Wireless waiters

The Irish Village has overhauled its point-of-sales (POS) system, installed a wireless local area network (WLAN) and armed its staff with Symbol handheld computers to improve customer service and utilise employees in a more efficient manner.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  March 27, 2003

Handheld hostessing|~||~||~|The Irish Village has overhauled its point-of-sales (POS) system, installed a wireless local area network (WLAN) and armed its staff with Symbol handheld computers to improve customer service and utilise employees in a more efficient manner.

Prior to the upgrade late last year, the food & beverage (F&B) outlet had a PoS solution from Squirrel. However, the system was struggling to cope with the volume of data and information generated by customers at the Irish Village.

“The old system worked perfectly well, but it is not suitable for the volumes of business we are doing in the Village... It’s not difficult to have a 1000 people down there on a regular night,” says Gerard Kearney, general manager, The Aviation Club.

The previous solution also led to bottlenecks at POS terminals, which in turn slowed customer service. “We analysed what the main issues were with the old system and one of the key things that came out was the queuing of staff at terminals, the time wasted, and therefore reduced customer service and the need for increased staff levels,” comments Kearney.

As such, the Irish Village examined a number of options, including increasing the number of POS terminals around the property. However, the F&B outlet decided to enlist the help of solutions provider, Key Information Technology (KIT), and installed wireless access points around the property, purchased 12 Symbol PPT 2800 Pocket PC handheld computers for staff and migrated to Micros POS terminals and applications.

“We provided SMC Networks wireless access points and the Symbol handhelds, which have their own wireless network access cards,” says Ajay Kapoor, assistant sales manager, hospitality systems division, KIT.

“We have two wireless access points outside and we will be adding one more in the future. We also have one inside the bar and one in the kitchen area,” continues Michael Fernandes, systems officer at The Aviation Club.

Although, there were initial teething problems with the wireless solution, these were soon overcome with the addition of extra access points. “We did discover at the beginning that there were a number of blinds spots and that people lost coverage. But that was pinpointed very early on and the solution was simple — it was just putting in another access point,” explains Kearney.

The wireless network provides data speeds of up to 11 M/bits/s, which Fernandes says is more than capable of meeting the requirements of the property. Additionally, the Irish Village site is linked to the main IT and server room at The Aviation Club via a fibre optic network.

The POS terminals and printers are all linked on the network to the outlet’s main server, as are the wireless access points. This topology ensures information integrity and faster data transfer, which is essential as all the food and beverage information is housed on the server, with the handhelds merely providing access to this data.

“Micros actually have their own handheld software that resides on the main server, which is located in the server room and connected to the Irish Village through a fibre optic network. The access points are connected to the network and this is how the handhelds communicate with the server,” explains Fernandes.

Both the Symbol devices and the SMC access points also address security issues. The handheld computers incorporate Kerberos security for authentication of IP addresses, and only valid or recognised IP addresses are accepted on to the network. The access points also integrate authentication functions.

“Each SMC access point has its own ID, something called an ESS ID number. Anyone that wants to log into the network should know the ESS ID number, the IP range and also the subnet mask number and, if they do not know all these things, they cannot log in,” explains Kapoor.

Although the Symbol devices were more costly than other handhelds, the Irish Village says it is already seeing a return on investment, with improvements to its bottom line and customer service. The solution has enabled the outlet to minimise the movement of its staff and eliminate much of the time wasting. Instead of waiting staff going back and forth to the terminals to send orders, they are now able to instantly deliver information to either the bar or kitchen while attending a customer’s table.

“The server takes an order at the table, they press send on the handheld and the order automatically goes to the kitchen or the bar. This has removed the journey from the terminal to the table and it has removed the waiting period at the terminal,” comments Kearney.

“This in turn has improved the speed of customer service. Customers receive their orders quicker and that has been hugely significant for the bottom line and for our customer satisfaction levels,” he adds.

The Irish Village has also streamlined its staffing processes, with certain employees using handheld devices to take orders and print out bills, while ‘runners’ deliver orders to the table. “Each member of staff with a handheld will have one or two runners, as soon as they send their orders they get printed in the kitchen or bars with identification and table numbers, so the runners go and pick up the drinks and the food and deliver it to the table,” says Fernandes. “The handhelds are also programmed to print to a particular bar and receipt printer,” he adds.

KIT also worked with the Irish Village to customise the Micros platform, ensuring that staff could easily access the relevant information via the handhelds. Further customisation and enhancements to the handheld platform was also conducted in response to employee feedback following training. Despite this, the installation, training and go live process took only two weeks.

“The Micros application design programme is very user friendly. We sat with the Irish Village staff and designed the screens to make sure that transactions can be done quickly and on the fly,” says Kapoor.

With the wireless network and devices already proving a success for the Irish Village, the F&B outlet is planning to expand its wireless capabilities to further improve customer services. The next phase of its IT rollout is likely to involve wireless printers and credit card machines. Extending the wireless network to other Aviation Club outlets, such as The Cellar, is also a possibility.

“If we expand our network we will put in more access points, and we are looking at deploying wireless workstations, which can be used anywhere. We are also looking at the possibility of attaching printers to the handhelds,” comments Fernandes.

“Credit cards are another bottleneck, when we can use credit cards on the handhelds directly, it will again improve things dramatically and increase customer satisfaction and their tendency to return, which is really what its all about,” concludes Kearney.||**||

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