Wireless restaurant waiters

I'm pretty sure you have already decided not to return to a restaurant because of slow or 'bad' service. ESP Systems, a company based in Charlotte, N.C., has decided to help both restaurant owners, waiters and customers by linking everyone via a wireless network. But is the system safe for waiters? Read more...

I'm pretty sure you have already decided not to return to a restaurant because of slow or 'bad' service. ESP Systems, a company based in Charlotte, N.C., has decided to help both restaurant owners, waiters and customers by linking everyone via a wireless network. In its latest issue, CIO Magazine reports that you can now flag your waiter wirelessly. Each guest has access to a table-set device, called an 'ESP Hub,' that allows him to instantly ping his servers. And all waiters carry a special watch that receives messages from the kitchen and the diners in real time. This system looks neat, but can easily been abused either by restaurant owners tracking their employees, or by customers overusing the devices on their tables. But read more...

Here is how the system works according to CIO Magazine.

Each server, host and manager wears a watch that is connected wirelessly to a hub at each table. After the hostess seats a party, a server greets the diners and hands them a disc that is about 2.5 inches in diameter. Once the customer pops the disc into the table's wireless hub, he or she can click down on the disc to ping the server's watch and get attention. From a managerial standpoint, the technology helps supervisors see which tables need help and shift manpower quickly, says Devin Green, CEO of ESP Systems.

But let's see how it really works through images extracted from a demo provided by ESP Systems (Credit for all illustrations below: ESP Systems).

Below you can see how a restaurant employee notifies the front desk that a table is ready.

ESP Systems: table switching to 'ready' status

Now, the hostess changes the table status from 'ready' to 'dining.'

ESP Systems: table switching to 'dining' status

Then, the diners put their CD-like disc into the table's wireless hub.

ESP Systems: guests using the ESP device

Finally, everyone in the restaurant, from the kitchen to the bar to the waiter knows if the food or the drinks are ready..

ESP Systems: dinner is ready

CIO Magazine adds that the 32 restaurants of the Fatz Cafe chain in South Carolina have been equipped with its system. But a national chain, T.G.I. Friday's, also is using the system, at least throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

So the technology is being adopted by restaurant chains. But are waiters satisfied? According to this case study, they seem to be happy.

Servers Want It: 86% of servers said they would rather work at a restaurant with ESP versus at a restaurant without it, ultimately having positive implications on a restaurant’s recruiting, training, and retention efforts. (Only 2% of servers said they would prefer not to work at a restaurant with ESP, with the balance being neutral.)
Servers Are Making More Money: 83% of servers indicated that ESP enables them to make more money, positively affecting a restaurant’s recruiting, training, and retention efforts.

Of course, this is what reports ESP Systems, but I have some doubts. First, this system allows restaurant owners to spy on their waiters. Will they have time to take a break? Will they be fired because they don't answer fast enough to a customer's request?

And secondly, this system can also be abused by customers -- or their kids -- pushing repeatedly on the button requesting the presence of a waiter.

So I have a question for you: if you have used this system -- as a waiter or as a patron -- were you satisfied? Please drop me a note with your thoughts.

Sources: C.G. Lynch, CIO Magazine, September 1, 2006 issue; and various web sites

You'll find related stories by following the links below.