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Technology

The future is (almost) now

2011 is just around the corner. Time to start thinking about your New Year’s restaurant technology wish list. You may soon be texting bills to your customers and updating your digital menu on the fly.

What: Diner Connection, from Moxie Software
Why: Restaurants that still have stacks of blinking customer pagers can upgrade to a more modern wait list management system. Web-based Diner Connection is coming out of beta soon and going fully national in 2011. Manage your wait list, send out wait time notifications, text your customers when the table is ready and send opt-in text marketing messages. After the free trial, plans start at $99 per month for 1,200 messages.

What: 4G Networks, from Sprint and others
Why: Remember the huge buzz when 3G finally came out for mobile phones? Well, 3G is about to be old hat as mobile providers roll out 4G in 2011. Basically, this means faster data speeds to keep up with the voracious appetites of mobile devices. Sprint is at the forefront with rolling out test markets, but Verizon Wireless is also on the move. Samsung handsets are some of the first 4Gs available. This means that your next smartphone may well be a 4G one.

What: Windows Phone 7, from Microsoft
Why: Microsoft has a tall order ahead
of it when it comes to competing with the well-established iPhone and Android operating systems. That isn’t stopping them from rolling out Windows Phone 7, a new mobile OS that will be widely available in 2011. The big push is for tight integration with existing Microsoft products like Bing and Microsoft Office Live. This could be the product that brings Microsoft back into relevance in the mobile world. Take a look when your next cell phone contract comes up for renewal.

What: XIPWIRE, from XIPWIRE
Why: We’ve been hearing about the mobile wallet for years. Paying with your mobile phone sounds like a natural next step in digital commerce. XIPWIRE brings the concept to restaurants with its new text to pay system that can run on an iPad. A customer sets up a user ID and pin number, gives the ID to the server, receives the bill via text message on his cell phone and confirms it. The transaction is done without the need for cash or credit cards. Restaurants that don’t accept credit cards can give customers a new payment option with no high fees attached. The only ongoing cost is a 1.5 percent transaction fee for the business.

What: X431BT LCD display, from NEC
Why: 2011 is a big year for changes in FDA menu labeling requirements. Keep up with the new rules with a digital menu board. The NEC X431BT is a 43-inch half height LCD panel designed for overhead or outdoor menus. List your menu items and calorie counts and make changes without having to print out new menu boards or get hand cramps from updating a whiteboard. The street price is $3,799, but shopping around should get you a better deal.

What: BlackBerry PlayBook, from RIM
Why: Those clashing sounds you hear are the first volleys in the tablet computer wars. RIM is taking a sideswipe at Apple’s popular iPad with the BlackBerry PlayBook, due out in early 2011. This 7-inch touchscreen tablet features a healthy processor, plenty of memory under the hood, Flash support and a USB connection. Most of all, it’s geared for business and can be hooked up to a BlackBerry smartphone to get online when you’re away from a Wi-Fi hotspot.

What: Decision Support System, from Geomentum
Why:
You’ve heard of local marketing, now say hello to hyper-local marketing. Geomentum’s upcoming Decision Support System offering is a good match for chains that want details on how everything from the weather to neighborhood demographics affect sales and performance at each location. This is designed to keep your marketing plan on its toes and ready to adapt in reaction to local changes. Pricing varies for the customizable system. It is currently in beta testing and will come out with a catchier name in March 2011.

What: Sanidoor, from Sanidoor
Why: Restroom products aren’t the most glamorous entries in the technology realm, but your customers and employees appreciate them. With hands-free flushing, sinks, soap and towels becoming must-have restaurant accessories, why not add the door into the mix? Sanidoor is rolling out a touch-free door system nationwide that can be retrofitted to existing doors or built into new construction. Wave your hand and it magically opens. It’s one more way to fight the spread of germs.

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