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Technology

Tech Check: Text message ordering

OhWaiter allows customers to order and pay via text for a contactless experience.
OhWaiter
Photograph courtesy of OhWaiter

Tech Check is a recurring feature that assesses emerging restaurant technology products.

In this installment, RB takes a look at a text message order and pay platform.

The technology: Los Angeles-based OhWaiter’s platform allows customers to order and pay via text. Founded by Santa Monica restaurateur Jonathan Chu, the product launched nationwide in August and is currently in about a dozen restaurants on the West Coast and one in Asheville, N.C.

How it works: Customers start the process by using their mobile phone to scan a QR code at the table, which brings up the restaurant’s menu. They then scan a second QR code to begin a text message thread for their table. They type in what they want and the message is relayed to a staff tablet. An employee presses a button to either accept the order, dismiss it or ask for clarification, then brings the order to the table. 

The text chain serves as a running tab, and guests can continue making requests that way until they’re ready to pay. They can do that via the same thread using Google Pay or Apple Pay.

Benefits: Chu conceived of OhWaiter as a way to help waitstaff keep up during unexpected rushes—especially amid the labor crunch of recent years. It gives guests the ability to ask for a refill, more ketchup or the check without having to flag down a server, and it takes some pressure off staff.  

During COVID-19, it can reduce human contact as well as lines at the counter—guests can instead immediately take a seat and start ordering. And Chu said it has helped increase ticket sizes, with customers using OhWaiter to order more high-margin items like drinks.

OhWaiter also provides records of customers’ requests so restaurants can see what people are ordering and how long it’s taking staff to fulfill them.

Drawbacks: OhWaiter adds another tablet in the restaurant. The company is working with software provider ItsaCheckmate to give restaurants the option to integrate OhWaiter with their POS systems. But Chu said keeping the channels separate is part of the beauty of the product because it allows for a variety of requests beyond what’s listed on the menu, like more salt or an extra fork.

“If you fully integrate, a ticket just pops up [with a customer’s request],” he said. “You can’t send a ticket for ketchup or for more salt.”

Cost: $149 per month, per location for up to five locations; $129 for six to 10.

Use case: Los Angeles fast-casual Lobster & Beer added OhWaiter about four or five months ago after co-owner Jeff Szpylman saw it at a friend’s restaurant. It’s had a lot of benefits, he said, with the biggest being the added layer of safety and higher checks.

“OhWaiter has really enabled the customer to order directly from the table, which actually provides a convenience in more ways than one,” he said, including a completely contactless experience and the “laid-back enjoyment” you’d get from a table service place.

And he’s found the ease of ordering has pushed people to add on an extra item or two they might not otherwise.

“If you don’t have a server, like we don’t, you have to get back up and come inside,” he said. “I’d say it’s a 50/50 shot whether or not you really want that extra beer,” but OhWaiter has made that decision easier.

He estimated that about 50% of guests use it on an average day. Asked whether monitoring the extra channel has created any hassle for staff, he said, “It definitely adds another thing for them to pay attention to. But they’ve adapted very well to it. And it’s really no different than if the customer was standing right in front of them.”

Szpylman said he’d like it if OhWaiter integrated with Lobster & Beer’s POS system, giving the option to display menu pictures and cut down on miscommunication.

“I could definitely see integration bringing a lot of cool new upsell potential as well as user experience,” he said. 

RB’s take: This is an engaging take on contactless ordering, allowing for a running “conversation” between guests and staff that can double as an insightful record for restaurants. And it’s easy to imagine how the texting format could encourage people to tack on an extra beer or order of fries. The current lack of integration with the POS and menu leaves room for miscommunication, though—once that’s in place, restaurants will have more options for how they can implement it.

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