Can server handhelds unlock faster service and happier guests?

Handheld devices crossed category lines as COVID cracked wide a world of digital adoption, bringing a tech-centric spin on service into an experiential-driven segment. But are they improving customer experience at sit-down restaurants? The companies behind them contend handhelds enable servers to turn over tables 20 percent faster and, in turn, boost revenue by 15–20 percent. Moreover, food gets to the guest three to five minutes faster, ensuring freshness and satisfaction.

Since some devices are left at the table, guests can check out on their own clock. When servers carry handhelds, they can be pinged on demand, from guests and the kitchen.

Broadly, it eases the burden on servers who no longer have to race back and forth between terminals to place orders, return to the table, and later wait for guests to take out their credit cards or cash. Some studies suggest servers end up visiting tables twice, instead of five times.

Rom Krupp, CEO of solutions provider OneDine, says handhelds optimize labor and table throughput.

At many restaurants, prime-time lunch or brunch lasts about 60 to 90 minutes and includes time for guests to be seated, eat, and return to work, while the servers go table-to-table and then stop at a point-of-sale terminal to type in their orders. “From the moment the guest says he wants to eat, it’s dead time,” Krupp says. “It slows down your throughput so you can’t serve as many customers.”

When restaurants employ handhelds, the guests pay the check on their own, using Apple or Google Pay or credit cards, join loyalty programs, and enable multiple guests to pay their separate checks at once. Their usage obliterates what Krupp describes as “line busting,” where guests see seven people waiting and walk away because it takes too long, particularly at lunch when they are pressed for time.

In quick service, brands can cut down on cashier staff. With drive-thrus, staff enter the lane, take orders rapidly, and expedite the pace, as Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out have long displayed.

Krupp adds handhelds “shouldn’t affect the pacing of the meal,” either, in the event somebody isn’t trying to expedite their dinner. “Guests can still time out their own experience,” he says.

Most of these devices are designed to be understood quickly by servers and require minimal training. It potentially leads to higher wages, too, because guests are often prompted to leave between 18–20 percent tips.

Krupp acknowledges handhelds won’t fit in at most fine-dining eateries “because asking the guest to be part of paying the check is counter-intuitive to the experience.”

“The check average is high enough where the server doesn’t have to rush the table,” he adds.

Krupp notes handhelds appeal to people of all ages—GenXers, millennials, and even Baby Boomers who are used to check-out terminals at Walmart, Target, and most supermarkets these days. Additionally, the payment exchange reduces fraud since a server isn’t walking away with a guest’s card.

But Krupp conceded effectiveness still depends on the restaurant’s implementation. “Don’t force the handheld device into someone’s face,” he say.

Paul Macaluso, CEO of 80-plus-unit Another Broken Egg Cafe, introduced a trial of its handhelds in several locations in fall 2020. It then adopted it across all its full-service eateries in January 2022.

“We needed to upgrade our point-of-sale system holistically because it was 20 years old,” he says. Further, post-pandemic, the NextGen Casual chain struck relationships with several third-party deliverers including DoorDash, GrubHub, and Uber Eats. “We needed a POS system that would allow integration of all third parties,” Macaluso says. Previously, Another Broken Egg used iPad tablets throughout the restaurant, which were cumbersome and inefficient.

During its trial, the cloud-based system worked and made each server’s life easier, Macaluso says. Instead of having to write orders down in a notebook, and then deliver them to the kitchen, orders were injected instantaneously. During busy brunch, when guests are often waiting, service sped up.

In fact, Another Broken Egg conducted a time study and discovered it reduced ordering time by 3.6 minutes per group and servers could handle 12 percent more tables. In a restaurant with 40 tables, it amounted to serving an additional two tables per hour. Handhelds also made kitchen staff more efficient since orders came in directly, faster, without having to navigate four or five tablets.

Since customers also didn’t have to wait around for payment, they kept their credit card on the table, the pace quickened, and diners were happy, as was the server, Macaluso says.

The only issue that surfaced, Macaluso adds, was WiFi, because the handhelds run on them, and some restaurant locations had to have their WiFi systems upgraded to accommodate their signal.

Most guests, he says, “tend to be supportive and excited. It empowers the guest to make the transaction faster.”

To train staff, Another Broken Egg asked them to review a 10-minute video produced by its POS manufacturer, Revel Systems, and then each manager had a staff meeting of about 10 minutes to discuss how it would be implemented at every location. “For most servers, it was intuitive,” Macaluso says.

He sees additional benefits since guests are more inclined toward self-service. “They could create a kiosk and allow guests to order by themselves,” he says.

“It’s been time-saving for the guests, there’s more efficiency for our staff and that leads to higher sales and profits,” Macaluso adds.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, Finance, Kitchen Equipment, Labor & Employees, NextGen Casual, Technology, Another Broken Egg Cafe