On December 12, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a new ordering and reservation system that could work with various Apple iDevices. Although the system can be modified to be apply to movie theaters, repair services, museums and the like, Apple's main focus is on a restaurant market application Our cover graphic was taken from Apple's "Life on iPad" promotional video where they illustrated a chef or short order cook using the iPad as part of an ordering system. Today's patent just happens to detail such a system.
Apple's Patent Background
Restaurants have traditionally used similar techniques for processing customer requests. For example, customer requests to order food generally are communicated to a waiter, who in turn communicates the order to the kitchen staff. Once the kitchen staff has created the dish, the waiter delivers the food to the table for the customer to enjoy. Similarly, restaurant reservations are created by calling the restaurant and speaking to hostess. If a customer arrives at the restaurant without first making a reservation and no tables are available, the hostess places the customer on a waiting list. The hostess can combine the phone reservation requests with the walk-in requests in a single wait list and satisfy the requests in a particular order. The hostess or the waiter can also handle to-go orders over the phone or in person by taking the order, communicating the order to the kitchen, and delivering the food to the customer once the order has been made.
Traditional techniques, however, do have their shortcomings. For instance, ordering is completely dependent on the waiter's availability. A busy waitress may not get around to a customer who is ready to order for five or ten minutes. This idle time is magnified if the waitress is busy and unable to provide menus to the customer for five or ten minutes after the customer has been seated. Other shortcomings include the management of the wait list. During periods of high activity, a hostess may have problems managing the wait list given the number of reservation requests over the phone and in person. Thus, there is a need for improved techniques for processing restaurant orders and reservations.
Apple Invents an Ordering & Reservation System for Restaurants & Beyond
Apple's invention generally relates to systems, methods, and non-transitory computer-readable storage media for making reservations and maintaining a wait list for a resource at a point of interest. A point of interest can be restaurants, movie theaters, museums, auto repair services, or any other point of interest where customers wait for the right to temporarily use a resource. In other examples, some points of interest can be virtual points of interest such as a queue on an online store or a queue to play an online game.
The resource can be physical, such as a table or booth at a restaurant. Each restaurant can include a wait list having entries, where each entry is associated with a customer waiting to use a table at the restaurant. Each entry can include a wait time that estimates the amount of time the customer has to wait before a table will be available for the customer. The wait time for a customer can be recalculated as the customer waits depending on the actions of the customers that are currently using the resource, such as sitting at a table. For example, a seated customer ordering one item is likely to spend less time at the table than a seated customer ordering four items. Thus the number of items ordered, or even more specifically the actual items ordered at a table, can be used to refine the wait time of entries in the wait list. Changes to the wait time or requests for a reservation can be communicated to the restaurant through a portable electronic device operated by a customer.
Once a customer is granted the right to temporarily use a resource of the point of interest, the customer can order one or more items from the point of interest. In one embodiment, a customer can communicate orders for items by using a portable electronic device. In some examples, the portable electronic device can be used to review a menu, receive information associated with the point of interest, place an order, and be billed for an order.
In other examples, the portable electronic device can also transmit personal information or a personal profile of the operator of the portable electronic device to the restaurant so that the restaurant can personalize the menu or provide recommendations for items to order. In one example, the personalized menu can be configured to remove items from the menu that contain substances that the customer is allergic to.
In one embodiment, a system is described that is capable of providing recommendations for restaurants in response to a search query for a particular restaurant type, cuisine, ethnicity, price point, rating, or a combination of a few of these factors. The recommendations provided to the customer can be based on the wait time for the next available table at the restaurant.
For example, the recommendations can contain only restaurants with a table available within a predetermined period of time. As another example, the recommendations can contain only restaurants capable of providing the customer with a table within a period of time after the customer arrives at the restaurant.
These examples can take into consideration the wait list at the restaurants and the distance between the customer and the restaurant when recommending restaurants. In another embodiment, a customer can request to eat at a specified restaurant. A determination can be made whether a table will be available for the customer when the customer arrives or shortly after the customer arrives at the specified restaurant, presuming that the customer is about to head to the restaurant. If the wait list for the specified restaurant does not allow the customer to be seated when arriving at the restaurant or in some other manner is not acceptable to the customer, other similar restaurants that are able to meet the customer's criteria for wait time can be found and presented to the customer. The other restaurants may be similar according to the cuisine type, price point, ethnicity, rating, or other factors.
Managing a Wait List
Apple's patent FIG. 4 illustrates an exemplary system for managing a wait list.
Each restaurant in the system can be associated with a wait list configured to store a list of customers that are waiting for a currently unavailable resource. Once the resource has become available, the restaurant, by using the wait list, selects the next customer to use the resource. Through the use of the wait list, the restaurant can efficiently provide services to customers. Customers not presently in the restaurant can communicate with the restaurant to view menus, place orders, or get a reservation via the service network. Customer communications can include to-go orders or table reservations from remote customers. Each of the restaurants can be connected with the service network, thus forming a network of restaurants capable of communicating with remote customers.
System 400 noted in patent FIG. 4 includes processor (#410), dining area (#420), wait list (#430), anticipated meal duration chart (#440), and estimated consumption period database (#450).
Exemplary Ordering System
In Apple's patent FIG. 5 we're able to see an exemplary ordering system which can be implemented within a restaurant or other point of interest.
Apple states that the range of the single wireless access point can cover the entire restaurant or point of interest so that customers or restaurant staff within the restaurant or point of interest can transmit information to and receive information from the processor through their personal devices. This can allow restaurant staff or customers to look at the menu, receive special offers, place orders, and pay the bill through a personal device.
Apple's patent FIG. 7 noted below illustrates an exemplary notification. The notification can be an email or a push notification to notify the recipient of that a physical resource at a point of interest is ready for the customer.
Apple credits Sarin Mehta as the sole inventor of this patent application which was originally filed in Q2 2012 and published today by the US Patent Office. If you're tech buff and/or more specifically, a restaurant owner, you may want to check out more of the finer details of this Apple patent for ideas or to consider such a system when and if it arrives in the future. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
This photo was taken from Apple's "Life on iPad" promotional video that illustrates an ordering app in the kitchen of a high class restaurant. Obviously Apple has this market in its cross hairs.
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