Restaurant operator automates but doesn't cut staff

OTG Management, which runs restaurants and other concessions in airports, is investing heavily in automation -- but it isn't using that as a rationale to reduce its workforce.

The company has deployed iPads in its restaurants in airport terminals that feature a new type of seating arrangement where each seat has a credit card reader. Travelers can place orders using menus on OTG's iPads and then pay their bills using the credit card readers.

They're also welcome to charge their own devices or use the iPads to surf the Web. There's no obligation to buy anything, said Albert Lee, OTG's CTO. It's more important that people have a good experience, he said, adding, "It's that trust that has helped us build out in a successful way."

The company started deploying iPads two years ago in New York's JFK and LaGuardia Airports and now has 1,500 devices in use. It plans to expand the initiative into airports in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Toronto, and by the end of this year, it hopes to have as many as 7,000 tablets in use.

The new tools have reduced the workloads of the wait staffs in OTG's restaurants, so servers have more time to focus on customer service.

Although staff cuts are often one of the goals of automation, Lee says that's just wrong. The iPads and self-help kiosks are "fantastic tools," he said, "but you need a human element to make it really successful."

In fact, instead of cutting staff, OTG plans to hire four iOS developers and an equal number of support staffers.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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