Order-Taking: Pen, Paper Vs. iPads

Ocean Prime
Ocean Prime, in Dallas, Texas, is an eight-unit collection of restaurants operated by Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. The Columbus, Ohio, company has more than 30 units under 10 nameplates. Ocean Prime is a modern American supper club that pairs great steakhouse and seafood restaurants. Heather Thitoff, the parent company's director of training, likes having servers write down diners' orders with a pen or pencil and paper.
Trio Restaurant & Bar
Mount Airy, North Carolina, may be known as the home of actor Andy Griffith and the model for his bucolic Mayberry, but for the past 10 months it's been the location for Trio Restaurant & Bar. Trio serves American-style food with French cooking techniques. Chris Wishart is the chef and owner of the restaurant, which has had its servers use iPads to take diners' orders since it opened. Photo: Fickr: Leon Lee
How does your order-taking strategy affect business?
Our servers are engaging in a conversation with guests. We encourage everyone to write things down; it doesn't cost much for a pen and pad. Yes, you can wow the diners if you remember everything, but it's more important to give the guest a level of comfort that everything will be right.
The iPads are the platform, and we have four of them (at $500-$600 each). They're second nature to our young staff. Servers talk with customers very normally. Touch a table (on the screen) and a menu comes up. They check off diners' choices, and there's an option to write special notes.
What are the benefits?

It allows [servers] to interact naturally with customer. Accuracy, while important, is the bare minimum. A pad of paper isn't intrusive or part of the conversation. And there are no problems if there is a glitch in the POS system.

It's been extremely successful, and I measure that by the lack of frustration. The iPads are linked (wirelessly) to a MacBook and printers that print orders in the bar and kitchen. We've had no problems; any glitches weren't due to the software.

What do your customers think about this?

They probably don't even notice. It is just part of a great dining experience. People don't go into a bank to get money anymore; you don't have to go to Blockbuster for a movie [but] restaurants still offer human contact. People will always want that.

It's a real conversation piece at first. After that, people don't notice. In the end, the iPads really have nothing to do with overall quality of the server. I don't think there will ever be a replacement for a great server.