• Developer Q&A: How the iPad's making cocktails cool

    Melbourne cocktail bar Little Red Pocket recently put iPads on every table, letting customers browse the menu, place food and drink orders and pay using a credit card swipe function featured in a mount that holds the iPad.

    MacTalk chats with the iPad Ordering System app developer, David Taing of Chasing Feathers Studios, to find out more about the process of integrating an iOS system in business, what challenges he faced along the way, customer feedback and the new features planned for future iterations.

    The original app concept was first developed by Drink Hub Ė did you take over from this project? Why did the project change hands?

    Little Red Pocket knew very early on that it wanted to embrace technology to provide a fun, speedy and innovative user experience for its customers. The original project with Drink Hub was cancelled due to integration issues. Unfortunately for Little Red Pocket, its grand opening was forced to proceed without the heavily anticipated iPad ordering system.

    At this time I was still living in London however was homebound for Melbourne late October 2011. It was agreed that upon my return home, I would set to work on building a fully customised iPad ordering system for LRP.

    The new project was to go beyond the scope of what was originally planned with Drink Hub. Furthermore, it was to be built completely from scratch. My development company Chasing Feathers Studios has no affiliation with Drink Hub.

    How long did it take for you to conceptualise and develop the software?

    It took approximately 3 months to complete the first version for launch. Though Little Red Pocket had very clear functional requirements, we were forced to cut some cool features due to time constraints and only consider those necessary for launch.

    Did you do any testing with customers to find out what worked and what needed improvements?

    We tested with family, friends and staff. From my perspective, I figured that if my mum was able to navigate through the app then weíd succeeded in making it intuitive.

    Ensuring that we collaborated with the venue manager was very important. Understanding exactly what features would (and would not) benefit staff saved a lot of time and heartache.

    In the next iteration of the software, what other features would you like to add?

    There are a lot of features that did not make the first version. Some of the things we came up with that Iíd like to add in future include table-to-table chat, music requests to the DJ and I think the most practical, a backend CMS so that the venue manager has more control over the menu items and their prices. Unfortunately this didnít make the first version.

    The other thing Iím very eager to explore is NFC technology. Iím keeping a close eye on the new iDevices coming to market this year and if the rumours are true, then that will definitely be a very cool feature to look into.

    What feedback has LRP received since the implementation of the system?

    The feedback has been fantastic and weíve been extremely pleased with how well-received itís been. The general feedback Iíve received has been that itís so easy to use.

    Itís great but we have still been observing customers as well and have made some minor changes since launch to further improve the experience.

    Do customers enjoy the experience?

    The novelty factor has certainly enhanced the experience at Little Red Pocket. Iíve seen groups of customers take turns to buy rounds of drinks so they could have a turn at digitally signing their name with their fingers. Theyíre further impressed when they receive an immediate invoice receipt via email containing their signature.

    Also, a common response Iíve received from customers is that they love how their food and drinks ďmagically appearĒ at their tables. Especially in a bar when it can get extremely busy making it tough to find a waiter/waitress. Also, popular bars and pubs are infamous for their lack of queuing etiquette so for me, Iíd more than welcome any system that allowed me to circumvent the queue.

    What challenges have you come across in the process of developing the system?

    I would say the biggest challenge was time. There were so many ideas, it was difficult containing the ever expanding todo(wish) list of ďcool/what ifĒ features.

    What difficulties did you face throughout the process?

    I feel the largest difficulty one faces with implementing in a business is integration. How will the new system integrate with the old? Will it detriment or enhance existing processes? Will it be difficult for staff and what happens if something goes wrong? Otherwise, communication was frequent and development progress was demonstrated to the right people throughout the project so there werenít many other difficulties.

    Did the staff receive training for this?

    By involving the venue manager during development, he knew in advance what his staff had to work with. In the lead up to the launch, we also conducted a beta run with the ordering system in place. In the end, we spent half an hour on launch day to prepare staff for the live system and after they got used to regularly checking the server hub, the whole process ran incredibly well.

    What makes your product successful?

    It may be a little clichť but the reason why this product is successful is because itís simple to use for both customers and staff.

    Do you think this type of software will be adopted by more business in the food and wine industry?

    I think at this stage, businesses in the food and wine industry are a bit wary of adopting this technology. Firstly itís not cheap to set something like this up and secondly, many may feel itís just an overpriced gimmick.

    I do believe however that this attitude will shift. All venues have a max capacity and when that capacity has been reached, sales are driven by how quickly tables and customer orders can be fulfilled. The presentation, up sell and advertising potential are also ideas most do not immediately consider. Stunning photography can be used to showcase items on the menu that customers may not have previously ordered. A digital tablet allows for a very versatile platform to present to the customer and enables the venue to really reflect the quality of their products.

    What are the benefits of using an iPad in a venue like LRP?

    Like any busy bar or restaurant it is not always easy to find a waiter/waitress, to have any self-service system in place can save the customer a huge deal of time.

    When selecting a cocktail, some customers will select based on presentation. For those customers, the studio photos presented for each menu item will assist them with their order.

    Little Red Pocket is also a venue that has fully embraced technology. They are active on Facebook and Twitter, participate in online coupons and have an affiliation with BarBait, a mobile app promoting Melbourne bars. An iPad ordering system fits perfectly with the kind of venue that Little Red Pocket has positioned itself to be.

    Can you tell us a bit about your development company and any other projects you are working on?

    Chasing Feathers Studios is a startup founded in 2011 with the Little Red Pocket Ordering System being its first official commercial project. Itís certainly been a great project to showcase the quality and scale of what my independent company is able to produce.

    The last 3 months have been devoted to Little Red Pocket. I am now currently working on a small lifestyle app and a game which I can't really discuss. Other businesses have also approached me with ideas for their own apps so itís a very exciting time right now.

    How did you get started in your work as a developer?

    I have a degree in Computer Science and have always enjoyed programming. Iíve been an IT consultant for the last 10 years and throughout that time have had a hobby for learning program languages and creative software. Iíve spent considerable time experimenting with web design and creating AJAX enabled sites. I also use Illustrator, Photoshop and even had a stint learning 3D modelling in Maya. Itís always been fun for me.

    A couple of years ago, my wife bought me a MacBook Pro for my birthday and it wasnít until then I decided to start learning iOS. Iíve enjoyed developing on this platform so much since that Iíve decided to take a break from the corporate world and start my own studio.

    What Apple devices do you use?

    I have an iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro.

    Which Apple product are you most excited about getting released this year? iPhone 5, new iPad or new Macs?

    If I were to only choose one, Iíd have to say the iPhone 5. Iím keen to see the new design and excited about the possibilities of what we can do with NFC technology. Itís definitely going to be an exciting year in terms of iDevice reveals.

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