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T.G.I. Friday's: Wireless LAN Makes for Better Service at a Restaurant Chain

Employees at large restaurants have to juggle plenty of constantly changing information - about what's going on at each table, the number of waiting customers, and so on - and still provide service with a smile. Their challenge is to minimize the time that customers spend waiting by maximizing the efficiency of the services they apply to each table. At T.G.I. Friday's, hosts and hostesses get a big boost from a wireless LAN.

Application: Expanding Access to a Wired Network
T.G.I. Friday's employees must keep continuous running lists of waiting customers, the size of each party, seating preferences, table availability, orders, the activity at each table, service requests, and bill payment - at 40 to 80 tables mostly filled by random patron walk-ins. To avoid keeping patrons waiting for service, the employees use table management software that coordinates information from various locations in the restaurant - for example, the host or hostess's station, the service bay, the busing station, and the tables themselves.

At T.G.I. Friday's restaurants, those locations are linked to a touch-screen computer in a kiosk at the host or hostess's station through a hard-wired local area network. According to Tony Laudadio, manager at T.G.I. Friday's in Tallahassee, Florida, "When a guest comes in the door, the host or hostess takes their name and either calls it up on the reservation list or enters it into the system. The name is transmitted to the main terminal, which keeps track of the dining room and lets us know what tables are available and the capacity of each one. When a table of the appropriate size becomes available, the guest's name is automatically highlighted and the host or hostess walks the party to their seats."

With only one kiosk at the host or hostess's station, it's easy for the station to become a bottleneck at lunch and dinner. The lines that form mean that tables sit empty while customers wait. So when T.G.I. Friday's opened a new restaurant in Tallahassee, Florida, it added a hand-held, pen-based wireless tablet to the wired LAN. A second host or hostess uses the tablet in addition to the computer used at the stationary kiosk.

Benefits: Less Expensive, Better Network Access That Doubles Efficiency
Because the wireless tablet gives the second host or hostess the same access to the main terminal's restaurant-wide information as the stationary kiosk, up to twice as many customers can be seated at a time. Plus, because the tablet can transmit and receive data from anywhere in the restaurant, a host or hostess has the freedom to access the main terminal from the patio or other spot where customers may be waiting and then walk them straight to their seats. The wireless addition to the network cuts the restaurant's bottleneck during peak times in half.

"The guests are as enthusiastic about it as we are," says Laudadio. "It dramatically reduces the amount of time that a table sits vacant. That benefits our guests because they spend less time waiting. It's beneficial to us because we can turn tables more quickly and increase sales as a result."

The wireless tablet is not only easier to use than the stationary kiosk, it also was less expensive and much easier to install. Wireless technology spared T.G.I. Friday's the costs of building and installing another bulky kiosk at the entrance.

Installation Size
A single access point links the tablet's wireless LAN adapter to the wired network throughout the 80-table restaurant.

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