Restaurant waiters who deliver food to tables of five or more customers rarely remember who ordered what, and have to ask.
Most restaurants still use paper order forms, and the most common are not much help, because they tell the waiter what was ordered at each table, but not which customer ordered it. The row of titles on the top, with “APPT- SOUP/SAL-…” is intended as a series of column headers to record each customer’s choice in each category.
Some form suppliers, like National Checking with their WaitRpad, have addressed this problem by providing table maps at the top of the form. These sketches include the following:
- The shape of the table.
- Where the waiter is to stand when delivering food.
- A clockwise numbered position for each customer.
The waiter arrives with a tray carrying the dishes laid out clockwise to match the customer positions. National Checking posted the following video to highlight the advantages of this form:
Benihana, however, goes one step further and takes advantage of the special characteristics of their service. It is a chain of Japanese restaurants in the US, with a single 8-seat table layout and a chef at each table cooking on a hot plate in front of the customers, from ingredients in a cart. The work done away from the table is limited to kitting the ingredients to match the customers’ orders.
The order form is a map of the table, which is possible only because the tables are all identical, and the form can be filled out with abbreviations because the orders are all for full-course meals: “DIA” for “Diablo,” “SM” for “Splash-and-Meadow,” etc., with a few options, such as fried rice versus steamed rice.
While this is effective at ensuring that customers receive exactly what they ordered, it is not mistake-proofing/poka-yoke. It does not physically prevent mistakes, nor does it have a mechanism to signal any error that may happen. A disorganized chef could still get it wrong, and customers could confuse any chef by switching seats.
It is instead an application of the usability engineering principle of natural mapping. An order form that is a map of the table makes it easy for the chef to know which dishes to give to which customers and thereby reduces the likelihood of errors. Mistake-proofing would be better, if someone could find a way to do it.