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Technology

Running the iRestaurant

Restaurants across the country have dabbled in iPad usage, primarily back-of-house for inventory or front-of-house for wine lists. But few have jumped in to the extent that Christian and Nacasha Ruffin, owners of Atlanta’s Do restaurant, have. As the Ruffins found out, equipping a restaurant to be iPad-driven takes more than buying a bunch of tablets and throwing them on tables.

Making Do with iPads

Do (pronounced “dough”) is “a musically inspired restaurant specializing in pizzas, salads, flatbreads and desserts. It’s a very tech-savvy, interactive experience,” says Christian. After diners are seated, their server brings them an iPad and guests place their own food and drink orders. But that’s not the end.

“They can also chat with other guests through the iPad,” he explains. A video wall surrounds diners with images of other environments, such as a city street or a beach. With their iPhones, guests can “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on the music that’s being played. “We have no jukebox; the individuals are the jukebox,” says Christian. Customers can even summon the parking valet directly from the iPad. And just when you thought it was safe to go to the restroom... wall-mounted iPads function as mirrors.

Tech support

Besides the initial investment in iPads, having a fairly expensive electronic device for each table requires some analysis of your equipment needs. “We didn’t want the iPads sitting flat on a table,” says Christian, so stands were the first order of business. Expect to pay anywhere from $15 upwards for stands. The Nest iPad stand, available in six colors from www.bluelounge.com, is fairly inexpensive ($15).

The “hands-on” (or more precisely, “fingers-on”) operation of the iPad calls for almost continuous cleaning. “We have a special film on the front of each to keep fingerprints, etc. off the glass,” says Christian. “And we wipe down the iPad with a special cloth before we give it to the guests. We have to sanitize them every night, but it’s all part of the process.” Protective films can also be helpful if the iPad is ever going to be used in the kitchen; Speck Products (www.speckproducts.com) offers a two-pack of covering films in glossy or matte finish for $25. A microfiber cleaning cloth, such as CTA Products’ Cloth Addiction, runs about $9 (available through U.S. Foods).

“Branding” the iPad helps reinforce the restaurant’s logo and image, and it may also act as a theft deterrent. “We’ve served over 30,000 people since we’ve opened and we’ve never had one iPad stolen,” reports Christian. Do uses logoed stickers attached to the tablet’s back. Another solution may be custom-designed covers. Online services such as M-Edge (www.medgestore.com) allow you to create your own iPad covers for around $35 each.

Charging an iPad at home is a minor annoyance; with 30 or more iPads, it becomes a major task. “We bought a self-supporting, fast-charging 30-unit charger on wheels that locks,” says Christian. Anthro (www.anthro.com), makes a 40-unit locking charger cart that retails for $1,500 and a 20-unit wall-mounted cabinet for $650.

Checking out

About the only place Do isn’t using iPads is in paying the bill, but restaurateurs have options for that as well now. Square (www.squareup.com) and Intuit (www.intuit-gopayment.com) both offer free card readers that can plug into iPads, so customers or waitstaff can swipe credit cards right at the table. Transaction fees are around 2.7 percent for both services.

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