November 5, 2019


Image found on Flickr.

Earl and I recently went to a “fast casual” restaurant. You know the type: you order and pay at the counter, they give you a little number to put in a stand on a table you find the dining room, and someone cheerfully brings you out your meal. It works simply.

I’ve mentioned before that I find today’s Point of Sale software to be quite boring. Software developers are embracing the touchpad/tablet interface for anything to do with retail and many of these fast casual (and their fast food counterpart) establishments have glorified iPads attached to a cash drawer and printer on the counter. Even those that go with traditionally branded equipment by the likes of NCR or Toshiba are using personal computers with touch interfaces.

Our orders were simple: a sandwich, a side salad, and a drink. Including our choice of dressing, one would think there were be maybe five “touches” on the touchscreen involved: the sandwich type, the salad, the dressing, and maybe two for the drink, “Large” and “fountain drink”. The counter person should then hit total, the payment type, and call it a day.

The cashier spent minutes poking, prodding, and stabbing at the touch screen. From the light being cast back on her face I could tell she was flipping through menus, searching for various combinations of items, and typing words like RANCH. Let’s not get into the drama of figuring out how to swipe a credit card that doesn’t have numbers imprinted on the face of it.

Simple is better. I’ve been saying this for years. Back when electronic technology was coming to the forefront of retail, electronic cash registers in restaurants were designed one of two ways: 1. write the order down on a pad and add it up on the cash register or 2. there was a button per item type and the cashier simply had to hit the appropriate buttons. OK, admittedly I was in several Burger King restaurants where the cashiers filled in spots on a plastic card with a grease pencil and fed the card into the cash register like our Iowa Test Forms back in elementary school, but that trend didn’t last for very long.

The simplicity of these ordering systems kept the lines moving quickly. Cashiers didn’t look perplexed. They took your order and went about the other business involved with filling the request. There was no flipping through menus, crazy amounts of touches required on a screen, or typing of the word RANCH.

Today I moved from an elaborate Task Management system to something I wrote myself that runs on a “green screen”, or a terminal emulator from a command prompt on any computer of my choice. My iOS devices sync with it just fine and I am already feeling more productive and less bogged down because there’s no pushing and prodding and flipping through menus.

$ todo add “This is my example task due:2019-11-06”

Done. I couldn’t be happier about this approach.

iPads and their related tablet interfaces are way too small for counter service at a restaurant. If you can’t fit the majority of your menu on the first screen you’re doing it wrong. One of the things I love about Disney (and I love all things Disney) is ordering food at their quick service restaurants, lines move quickly because the software written in the mid 2000s works fine and is not convoluted. They’re also using actual cash registers.

I’m hoping for a day when software developers remember that simplicity is the key. It’s not about pretty interfaces and pictures and colorful buttons. It’s about getting the job done.

Keep it simple.