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Benefits of Wireless Handheld Order Taking Systems for Restaurants

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Posted: 12/06/2012 10:03:00
Synopsis: An in-depth analysis and discussion on the benefits of wireless handheld order taking systems for table service restaurants and busy over-the-counter food and beverage establishments.


Most owners/managers in the restaurant business will agree that a handheld order-taking system that can efficiently expedite a food order more quickly can result in better customer satisfaction, and that alone could justify the investment in such a system. However most people are probably not aware of all the potential benefits that make handheld order entry systems such a compelling alternative to the status-quo POS touch screen systems in use today.

This article attempts to highlight all these potential benefits by first looking at the deficiencies of the current, de-facto order entry systems (fixed station touch screen POS terminals), and then showing how a handheld order-taking system can effectively address these deficiencies. This is followed by a description of the added benefits of a wireless handheld order-taking system (the icing on the cake) and how they affect customer service, costs, and revenues.


Fixed station touch screen POS systems have become the system of choice for foodservice establishments; not only of full service restaurants but also in quick and delivery service, bars, and cafeteria type establishments. However there are still some high table turnover environments that have resisted touch screen technology. Why is this? Well, in the words of some restaurant operators: “Touch screen systems are too slow to get the order to the kitchen. It’s a hell of a lot quicker if the server takes a copy of the order directly to the preparation areas.” And you know what, they are right but I suppose replacing a cash register with a shoe box to throw the money in is faster as well. For the purposes of this article lets entertain the argument. When you compare how a touch screen system would work in a high paced environment compared to a manual system, there is no doubt that a manual system is faster as regards speed of service. For starters, by using carbon copies of the handwritten order (one for the kitchen, another one for the cashier), you avoid two big time consuming tasks. First, the time wasted going to a fixed POS terminal and then possibly waiting in line to access it. Typically there is one terminal per 2 to 4 servers, and during busy periods of the day there are invariably server lines at the terminals. Sure, one could eliminate this problem by having one terminal per active server, but this would be, in most cases, cost and space prohibitive. Second, the time it takes to transfer the handwritten order from the pad to the fixed POS terminal, which can be anywhere from 20 seconds to 4 minutes depending on the size of the order and the experience of the server with the POS system.

Other, not so obvious problems with the pencil-and-pad-then-touch-screen-systems are:

  • Errors and omissions while taking the order, due to the server not knowing all the forced modifier options (side orders, salad dressings, cocktail mixing options, cooking temperatures etc.
  • Errors and omissions in transferring the order from pad to the touch screen system. These errors can range from accidentally skipping a line on the pad, to misreading the handwritten information
  • Wasted time in correcting ordered unavailable / sold out items…and dealing with the disappointment of customer upon learning they have to choose another dish!

In a nutshell, all the time issues and errors described above stem from the double entry process inherent in touch screen order-entry systems. The only way to eliminate, or at least reduce these problems is by eliminating double-entry.


Obviously, the way to eliminate the double entry process is by entering the order directly into the POS System at tableside. If one takes it to the extreme, you could devise a system whereby the customer himself enters the order, eliminating the need of the servers for order taking. However, this would generate its own set of new problems. So let’s limit ourselves to replacing the pencil and pad order taking system with a wireless handheld device and look at how it mitigates the problems described above.

  • Forced modifier errors / omissions while taking the order at the table are potentially eliminated as the handheld will prompt the server. Note also that servers do not have to memorise all the modifier options, reducing the amount of time spent training. For example, when processing a hamburger order, say, follow-up screens on the handheld display cooking temperature and side order options the customer can choose from
  • Time wasted going to POS terminals to enter orders is eliminated
  • Lines at POS terminals are eliminated, since each server uses there own handheld to process orders
  • Errors / omissions due to transferring the order to the POS system are completely eliminated, since the order, once taken on the handheld is wirelessly communicated to the "core" POS system
  • Ordering of unavailable / sold out items is eliminated. Server is notified via the handheld if an item is not available


Now let’s look at the added benefits provided by a handheld order taking system. Some benefits stem from having complete access to menu information, others from the physical differences of the system, and yet others from the change in the workforce flow.


  • Fewer Missed Sales: Since servers spend more time on the floor, it is more likely that a customer needing to order a drink or food item will find her server
  • More Up-Selling Opportunities: Prompts / forced modifiers can help the server suggest appropriate options to the customer that result in a higher spend
  • Increased Table Turns: Due reduced time it takes to service tables, it follows that on average, customers will spend less time at the table, freeing them up for new customers. Further efficiencies can be realised if either printing and or settling of checks occurs at the table
  • More Space Available: Space once taken up by fixed POS stations can be used for other revenue producing or cost saving purposes


  • Fewer Servers Required: More tables can be assigned to servers without compromising service. The efficiency introduced by use of handhelds can shave two to ten minutes in processing an order, depending primarily on the number of customers sitting at the table and the distance from the table to the fixed POS station. This means one can assign one or two more tables to each server, resulting in fewer servers required, typically 10% to 25% less
  • Shorter Server Training Time: Since the menu information is available at tableside, servers do not have to memorise all the item / modifier options to be effective
  • Improved Server Retention: Allowing servers to handle more tables, more effectively, means more tips. This results in a more stable workforce for the restaurant, and reduced training (of new servers) costs
  • Fewer (if any!) pencils and pads: This can add up over the course of a year. It also makes your business “greener”!
  • Another "Green" initiative: Display the customers check on the handheld and present it to the customer to view for those who do not require a printed copy. This would especially suit those many "table for 2's"
  • More energy efficient POS system: Typically a 5 fixed station POS system would be replaced by 2 fixed POS system + 4 to 6 handhelds. This translates to about 10Kw per hour energy savings, assuming each fixed station consumes about 200 watts (the power required to charge the handhelds is minimal in comparison, about 5 Watts per handheld.)


  • Backlit screen easier to read in dimly lit environments. This makes it easier for the server to see what they are entering and to review orders
  • Better order management: useful information such as missing drinks, appetisers or entrees can be easily displayed, helping the server identify potential problems


The benefits listed above are directly related to the more efficient processing of customer orders. But even more benefits can be squeezed out of handheld use by servers by adding additional handheld functionality.

Here are some:

  • Pictures of dishes: With the touch of a button the server can pull up the picture of a dish to show the customer
  • Ingredients, nutritional Information: Customers requesting this information can get an instant response by use of handhelds
  • Customer Relations Management: Handhelds can be used to access customer information, such as preferences (seating, food, etc.), enhancing customer service
  • Email customers check: A copy of the customers check can be emailed directly from the handheld. ie. many business customers may welcome this


The benefits of wireless handheld order taking technology are fairly clear. Many restaurateurs have adopted this technology over past years, realising the numerous benefits. Although handheld order taking is not uncommon in Australia, it's use has not "exploded" as it was first thought it would 10 - 15 years ago. After examining all of the obvious benefits it would be a reasonable question to ask, why? The answer can possibly be found in the technologies history.

It was over 10 - 15 years ago that the first handheld systems came onto the market. These early systems used numeric keypads to enter the PLU codes for items and infrared transmitter / receivers to relay the information between the handhelds and the POS system. Later systems started using radio frequencies to transmit the data, improving the communications reliability. Further reasons for the modest adoption rate have included problems with size, weight, battery life, security, reliability, order taking efficiency (how many steps does it take to order an item), ease of use, functionality, RF interference, the reluctance of many POS software developers to invest in development due to rapidly evolving hardware platforms eg. pocket / mobile pc's and, of course, the historically very high price of pocket / mobile computers. It was not uncommon for a pocket PC to cost around $1500.00 to $2000.00 10 years ago and even more for "industrial" grade units. It was not only this initial cost that created hesitation by many restaurateurs it was also the potential repeat of this cost to cover possible breakage from accidental drops etc.

One technology "explosion" we have seen in recent years are the mobile Apple Computer "i" products. ie. iPod, iPhone and iPad. They are mobile, offer powerful computing, easy to use, reliable, relatively low cost, they are fun and with the plethora of third party apps, have for many people, become an essential part of life. Who hasn't got an "i" product these days.

Will this "explosion" of mobile "i" products translate into the massive uptake of restaurant handheld ordering devices as was predicted 10 - 15 years ago? They certainly seem to remove almost all of the final objections to allow this to happen. They are small, light weight, have good battery life, are reliable, offer superior communications reliability whether you use wireless, Bluetooth or 3G, are secure and most importantly are very reasonably priced, with an iPod Touch retailing for around $200.00, especially when considering it can be used as such a powerful business tool. Software developers are embracing the platform (the iOS operating system) being confident that it has a long future. With all these hurdles overcome we come to the final two, "Order Taking Efficiency" and "Ease of Use". This is up to the software developers. Any "i" product user will today testify that we have seen some remarkably clever and easy to use apps come onto the market. This is no different for restaurant handheld ordering apps. The TIM (Time is Money) app has recently been released allowing integration to the world renowned Aloha POS System. It effectively mimics the Aloha POS fixed terminal ordering screens allowing servers easy transition between the two.

So it is finally here, a wireless restaurant handheld ordering device that defies any objection and is seamlessly integrated to the worlds best Hospitality POS System. The "explosion" is starting ...........

What's next I here you ask. Well ,,,,,, fully integrated online restaurant ordering into your Aloha POS System from either your website or your customers "i" device. Yes, we have an app for that as well.

Further information: Restaurant POS Systems or Restaurant POS Wireless Handheld Ordering or call us (02) 9817-7791

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