Cafe owner develops system for tweeting customers

Unable to find a low cost way for his customers to tweet their coffee orders, a cafe owner developed his own
  • Sim Ahmed (Unknown Publication)
  • 31 July, 2012 22:00

Whether by text, email, or tweet — Tuihana Cafe’s customers can order their coffees on-the-go using a low-cost custom-made communication hub. Now cafe owner and software developer Nate Dunn is looking to sell this technology to others in the New Zealand hospitality industry.

Dunn, along with his partner Leslie, purchased the cafe on Auckland’s Dominion Road 18 months ago.

Dunn is also the co-founder of 3Bit, a software company. He blogs on Geekzone, and has a regular spot on the NZ Tech Podcast.

Dunn’s system is (for the most part) simple. A patron places their order in a txt message, email, or tweet — this is sent to the cafe, where the order is printed off for the barista to complete. The barista then reconciles the purchase when the customer comes to pick up their coffee.

Dunn was inspired to create the system after being involved in installing a similar system at a fast-food restaurant in central Auckland.

The technology used in that fit out cost several thousands of dollars. Dunn says for most hospitality business owners the profit margins are too small to invest in a system that costly.

Unable to find a low-cost alternative, Dunn developed his own.

Beneath the cafe counter a Siemens GSM modem is connected to the receipt printer. A script written by Dunn collects the text messages as they come in. The script also searches for email and tweet orders, Dunn says this scan occurs every two minutes because Twitter does not support web hooks to facilitate live communication.

For text and tweet orders a trusted customer mechanism is in place to protect the cafe from malicious fake orders.

Text customers need to send a one-off text message to join the system, and those on Twitter need to be followed by Tuihana’s account.

According to Dunn there are still kinks in the system. A confirmation message sent back to the customer didn’t appear when this reporter tried out the system, and small bugs have been worked on over the last two months.

Asked if a tablet and app approach would not be easier, Dunn says simpler technology works best in fast paced hospitality situations.

“Businesses like this live and die on the power of the printed receipt,” says Dunn.

“When the barista is working in a rush, being able to place the paper how you wish and update orders on the fly is very valuable.”

He adds any electronic device would mostly likely be damaged by coffee grinds or spilt liquids, which again would eat into the already low margins.

Dunn says 30 of his regulars currently use the system. The office upstairs even has its own program to take coffee orders for meetings and send them to Dunn’s cafe over email.

He admits that currently the system is just a “talking point” but says there is potential for it to increase revenue at his store.

Dunn is examining ways to sell this system to other New Zealand hospitality owners. He has partnered with a local POS installer who is interested in installing the system, but says he won’t make a push until all the kinks are worked out of the system.