Restaurants remain one of the last establishments that haven’t been touched by modern technology, but one Toronto-based startup thinks they can propel the ordering process into the 21st century.
MenYou, a tablet based ordering system developed by co-founders Ara Ehamparam and Thaves Ponnampalam, seeks to revolutionize the ordering process to benefit both consumers and restaurant owners.
Their iPad application allows customers to view nutritional information and pictures of their food before ordering from the digital menu. Their order is then sent directly to a wireless printer in the kitchen, reducing wait times and speeding up the ordering process.
The application also tracks order information, inventory, as well as prep time, and provides detailed analytics to restaurant owners to help them make better management decisions.
The idea first came to Ponnampalam two years ago on a business trip in Malaysia. A recent graduate from the University of Toronto’s computer science program, Ponnampalam was intrigued when a waiter at an Indian restaurant entered his ordering information into a palm reader.
“It was an interesting concept because you’re improving the service in terms of the timing, and making the server more available to you while doing so,” he said. “That’s when it hit me: Why don’t we just bring the whole experience to the customer themselves?”
After a year in development with co-founder and former University of Toronto classmate Ara Ehamparam, the two are now in talks to begin a trial of MenYou at major restaurant chains in Toronto.
But the two have bigger plans for MenYou beyond simplifying the ordering process.
Ponnampalam explains that their application can be used to email receipts to customers, keep track of their ordering information, and make recommendations based on the ingredients in dishes they’ve already ordered.
Ponnampalam has also considered how the application can answer the most commonly asked question in the restaurant industry, ‘what do you recommend?’
“There’s ratings on everything you can think of — public washrooms, hotels, restaurants — there’s no rating system for a specific dish at a specific restaurant, which is unfortunate,” he says. “We want to solve that problem by using social network integration so you can find out what other people really thought about (the dish).”
The application can also help restaurants upsell products such as desserts and alcoholic beverages, or provide additional revenue by advertising local events and entertainment.
“The average wait time for a customer is anywhere from 17 to 25 minutes,” says Ponnampalam. “Once you have that full attention, you can do anything you want to get customers to concentrate on specials, or advertise desserts.”
Ehamparam and Ponnampalam are letting restaurants ease their way into the transition by offering a 60-day free trial. They are also providing a lease-to-own option to help restaurants finance the iPads through monthly billing over a two to three year period.
“The goal is not to transform the whole restaurant, so not to give it to every single person, because at the end of the day some people still prefer connecting with the servers,” says Ehamparam. “It might be a quarter or maybe half the restaurant will have the MenYou product on the table, and our goal is to start targeting the smaller tables — so the couple tables, the tables of four —starting off with that first and letting them see how it work first hand before doing the whole restaurant.”
While Ehamparam and Ponnampalam hope to turn the restaurant business on its head, those who enjoy the classic dinning experience should not be discouraged. MenYou will include a “call server” feature that allows patrons to get immediate assistance from wait staff with a single touch.