SmartMenu offers diners customized meals based on dietary needs

SmartMenu, an integrated ordering and selling solution created by UsableHealth, uses an iPad tablet computer for self-service ordering and payment in fast casual restaurants, and is the only self-ordering system to customize meals based on dietary needs and taste preferences.

Suggestions are tailored to customers who input various dietary requirements, including daily caloric intake, allergies, dietary needs associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, and more.

"Customers can see how the restaurant organizes its food into categories and focus their search, so you can look for vegetarian or vegan options, or items that have a specific protein, like chicken," said Chad Bonner, co-founder and chief strategy officer, UsableHealth. "It's a very intuitive experience."

Clients using UsableHealth's SmartMenu include Tin Drum Asia Café and Fresh to Order, with locations across Atlanta, and Taziki's Café, with locations in Alabama, Arkansas and West Virginia, among others. Bonner said the company also is beginning to work with clients in the quick-service market.

"When the customer chooses to manage diabetes, for instance, the SmartMenu takes every item with a matching four-star rating and sorts the best recommendations for the guest," said Jesse Gideon, vice-president of operations, Fresh to Order.

Efficiency, better customer experience

Bonner said UsableHealth focused on making the ordering process intuitive to make it an easy-to-use experience for a broad range of customers. 

In Fresh to Order, for example, the iPad tablet is encased in a surround and positioned on the counter for walk-up ordering. After completing their order, customers can pay at the terminal by swiping their credit card.

"We've also been experimenting with a line-busting ordering station positioned at the front door with a sign that literally says 'avoid the line,'" Gideon said.

Bonner said they haven't yet been able to generate data that tracks return visits, but they have administered surveys asking customers if they'd be more likely to return to the restaurant based on the ordering experience. 

"Four out of 10 users said they were more likely to come back based solely on their improved ordering experience with the SmartMenu," Bonner said. "They expressed feelings about being able to make more informed decisions during ordering and not having to wait in line as long."

Tin Drum Asia Café owner Steven Chan finds the advantage of customers not having to wait in line particularly beneficial because of an average lunch crowd volume of about 350.

"From an operator point of view, it's been fantastic because it eliminates the chances of making mistakes on our part, and it also provides health information to the customer that the staff may not be able to provide right away," Chan said. "It's super convenient for a high volume establishment like ours."

Chan also said he thought the timing was right because people are more familiar with touchscreen tablet computers. He admits that not 100 percent of his customers are comfortable with using the iPad for ordering, but the number is very few.

UsableHealth tested a few tablet computers before deciding on the iPad because of its user-friendly touchscreen approach. Bonner said he expressed apprehension at first about how older adults might react to the iPad and whether or not they'd be willing to adopt it.

"It's a great interface and has a large screen, so it's easy to read," Bonner said. "It's been surprising to us that some of the people most excited to use the SmartMenu have been older adults. For them, there's a bit of a 'wow' factor. Some of the best feedback and endorsements we've received have been from older people."

ROI potential

According to Gideon, Fresh to Order experienced a return on investment within the first six months after installing the self-order kiosks.

"The SmartMenu has reduced front-of-house labor costs and impacted our food costs. Because guests are ordering for themselves, we've had fewer mistakes and less food having to be re-made or comped, so we've had a reduction in food costs," Gideon said. 

The SmartMenu also utilizes suggestive selling for various add-ons. So, if someone orders a meal at Fresh to Order, the SmartMenu will suggest a drink, dessert or an additional side or upgraded side feature as well.

"We've had a positive increase in check averages, definitely," Gideon said. "It's been enough of an increase to warrant putting in additional kiosks and recommending the kiosks to our franchisees."

According to Chan, check averages at Tin Drum Asia Cafe have been increased $2 per check since implementing the SmartMenu. With an average daily lunch volume of 350 people, that's an increase in sales of $700 per day.

Chan said the reason for the significant increase is two-fold. The first is the upselling function that suggests add-ons, such as side items, and the second is the health-matching section of the menu that drives a lot of combo options.

"The customers enjoy the experience and are glad to order more, especially if the food they eat is better for their bodies," Chan said.

UsableHealth also provides the option to some of its new clients to begin using the hardware for free to test it out and return it at no charge if they don't decide to install the system.

While he would not disclose an exact number in lieu of revealing the information to competitors, Bonner said the cost of the hardware and monthly service fee is comparable, if not less expensive, to traditional point of sale terminals and maintenance fees.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Silvia Wytkind
    When are we going to require chains to cut down on sodium content? The sodium content of soups are ridiculous. There has got ot be a better way. One bowl os soup can contain more sodium than the entire daily recommended allowance.
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