Using your iPhone to jump queues

Apple has filed for a patent for a service (or something) that would allow you to do the following:

Customers might tap a button to order their favorite drink, say a double-shot mocha, as they stroll up to the nearest coffee shop. When the drink is ready go to, the device–such as an iPhone–would chime or blink to let the thirsty one know it’s time to scoop up the order at the counter.

In effect, iPhone users would be able to jump queues at Starbucks and go straight to the ‘waiting for the order’ queue.

What interests me is that this technology would impose a negative externality on coffee consumers without an iPhone. In that situation, you would go into a Starbucks expecting, say, a relatively short wait for a coffee only to find that the ‘payment’ queue did not reflect the real wait time as determined by the ‘wait for order’ queue. That is likely to leave some customers upset. Notice that this will occur even if the Starbucks makes the ‘payment’ queue more efficient with a touch screen ordering system.

The moral of the story: these types of technologies are interesting but it is only by working out the kinks in the overall system that we will really see something that is adopted widely.

2 thoughts on “Using your iPhone to jump queues”

  1. Why is this significantly different from the current situation, where many fast food outlets accept orders by phone or fax, and direct people picking up those orders to the front of the queue?

    Regarding “making the payment queue more efficient with a touch-screen ordering system”… More efficient for whom?

    Several years ago, an Arby’s restaurant (fast food sandwiches) in Silicon Valley installed touch-screen ordering systems for customers to use. Within a few months, they evolved to stationing an employee next to each touch-screen, on the customer side of the counter, to key in customer orders.

    It turned out that customers didn’t use the system frequently enough to build familiarity and confidence with it. It took customers a lot longer to figure out how to enter their order than it did to give their order verbally to an “expert” (a trained cashier). Customers also had problems figuring out how to “customize” their orders (no onions, extra pickles, etc.). Frustrated by the delays and inaccuracies resulting from their unfamiliarity with the system, customers took their repeat business elsewhere rather than deal with this system.

    Now, granted, the average Starbucks customer probably visits a lot more frequently than the average Arby’s customer, since Starbucks is part of the daily ritual for many people. So you’d expect the average Starbucks customer to have more “training opportunities” to learn a touch-screen interface. Most of them still aren’t likely to like it, though.

    -Brent

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  2. Why doesn’t Starbucks employ a iPhone barista who services these kinds of orders. They would have their own machine, and their own section of the store away from the main counter? Maybe a counter on the street front, as these sorts of customers would not be the type who obviously want to sit down and enjoy the ambiance. They may prefer to get on with their day. With this sort of technology, some sort of display would be designed to indicate the a possible time between ordering and receiving the goods – either a monitor, or some data that is sent back to the orderer via the iPhone.

    Cheers

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