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Technology takes hold from retailing to welcome centers

Touch screen systems improve speed, accuracy, profitability

If you’ve ever been frustrated because your steak wasn’t cooked right, or there was some other miscommunication between the server and the kitchen that marred the pleasure of dining out, then you might be happy about the new technology provided by touch screen systems.

Touch screen systems help cut down on errors, improving accuracy and speed for restaurants and retailers that are adopting the new technology.

“The benefits are speed, accuracy and ease of use,” said Don Lindsey, manager of Insta Pro Business Systems in Jackson. “The touch screen systems are easier to learn than a normal retail point-of-sale system.”

The touch systems used by restaurants can be programmed so the restaurant server is prompted to put in all the information needed for the meal from how you want the steak cooked, the choice of salad dressings, whether you want baked potatoes or french fries, and side order selections.

Lindsey said that while touch systems aren’t cheap, his business experience has shown that businesses that invest in touch systems are more likely to stay in business and be profitable than businesses that purchase older, conventional cash register systems.

“The places we’ve put them in have seemed to do really well,” Lindsey said. “Their business seems to improve. It improves customer service. I did a survey one time, and almost all my touch screen customers are still doing business whereas many of the conventional cash register customers have gone out of business. You might say that is because the touch screen people are more financially secure. But I also believe it improves business.”

Lindsey said most fast food restaurants send the order to a monitor used in the kitchen, while full-service restaurants are more likely to have the order sent to a printer in the kitchen. He said it isn’t just large chain restaurants that are using the touch systems. Likewise, most profitable retail outlets can afford touch screen systems.

“Most businesses can afford the touch screen system because you are putting it on a PC (personal computer),” Lindsey said. “The biggest investment is in the software and programs because PC prices have come way down. The price tag might be $25,000, and that may seem high. But, for what they’re getting, it is a great deal.”

The touch systems can perform other functions such as keeping time records for employees. And they can be used in retail outlets such as feed stores for products that can’t be brought to the counter for scanning of bar codes. Retail sales records can be printed out and stored away in notebook form versus the old days having numerous coils of register tape in storage. Credit card authorization can also be tied into the systems, which Lindsey says are very dependable and durable.

Some Mississippi businesses using the touch systems include Poets Restaurant, Country Club of Jackson, Bellhaven Bar and Grill, George Street Grocery, and Duff’s Tavern in Vicksburg.

“Most of the restaurants have gone to this already, and it is also getting more prevalent in the general retail environment,” Lindsey said.

Another place where touch screen technology is taking off is at Mississippi Welcome Centers where kiosks provide visitors with information on lodging, restaurants and tourist attractions.

Cliff Bennett, marketing director for Mitcham Strategic Partners Inc. in Jackson, said the first year the project was in place, 2.1 million interactions or touches were logged.

“That was pretty surprising in that we didn’t know if the tourists would warm up to it or be scared of it,” Bennett said. “Evidently they were not scared of it. If fact, now they are expecting it. Since the first year we have doubled the size of our network, and have nine machines out there including one in the Jackson International Airport. We expect that 2.1 million figure to double.”

Bennett said that touch systems are the wave of the future. He predicts the old days of brochures or racks are going to be replaced with the new technology that allows advantages like printed out directions to the attraction, restaurant or hotel, and the ability to make reservations.

Costs for advertising in the system that is a project of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development Tourism Division range from $300 per year for a page to full audio and visual presentations for up to $16,000 per year.

“We are not limited in how creative someone wants to be with their kiosk page,” Bennett said. “And one of the advantages is that updating for things like offering specials costs nothing.”

Bennett said people have quickly adapted to the new technology, which has been embraced by the travel industry nationwide.

“The kiosk is fast becoming a standard marketing tool,” Bennett said. “It efficiently and effectively presents massive amounts of information, and helps promote tourism. Brochures are not as effective. Anytime someone touches one of the categories, it is recorded. It can provide customers numbers on how many times their site was visited, and it can print discount coupons.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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