Taking online orders? Here is a crash course on the technology you need
Online ordering is not a new thing, but the technology that powers it has changed substantially in recent years, and it's important to stay up to date on the best and most cost effective ways to handle online orders, from website to store.
The Take out food scenario
I will start by describing the ideal way to allow customers to order take out food from a typical restaurant.
The steps from the customer's perspective are as follows:
- logging into the restaurant's website
- select food items from a menu
- add those items to a shopping cart through an "add to cart" button
- add additional notes specific to our orders, for example in regard to how well done or rare an item must be cooked
- pay for the item at checkout
- get a receipt number or similar code
- drive to the restaurant and pickup the food
Easy enough? Well, there is a bit more to it, but from a customer's perspective, this is the basic functionality, and all that's needed to go from hungry to full, in 30 minutes or less.
Here is what goes on behind the scenes:
During the process of selecting items to order, the system stores the information temporarily in the browser's cache, using cookies (not real ones, the virtual ones that your web browser uses when shopping online). These cookies, store bits of information pertinent to the current selections, like the product name, description, identification number, and other variables, such as toppings, or side orders, like appetizers, and drinks.
When it's time to go to the checkout page, all this information will be available and already entered in the payment form.
I know, so far i have described the typical core functionality of any number of shopping websites, but here is where things get a little bit more complicated.
Remember, these orders must be received by the kitchen immediately. They can't just be sent by email, waiting for someone to check it.
Whenever an order is placed, it will be printed on a receipt, picked up by a chef, who will have to get a clear idea of what he or she must prepare, and how.
Normally, using regular ticket printers, like those used by regular cash registers, this would be impossible to accomplish. Fortunately, there are ticket printers on the market, that can be controlled through an internet connection, just like any other Internet connected computer.
These printers use a technology called WebPOS, which essentially describes a front-counter device, such as a cash register or a credit card swiper, with a built-in Internet server, typically running Windows POS, or any version of Linux.
While these printers can be very expensive, often in the realm of thousands of dollars, there is no other device on the market that allows that functionality.
Network and system requirements
Installing these printers to work with a remote website, requires two things:
- a reliable cable connection (sorry, DSL will not cut it) with static IP
- a router capable of forwarding ports
Each of these devices will most likely have an Apache server running, which must be also configured to open connections with the static IP and port assigned to each device.
Once a handshake is accomplished on all WebPOS devices, it should be a simple matter of submitting an order on the website, and seeing it printed instantly on the designated printer with which the web form communicates.
As previously mentioned, WebPOS devices don't come cheap, which is why it's important to choose the right one.
Thermal WebPOS printers have a huge advantage over other WebPOS printers, as there is no need for ink refills, even if the paper rolls might be slightly more expensive than regular paper. And... no, you can't use regular paper in a thermal printer. I've tried.
Developing the web application capable of processing credit card payments as well as sending the order to a printer, depends primarily on the complexity of the payment processor's script, as the ticket must be printer immediately as the payment is processed.
The one-time cost of developing a custom application that handles the entire scenario may not be dirt cheap, however, the total cost of developing the website, and the equipment, is significantly smaller than other proprietary systems that come with expensive monthly or yearly commitments, on top of the fees charged by credit card companies.
In my personal experience, the Epson TM Series of WebPOS printers are the easiest and most strightforward to configure, and come preloaded with Windows POS and Apache Server 2.9.
Other manufacturers i found were Star Micronics and OpenBravo, however, these seem to be more geared towards propriatary systems built to work with iOS devices.
Learn about the technology needed to allow your customers to place orders online in real time.
3rd March, 2015
3rd March, 2015
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