Monday, July 1, 2013

High Tech Food Service

Is high tech better? Sometimes, yes, but not always; especially as we try to navigate a touch tone phone menu when calling customer service.

This morning I had breakfast at a cafe where customers only interact with the cashier when placing orders for coffee. Ordering food is done via one of four iPads next to the cash register.

I had never used this system before, so today's experiences will probably be my slowest. The first step was to swipe my credit card and then select the type of meal I wanted such as breakfast or lunch. Once I selected breakfast, I could choose from a few categories such as egg sandwiches, fruit, or pastries. The choice of egg sandwich toppings was more than I expected. Generally, when I place an order with a cashier and have to select a cheese I usually only consider the basics such as American, cheddar, or Swiss; but this iPad ordering system had unexpectedly more options – after all, there are a lot of cheeses in the world. So, having more options, without being overwhelmed, is a good thing. As I selected each topping, my choices were reinforced with a photo the item.

While placing my order – a task that took about two minutes – I could feel the coffee drink line, next to me, moving much faster than I was moving as drink order, after drink order, was being placed and filled. I felt a bit like I was being left behind.

The last step when checking out was to pick up a pager, next to the counter, and enter the pager's number in my order so they could let me know when my food was ready. Once I clicked the final button I felt like something was missing even though my order was complete: I hadn't tendered payment. Don't we pay after we order? Since the first step was to swipe my credit card, payment was already taken care of.

This system felt a bit odd and it's certainly impersonal. But, I totally understand the benefits from the business's point of view. Why hold up quick and simple coffee orders because of complex and lengthly food orders? Also, customers can quickly get used to the process as they see that they have more options when ordering food.

I was struck by an irony after ordering my breakfast. We, as customers, want personal service when ordering face-to-face even though we can't hide our identity, yet we find it creepy when Google ads pop up as we surf the web based on our personal, yet anonymous, habits. But, for those who want to forgo the the HCI at this cafe, there's a lone cash register where a customer can belly up and order the old fashioned way.

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