I couldn’t help but marvel at the efficiency of our local station café recently, as I watched the staff pipeline their customer orders. The busy morning rush was so great that they’d streamlined the operations; one person greeted customers, took orders from several of us at once, and processed the payments. This freed the second member of staff to focus on juggling the coffee and tea machines: getting the maximum throughput from the two staff, and the machines.
I watched as the machine-juggling-lady turned to one customer (a large, bearded and eminently recognizable rugby player who regularly commutes) and asked if he’d like milk in his coffee; at which point she stopped herself and commented that of course he didn’t: she knew his order. This got the brain cogs moving (I’m always wondering about how processes work and how they might be improved, disrupted or streamlined). Initially I wondered if face recognition software could help the staff – I discounted that idea because of potential unreliability and cost. I then recalled that Barclaycard have just introduced an RFID based debit card that works when the holder places it near a card reader; I already use the similar Oyster system when in London to pay for my tube journeys, so why not take that one step further and use it for ordering the perfect tasty beverage by placing a reader at the door of the cafÃ©?
Give the RFID machine a small screen which presents the user with their 3 most common orders and just one machine can automate the process of giving the order, paying for it, receiving change and providing the information necessary to tailor the order to perfection, enabling the members of staff to focus on preparing the drinks during the busiest periods.
Of course… if the ordering and paying can be automated, so can the drinks preparation, and there’s many a machine these days that can make a very good cup of tea, so taking the concept to it’s unavoidable conclusion we must consider that the role of the humans in the shop will become more focused on food preparation, cleaning and general stewardship of the customer space…. after all, the whole point of the shop is that it’s not just a lonely machine on a platform, and the convenience of never again having to scrabble for change in the morning cannot be overlooked.
Image by midnightcomm (PD License)