Customer paging systems have moved far beyond the days of the microphone and public address system. Today’s equipment combine sophisticated paging capabilities with increased opportunities for promotion and customer data collection.
The transmitter base is the heart of the wireless paging system. Installation is easy, as almost all transmitters plug into a standard 110-volt outlet and are ready to use with minimal programming. A keypad on the device lets the operator send signals to the pagers. Systems transmit over the UHF frequency (at around 450 to 470 MHz), much in the same way as home walkie-talkie systems.
Transmitters with an “out-of-range” or “anti-theft” feature automatically send a signal to the pagers when they’re taken outside the restaurant’s paging area. A few even have a “find me” feature to send out a signal to any pagers that haven’t been returned—helpful at end-of-shift time.
While there are replaceable battery-operated pagers available, most pager systems depend on some type of recharger. Some systems have stand-alone recharger stations; others work simply by stacking the pagers on top of one another on a charging base.
Recharging stations hold anywhere from eight to 32 pagers, and many have a quick-charge capability to bring the pagers back up to full power in two to three hours.
Turning the pagers
Coaster-style pagers, which vibrate, flash or beep to alert diners that their table is ready, have been especially popular in casual establishments. The coasters are easily customized with an operation’s logo. A “push for service” option is available on some coaster pagers. They’re left at the table and when customers want to call their server, they press a button and the coaster emits a steady, dim light.
Jtech’s “Guest Pass” pagers are ergonomically designed gadgets that resemble a TV remote control. They can be easily carried in a coat or trouser pocket, making them practical for operations located in resorts, casinos or shopping malls, where customers are likely to wander off-premise before their table is ready.
“Paddle” pagers have a window or clear acrylic panel attached to the pager, which allows for insertion of promotional materials. For a whimsical touch, Long Range Systems offers colorful pagers shaped like lobsters or pizza slices.
Pager models with alphanumeric displays have the ability to receive text messages. HME Wireless’ SmartCall system combines alphanumeric coaster-style pagers with a proprietary software system that automatically updates guests on their estimated wait times or number of tables ahead of them.
Cell phone paging systems can virtually eliminate the need for individual pagers. When customers check in at the host stand, their cell phone numbers are entered into the transmitter. As tables become available, it automatically calls the customer’s cell phone with a pre-recorded message. When the customer answers, the system requests a confirmation via the keypad to accept or decline the table.
Customizable, Internet-based paging systems that use text message technology are another new development. As customers check in, their phone number is entered into a PC and they receive a text message when their table is ready. An advantage to this system is that it requires just a PC, not a special transmitter. Customers also can “opt-in” to receive future text messages about special promotions. The downside here is that customers without text messaging capabilities still have to be paged by some other method.
For some operators, the “all-in-one” system may be the answer. In these systems, a single transmitter not only handles guest paging, but also is used for staff/manager paging, waitlist management and table management. With the installation of a stand-alone monitor, guests can see where they are on the waitlist and be alerted to menu specials.