Unique Epson booth at National Restaurant Association highlights changing restaurant technology
“It’s all about maximizing revenues and profits, given the constraints of your kitchen, your dining room and your ability to hire good people,” says Joshua Stanphill, Business Development Manager, Strategic Alliances for Epson, talking about new digital technology for restaurants.
“When the pandemic began, there was a mad rush to support any number of alternatives to traditional, dine-in service, including online ordering, carry-out, curbside, and delivery,” adds David Vander Dussen, Product Manager for Epson point of sale systems.
“But today, there’s a lot of need and interest in putting products in place to more effectively service those workflows.”
That said, restaurant owners don’t always understand the technology that can make these workflows work profitably.
That’s why Epson took an entirely different approach to our booth at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago this year. Instead of simply showing our innovative printers and point-of-sale solutions, we partnered with four other leading system suppliers to create a digital restaurant ordering and fulfillment demonstration.
“Owners and managers were blown away by what they saw,” Vander Dussen says.
An all-digital workflow
The National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago is the industry’s largest, with more than 65,000 professionals gathering to learn about the latest ideas, trends and products.
Vander Dussen, Stanphill and their teams set up the Epson booth as a concept coffee shop, demonstrating an all-digital workflow they developed with the help of partners Veritone, Elo, Hewlett Packard, and MicroTouch.
Show attendees, on entering the booth, could order a hot beverage at an Elo or HP kiosk, each powered by either an Apple iPad, Android tablet or HP Engage device running AI-assisted ordering software developed by Veritone. “We included a barcode scanner to simulate payment, but scanned badges instead of credit cards,” Stanphill explains.
Once the order was entered, the kiosk immediately printed a receipt for the attendee/customer on a lightning-fast Epson OmniLink TM-T88VII POS receipt printer.
Next Epson’s Kitchen Display System (or KDS) displayed the order on an Epson laser projector in the kitchen area, and printed it on an Epson OmniLink® TM-L100 liner-free printer.
“Normally you’d use a touchscreen display in the kitchen to show the orders and allow staff to ‘bump’ or advance them as you finish each step—but here we used a projected image with a MicroTouch ‘bump bar’ instead, so everyone could see what was going on,” Stanphill explains.
Epson’s KDS was originally developed for quick-serve establishments, but it can be very helpful in any type of restaurant, Vander Dussen says. Even in fine dining, a good KDS can simplify the kitchen workflow and minimize errors.
That’s true as well for kiosk-based ordering. In a quick serve operation, many customers prefer using a kiosk because they can skip waiting in line, and staff may use tablets to take orders and hand out receipts in line-busting operations. But even in a fine dining room, setting up kiosks for wait staff – or equipping wait staff with tablets to enter orders into a KDS as they speak to customers – can save labor, speed up the ordering process and better serve guests.
For those reasons, Epson included three compact receipt printers, the OmniLink TM-m50, TM-m30II-h and the battery-operated Mobilink™ P80 in the demonstration workflow.
Sticky labels vs photo quality
Still, it was the OmniLink® TM-L100 liner-free printer, and the self-stick labels it produced, that drew the greatest interest at NAR, Vander Dussen recalls.
“’Liner free’ is a terrible name for this printer,” he explains. The TM-L100 uses a thermal print head to create a label that can be immediately attached to a cup, plate, lid, take-out container, bag or box without the need to waste time removing and disposing of a backing (or liner). While some liner-free label stocks can be used for permanent shipping labels, most use a repositionable adhesive that, much like a Post-it® note, can be stuck on any surface, removed and repositioned repeatedly, without leaving any residue.
In the demonstration workflow, booth staff used the liner-free label to identify an empty coffee cup with the customer’s name and details of the order. Normally it would stay on the order all the way to delivery, but here, once the cup was filled and the lid applied, staff adhered a full-color, photo-quality label created by an Epson ColorWorks® C4000 printer.
“A photo-quality label is all about branding and raising customer perceptions,” Stanphill says. “In many cases, if you do full-color branding you can make more money, because customers will accept a higher price for something they believe is worth more.” That’s especially true, he says, with a carry-out or delivered meal, where the packaging is often of a much lower quality than the meal itself.
For the last step in the workflow, the KDS signaled another Epson projector, mounted above the booth, to project the customer’s name on a pick-up counter and light up the cup staff placed there. “People were bowled over by that effect, but it was relatively easy to do,” he adds.
“Because I work with this kind of technology every day,” Vander Dussen says, “I was surprised by how impressed people were with our setup. But this was the first time we had ever done something like this, and we were the only ones at the show to attempt it, as far as I could see.”+
It’s true, he adds, that some of the effects were beyond the capabilities of Epson’s standard KDS, but that may change in the coming months. “We are taking steps now to create a more effective, yet simple KDS for a mass market.”
That begs the question, he says, whether large numbers of restaurant owners are ready to invest in more digital technology.
“Some are embracing it, some are more cautious,” Vander Dussen says. “But I don’t believe I spoke to a single person who wanted to go back to the way he or she was operating before the pandemic.”