Business Strategy

One JFK airport restaurant’s iPad UX misadventure

September 25, 2014

  • Lextech Admin
  • 1

As technology fanatics and experts, we can’t help but notice it around us in our daily lives. In fact, we encourage our employees to capture examples of mobile technology in the world around them. We share and examine these examples in our weekly town halls.

Recently, Will Scott, Lextech’s president and cultural champion, shared such a story in our town hall about a mobile experience he had on a recent trip that was an example of poorly thought out user experience (UX). On a layover at JFK Airport in New York, he decided to have lunch at a cafe beer garden.

Upon entering he noticed that there were iPads mounted at every seat in the sit down cafe. Not seeing a host, he grabbed a seat and saw that the iPad contained the ordering system for the restaurant. As he navigated the ordering process he was struck by the extremely poor UX design.

Techno travel zombies

First, because of where the iPads where mounted (in front of each seat) and the fact that they had internet browsers, everyone in the cafe was sitting down staring at the iPads and not talking. This creates a poor eating atmosphere, one that isn’t very relaxed or social.

Multiple swiping, pre-tipping, & other not-so-golden features

Second, the iPad menu forces a poor order and structure of the customer meal and experience. Every person orders individually on their iPad. There’s no ordering for a table. Also, if you decide you want something else halfway through the meal, you have to order and swipe your card for every addition, adding cost for not only the company but potentially for out of country travelers who have to think about things like foreign transaction fees. Another important aspect of a sit down restaurant is the ability to customize or substitute your order. Don’t want mayo on your burger? Too bad. Allergic to tomatoes? Try and eat around them with your EpiPen© ready.

Additionally, and perhaps most frustrating, the user has to tip at the time of order, not knowing what there service will be like. Online reviews indicate that, not only are people disappointed with the latter especially, but they note that the service drops off precipitously after the initial food delivery. What motivation does the server have to do well if they’ve already gotten their tip?

The last of the missed opportunities

Any manager knows that a key to improvement and increasing the bottom line is getting customer feedback. The last of several missed opportunities at this cafe was the lack of customer feedback. There was no rating system, no suggestion form. Customer feedback data is gold to the operations manager and this gold got left behind at JFK. Considering that 39% of customers continue to avoid vendors for two or more years after a bad experience (Dimensional Research), restaurants with 1.5 stars on Yelp might want to hit the war room or hire mobile experience experts to improve their product.

“Automated should not mean alienated!”

Those were Scott’s impressions as a customer, but is he just being picky? When he asked the server what people thought of the iPads, she answered flat out (and clearly agreeing with customers), “They hate them.” A quick look at online reviews indicates as much. Although a few people looking for free internet and charging stations were able to get past the poor user experience, one articulate Trip Advisor reviewer summed up the opinion of most: “Automated should not mean alienated!”

One articulate Trip Advisor reviewer summed up the opinion of most: “Automated should not mean alienated!”

We agree. There’s nothing wrong with technology. Obviously it’s our bread and butter. However, technology should serve people, not the other way around.

A better approach

As profit pivots on people’s experience and purchasing decisions, we advocate for a people-centered approach to design and user experience. What would this look like in the case of a restaurant like this cafe?

Communication about the new system

Although UX for both a mobile experience as well as a restaurant should be simple and elegant, a restaurant and business persons should never assume a change, especially a technological one, is obvious. A company should collaborate with their marketing team to create marketing materials to communicate the change. This can include signage (banners, glossy posters, table top tents), web site, and social media. Staff should all be trained not only on how the new system works, but how to communicate and orient new customers in a succinct, friendly way.

Eating is social

A sit down restaurant is about sharing a meal and a drink, an inherently social thing. Whether or not people are alone or with friends, they should at least have the option to share a meal face to face with someone, something made very difficult by the iPad placement. The iPads should be placed on the side of the table, perhaps with an option to pivot if an owner wants to offer browsing ability to a diner.

The server as brand advocate, not delivery conduit

If a restaurant desires or requires a server, it’s clearly identifying itself as a sit down cafe, not a fast food joint. Even if styled for airport convenience, the presence of a server delineates the dining experience from drive-through consumption. The ideal UX should place the tablet in the server’s hand, perhaps an iPad Mini, and they would take, submit, and add orders from the app.

The ticket would stay open until the customers were done, and the tip wouldn’t be added until the end. The menu could still be electronic if desired for easy updating and browsing.

The way the server is treated in the current setup here is really as a delivery conduit and not, as is the case in a traditional set up, as a friendly food sales associate and brand advocate. Although there are probably great cafe employees, the current setup doesn’t empower the employee to upsell (e.g., “would you like sweet potato fries with your order?”), return to check on customers, or earn their tip in general.

Product without UX will not profit

Mobile technology and apps are about people. Apps, no matter how amazing and brilliant their power and functionality, mean nothing without the user. If the user doesn’t find what they need or doesn’t like the app, your cool product rollout is void and sooner or later so is your your profit.

Given Scott’s description of the cafe, what would you do to improve the mobile UX? Have you had a really great retail mobile experience or one that wasn’t so great? Share in the comments below, and let us know what you think of the assessment here.

Leave a Comment

1 Comment

I had exactly the same experience last week while travelling through Newark’s terminal 3.
I first sat at a sushi bar, where you normally interact with the people sitting next to you, as well as with the chef cooking infront of you. The ipads now create an instant wall between you and the chef and/or your fellow travellers on the side. I used to have fun socializing at airport bars in Newark, now most of them don’t seem appealing, and many of them seem half empty.

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