I grew up helping my mom with her pet photography business, but it wasn't until I had graduated high school that I got my first real job. I started at Six Flags working as the cashier for Dragon’s Wing (if you don't know what that is, it's worth a Google!) for a few summers. During the offseason, I worked at Subway. Then I moved on and started working as a server at a handful of restaurants around St. Louis, including Denny’s, Red Lobster, Bar Louie, J Buck’s, The Shack and BrickTop’s. I spent almost nine years working in the service industry, and every day I think about my own experiences as I design new point of sale (POS) solutions.
Today those past experiences help my clients, informing and shaping how to redesign best-in-class POS systems in a way that streamlines efficiency rather than hindering it. Here are the three key things I always keep in mind.
Organization is essential for quicker transactions.
There hasn't been a POS I couldn't learn, but there were absolutely ones that took me what seemed like forever to understand fully. BrickTop’s was one of my favorite places to work because dinner was almost always packed with a line out the door. I still think back to standing at the POS, waiting for a coworker to help me ring up an order in the middle of a crazy dinner rush. What should have taken 30 seconds took almost five minutes. That’s why, when I design experiences for these servers, I focus on understanding what they need and when they need it, to make their lives easier.
For example, servers don't need to see every action available. As a new employee, the more buttons you have, the harder is it is to find the one you’re looking for. Fewer action buttons mean users can focus and find the ones they need faster. Thoughtfully organizing menu items in the design allows new employees to understand and learn the whole menu more quickly — helping new users build a connection between what's on the POS and what will come out of the kitchen.
Understanding workarounds is key to building a better product.
All companies train employees on how to do things the “right” way, but all of that training goes out the window when the restaurant gets crazy busy. I will never forget when I was working at Denny’s with one cook, and 40 bikers walked in at 3:00 in the morning. My main goal was for my 40 customers to leave full, happy and wanting to return in the future. So I did every possible workaround I knew (and some I invented on the spot) to be faster and reach my goal.
It's essential to understand what workarounds users utilize and why they need the workaround. Sometimes a workaround has a simple solution, like adding extra product modifiers to an order. Other workarounds might lead to more extensive discussions. No matter what, it all leads to building a better product that doesn't require workarounds.
Teamwork makes the dream work.
BrickTop’s had, by far, the best teamwork I've ever experienced at a restaurant. And the real difference between the BrickTop’s staff and others was that the whole team — cooks, servers, managers, hostesses and bartenders — worked together towards the same goal: happy customers. It's not just the servers who interact with the POS that you need to consider, but also what happens after they press send.
What does that kitchen ticket look like? Is it easy for the kitchen staff to read and understand, but also the person running back of the house? I always try to create the POS to be something that enables teamwork.
In the end, the most important thing is empathy. Get behind the counter yourself or shadow a server, see what customers' expectations are and how those can create challenges for your associates. And not just at the good times, but at the 6 PM, line out the door, short-staffed times. Because building the best POS often means closing the space between what's ideal and what's realistic.