Increasing restaurant income with smart printing


App4Food creates Mobile Apps for restaurants and takeaways, as its co-founder Ian Chambers explains: “People think that Mobile Apps are only viable for big business; they can be costly and App approval through Android and iOS stores can be a long process. We’re here to change things.”

App4Food’s core features can be customised to provide a unique App for each business.  The App provides a lot of features, people can reserve tables online or when mobile, look at menus, see a picture gallery of the restaurant and view directions to the venue.  They can also place orders for takeaways and receive confirmation in real time.  The restaurant can also offer their customers digital loyalty and discount cards through the App using QR codes to capture details and earn loyalty points. The App can be used for marketing in a number of different ways for example: push messaging, email or SMS promos, also offering customers individual discounts for their loyalty, birthdays and anniversaries.

The App appeals to restaurants for another key reason: “There are online food portals and Apps out there that act for groups of restaurants,” says Ian Chambers, “but it can take a long time for restaurants to get paid and the data on their customers is owned by the portals. With us, the businesses are usually paid within 48 hours and they own their data. So they can track when and what customers buy to better tailor offers and send these out themselves. We also offer a ready-to-go package that includes the back-office system complete with order printing.”

A recipe for success

App4Food spent 18 months creating the App, working with a number of pilot restaurants and takeaways to fine-tune it. One of the interesting things to come out of these discussions was that restaurants wanted a better way of letting the kitchen know of orders.

“Most online ordering systems include the option to print the details,” explains Ian Chambers, “but it’s really just a money receipt and the manager then has to manually handwrite the order and take it to the kitchen. This takes time, it duplicates effort and it can lead to mistakes. A number of restaurants asked us if we could add the food order to each ticket so this could be printed and taken to the kitchen. We set out to look for the right printing solution.”

A polling printer

The printer would be a key part of App4Food’s product. Ian Chambers comments, “We looked for a printer that provided a wide till roll – at least 80mm – with the freedom to allow us to format the receipt to create food orders. We also wanted to find a printer that was intelligent – that could be connected to the internet to constantly keep an eye on orders.”

An extensive search found only two printer models that fitted the bill. What’s more, one of those needed a separate USB modem. This made it a cumbersome solution.

“As an increasing number of uniquely identifiable objects are being represented by different technologies in an Internet-like structure or in other words the ‘internet of things’, we were surprised to find only one supplier fitted the bill with their Epson Intelligent range.  We were pleased to go with Epson as its printers are easy to use and familiar to people working in hospitality so we anticipated that customers would need little or no training. Also, kitchen and restaurants are not ideal places for sensitive technology but the Epson kit is robust and would be able to cope with this demanding environment," continues Ian.

The printer’s internet connectivity capabilities allow Ian’s team to use simple XML commands to remotely alter the format and contents of the receipt for each restaurant. It also means that the printer can coordinate orders.

A watching brief

Each restaurant and takeaway has a printer installed that continually polls for orders. When an order is received, this is displayed on the printer, which immediately produces a receipt for the kitchen staff. The restaurant manager needs to manually accept or reject each order – using a tablet, PC or smartphone – to ensure they can keep up with demand and advise people if orders might be delayed.

Many restaurants already use App4Food and the printers have worked faultlessly. And, with the till roll changed by simply dropping it into a drum and an interface that’s easy to use, people have had no issues in working the printers.

App4Food also works closely with Epson.  “We’ve got a really good relationship with Epson and they ensure we get software updates ahead of time so we can improve our App accordingly,” comments Ian Chambers. “The Epson guys respond quickly too. For instance many restaurants have spaces in their Wi-Fi passwords, this is against industry standard protocol, so the printers weren’t seeing our customers’ Wi-Fi networks. Epson gave us a software update to bypass this.”

More to come

App4Food is also working with Epson to customise the printer’s display to make it easy to process the orders without using a tablet or smartphone. Instead a USB keyboard will be all that’s needed. This option will appeal to smaller takeaways looking to keep their costs down.

In addition, Ian’s team is piloting a front-of-house App for restaurants. Waiting staff use tablet PCs to take orders that are wirelessly sent to a TM-T88Vi printer. It can also act as a network hub and connect to other Epson printers so that food orders can be sent to the kitchen and drink orders to the bar for printing and completion by the relevant teams.

A bright future

App4Food is starting to gather momentum.  The ‘App4’ concept is also being prepared for other markets as well as working with industry and membership groups within the food sector, such as a recent partnership with the British Curry Club, making the power of the App available to many other independent businesses.

Concludes Ian Chambers: “We’re getting a great response from restaurants and takeaways to the App. It’s got a lot of features, restaurants get paid faster, it creates new ways to raise revenue and restaurants can base their marketing on sales data. We’re really pleased with the Epson printers that are a core part of the App: they capture all online orders, they help us streamline processes for our restaurant and takeaway customers, and we can remotely monitor and amend the printed receipts. Add in the strong build quality and ease of use and they are the perfect printing solution for our App, which is being used by more and more businesses.”