How to make your ordering process worse with technology

// Published October 15, 2013 by Swati

We went to Itamae Sushi on King Street over the long weekend for a family dinner. We love All You Can Eat (AYCE) Sushi because of the variety of food it offer. It’s also one of the few places that my kids enjoy eating — they love edamame. We order roughly 5 good sized bowls of edamame when we go as a family; 3-4 of which the kids eat as their meal. When they get tired, they try out the other tid bits we’ve been ordering.

I liked Itamae particularly because of their vegetable teppanyaki. Its got hordes of veggies and just slightly peppery. Most places just give me a whole lot of rice with two dices of carrots…but this is a whole new ball game! Each plate is probably a whole small zucchini.

So I thought it would be a good choice for a nice family dinner.

We arrived around 7 PM and were promptly seated and were given this iPad to order. Except the iPad wasn’t on. The hostess just puts it on the table and then we have to wait for our server to come around to turn it on.

There is nothing to do while we are waiting. There is no menus to look at — the iPad is the menu. Everyone starts getting annoyed. We’re flagging down servers to come turn this thing on so we can begin ordering. “Someone will be here in a few minutes.” We waited 5 minutes, but what probably felt like 10-15 minutes.

Before, you’d be seated with your menus and would use the pen and paper on the table to begin ordering. There was zero wait.

Only one person can look at the menu at a time. We were given one iPad as a table of 5. I picked up the iPad first. My mother and husband started getting frustrated — they can’t even look at the menu when I am ordering. They are waiting even longer. And there I am, with my toddlers in tow, trying to order for them and myself. I am rushing to order because my family needs to look at the menu to order. I am not browsing the menu, I am just clicking on random things hoping that I order enough so that I can pass the menu on.

Before, everyone would have their own menu. There was ample supply of paper, so you’d use provided pens or your own to write your own little things and one guy would go around ordering a bunch of random stuff for the table.

Order isn’t submitted until everyone is done ordering. Kind of. You would think that with “technology” you would be able to submit your order as you go. I am done ordering, so let me submit it so other people can start ordering. Makes sense at an AYCE where everything is shared anyway. Let one person pick out a few things for the table, submit, and then pass around the iPad so people can order things that they are interested in. Nope. Once you submit the order, the entire screen is hidden behind a dialog saying “Your server is coming to take your order!” Which is “WTH?!!?!” I can’t look at the menu when this screen is up; we can’t order anything; we can’t do anything except pray that someone comes to our table, enters some code so we can proceed with ordering more.

Before, we’d submit a few orders for the table — as soon as the sheet filled up, send it off and others could still keep ordering.

All You Can Eat Sushi is an experience, and the way they employed this technology, they ruined it. It was always fun sitting in a group deciding what to order — taking away everyone’s menus and reducing it to one is awful. Not being able to place consecutive orders without a server coming to “accept” your first order doesn’t work. While the food was still good, the variety was great, I will hesitate to go back because the experience is part of eating out. And this experience was negative.

Could they have made this better? Certainly. With small changes, this experience could’ve been a positive one, if they made a few small changes:

  1. Give everyone access to their own menu. This is crucial. My husband probably waited 15 minutes just to get a menu. Either invest in more iPads to hand out to customers or continue to provide a hard copy.
  2. If there is only one terminal to order, let people submit orders consecutively.  Not so important in a regular restaurant, but absolutely crucial in AYCE. I shouldn’t be forced to order everything I could want to eat before submitting. Let me submit and go.
  3. Use technology to enhance otherwise frustrating experiences. I would’ve thought that they would’ve focused on using the technology to provide experiences such as filtering by vegetarian food, peanut-free, or other dietary needs. Providing suggestions for complementary drinks (increase revenue) would make sense. But it wasn’t even contextual, let alone suggestive. Because of only one terminal and one menu, I didn’t even look at drinks or specials because people were waiting for me to finish ordering.

I sincerely hope that this was just a beta test and they are hoping to improve the experience.  I can’t see going back there until they put the paper and pencil back or improve the experience drastically.