Sketch, Adobe illustrator, Framer
Defining the Problem
I started my research by talking to people in different roles in the system: diner, server and staff manager.
Beside the former highlights excerpted from a number of interviews with those in the server-diner system, I found that people do share a common interest-achieve better service. For servers, it means more income (tips) and career success. For diners, better service means a better dining experience and they also would love to help the servers out when they can. For managers, better service means a good reputation, happy customers and business success.
However, the story is not always a happy one. All three parties encounter different frustrations in their attempts to get/provide better service.
So what can design makes a difference in this process? What will make a successful and impactful design?
During my interviews, I found it hard to get peoples opinion on something that does not yet exist. I tried to get insight into their values and intents by asking the following questions.
Questions posed to diners:
What do you think will make it easier to complain/compliment your server?
What do you think will make it more likely to give feedback about your server’s service?
If there is a way to rate and review your server on a platform you currently use to review restaurants, would you use it and why? What If it’s on a separate platform and why?
Questions posed to servers:
What do you think will make it easier to know what customers feel about your service?
If there is an effective way for customers to give you feedback on your service, how would that help and why?
Excerpted responses from the above questions are shown below.
I arrived at the conclusion that diners are worried about a system that will expose themselves while servers are quite open to a system that would connect them better to the diners but do not see any big benefit to themselves.
Thus, I believe that a successful system should have the following features:
Easy and fast for diners to give feedback.
Make diners feel safe when giving negative feedback.
Clear benefits to the servers: help them make more money and succeed in their careers.
Clear benefits to the business: help manage staff and monitor reviews.
Having now interviewed a number of people representative of the stakeholders at large, and identifying the key features that would be required in a solution satisfactory to all parties I began to generate different ideas for possible systems.
For the diner’s experience, I narrowed down the possibilities to six major options after a brainstorming session, and then compared the pros and cons of each idea. Below is the result of the aforementioned session.
Some of these ideas are easy and cheap to deploy, but they have limited impact on the status quo. However, I decide to design a future-facing experience, which should be flexible enough to adapt to many possible scenarios, and be able to generate and process data at a high speed. Most importantly, it should be capable of easy acceptance, while also able to change how people do things: radically .
Therefore, I decided to proceed based on the Tablet POS idea. This is how I envision the system work:
The tablet will be in a similar size to a check case, and embedded in a check case just like an ordinary paper check. The familiarity will make it easier to be accepted, and the protection case also creates a safer place to rate and review.
Diners will rate and review the server before tipping, and get recommendations on how much to tip based on their sentiments, motivating them to tip more when they have a good experience with the server.
Although this solution will require some investment on the restaurant’s side, it has strong capability to receive and provide rich data (and real money) to benefit the other two parties in the system.
Based on this decision, the design solution for the other two parties also become clear.
On the wait staff’s side, they will see their daily performance as well as aggregated feedback from diners. Additionally, the system incoporates algorithmically discerned insights that help them achieve better performance and career success. Their respective record is shared with their current employee, and they can also choose to share past success with a potential future employee.
On the restaurant manager’s side, there will be a dashboard that helps them monitor waiting staff’s performance and act upon diner’s feedback.
The digital check design will be primarily targeting mid- to high-end restaurants, where the waiting staff generally care more about their service level and self-improvement, and the business owners are more likely to invest in the system to achieve better service.
It is equally important to promote better service to a broader range of restaurants that might not be able to afford the former solution or do not have a dedicated server for each table. Fast food chains are the major target for this alternative design. Business owners can choose to display their staff on the restaurant page on Google Maps to receive feedback on individual servers.
Because of the limited time frame, I decided to focus on two components of this system:
1. The digital check, which will take form of a tablet embedded in the check case.
2. Waiting staff’s portal, which will be a mobile app known as ServicePlus. An mobile app fits well into their work style-they do not have workstations and are always on the go.
One evening, Yiran and her friend just had a nice dinner at their favorite restaurant. When getting the check back, their waiter David said:"I will really appreaciate if you can give me some feedback on this e-check. Hope you ladies have a lovely evening!"
Yiran took the check and opened it. It was the first time she used this new digital check of this restaurant. She was asked what she felt about David's service.
"He surely did a good job" Yiran said to herself and tapped on the smiling face. The next question poped up-
"What he did well? I don't think there is anything wrong with him," she thought, "...not timely, I have to say, because we waited a bit long for the spoons."
Within a few taps, Yiran has finished giving feedback to David, much shorter than she had expected.
The digital check gave Yiran a few tipping options. She immedaitely tapped 20%, the standard amount she tips when the service is fair. However, she noticed that the recommended percentage was 25%, and this was based on her previous rating.
This made her think about David again: "It's a nice dinner, and he gave us great suggestions...He deserves more than the normal amount."
After the short hesitation, she made up her mind and completed the payment smoothly, feeling good about herself for helping the waiter out and being generous.
After the extra busy evening, David the waiter went back home and finally relaxed himself. He thought he could check out the ServicePlus app. "It told me to work on making good suggestions to get more good reviews, and I have tried hard on that one. Let's see if it worked..."
He launched the Dashboard, and was glad to find out from the Insight card that he did a really good job-"Hah! I'm the top 5%!"
He also found out that although he got better reviews than yesterday, he got fewer tips-though still above average.
Just as he thought about this, he saw another card on the dashboard. "Help me make more money? Let's see what else it has to say..."
He found the suggestions helpful because they were based on data within his city and type of restaurant he worked at. But he has being in this restaurant for 2 years and has been thinking about moving to New York and start a new chapter there.
"Better get prepared right now." He said to himself, and tapped open his profile page. He knew a colleague had found a new opportunity using this as his resume.
He found out that the system generated his greatest strengths based on his performance. He decided to work harder to make the numbers look even better.
Diner's experience: Digital Check
Server's experience: ServicePlus Mobile App
Quick-and-dirty user research
Talking to users is one of my favorite part in a design process. To develop a good understanding of the entire system, I used every chance to approach and chat with the service staff in every restaurant/eatery I went to throughout the week. A request from the customer to talk to them about their job is not something they would expect. Some appeared nervous as if I was sent by the management on a secret investigation. It was a challenge to get the right timing, acquiring enough information while not making them uncomfortable as they were busy with their job. Thus, I tried to always ask the right questions by iterating on the interview script on the go. After each interview, I would retrospect on the conversations, go through the notes, identify the most effective questions and improve the way I deliver a question based on how well people reacted to it.
This is the first I did not start off the research with a well-refined research guide, and the quick-and-dirty research it turned out to be both exciting and efficient. I was thrilled every time I got to learn a bit more about this walk of life-a group of people that I barely know anything about.
Limitations (for now)
Splitting a bill
When a big party wants to split bill, there might not be enough tablets for each diner. I envision it not be of a big problem in the near future when tablets become more affordable. For the time being, the restaurant will have several alternatives:
A. Let diners use the digital check one by one. This ensure that everyone is treated the same way, but will be time consuming.
B. Give the digital check to one of the diner in a group, and print paper checks with a small feedback form for the others. This ensures every diner gets the check quickly, but requires extra processing and is not as effective in collecting feedback.
Paying by cash
This solution is also built on the assumption that a majority of diners will pay by card. If choosing to pay by cash, diners will be less likely to engage with the digital check and less likely to follow the recommendation from the system. Nevertheless, this solution still makes it easier for these diners to provide feedback to the waiting staff.
Also, many thanks to all participants in my user study as their contribution is invaluable to my design.
Thank you for reading :)