cash only” sign and this will be at no cost to the merchant — while I don’t like this option, it is available to merchants. Instead of the ATM route, I recommend to merchants, if your credit card costs are affecting your bottom line that much, either find a new bank (the example of 3% is high) or raise your prices.

    Second, using the Google example, Google makes money from advertisers and paid commercials. Do you really want your clerk or your customers to be bombarded with ads just to process a credit card transaction? Or just as bad, would you tolerate ads being displayed to the customer or printed on receipts, possibly to your competitor? This is how Google pays for the free stuff mentioned and I don’t see brick & mortar merchants embracing these cost cutting measures.

    Third, go to Google and search the following key words: “paypal frozen funds”

  4. PCI Guy Says:

    Todd Michaud asks why a $100 credit card transaction carries an interchange fee of almost $3. In a word: Risk. The issuer and acquirer banks involved in credit card transactions each assume part of the associated risk. For the issuer, the risk is that the cardholder will not pay the bill, or that the card is fraudulent, and the issuer also floats a potentially interest-free loan until the bill is paid. The acquirer risks that the merchant has sold bogus or defective goods, or will fail to deliver paid-for products or services, and then go into bankruptcy or just disappear into the night. For assuming those risks, the issuer and acquirer split the interchange fee.

    Todd also asks “What if restaurants gave guests their menus on an iPad?” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say those restaurants will end up buying a lot of iPads, to replace the ones that disappear each night, and then go bankrupt.


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