At De Santos, the high-end restaurant serving up Italian-American fare in the West Village for the better part of three years, waiters buzz around armed with sleek iPad 2 tablets, swiftly taking orders and swiping credit cards on the devices.
Behold, the future of restaurants.
De Santos officially unveiled its new system August 1, thus earning the distinction as the first restaurant in New York completely run on iPads.
"The customers love it," says Sebastian Gonella, one of the owners and co-founders of De Santos. "Who doesn't like an iPad? They go nuts."
While it may sound crazy to replace lined notepads that cost $1.50 with $500 iPads, De Santos owners claim the new system saves money—and allows the restaurant to make something of a fashion statement while streamlining its ordering system.
"Any business knows that technology is a very important tool," says Gonella. "In the restaurant business, I was always certain that we were lacking on the visual aspect of it."
The marriage between Apple and this rustic, dimly lit tavern—which at one point was frequented by legendary musicians such as Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan—almost seems counterintuitive. But like Apple, De Santos is all about balancing style with substance, which made the move to install iPads as a fixture in the restaurant an aesthetic choice, as well as a business decision.
"Because I'm an artist, I always believed that the visual aspects of any business are pretty important," Gonella says. "Apple is the best company in the world that [uses] visuals as a marketing tool, so I believed it would be a great idea to make it happen in the restaurant business."
The iPads can do everything associated with the day-to-day functions of the restaurant—namely, taking orders, sending them to the kitchen, and paying for the bill—but makes it simpler and much more time- and money-efficient. The customized POS system, which appears as an app on every server's iPad, can access the restaurant's table and seating chart, as well as a full visual menu from the kitchen and the bar.
"Nowadays in New York City, the menus don't list the entire specifications of each dish," Gonella says. "With this software, you can show them exactly the dish itself and all the specifications for each dish, so people are really buying what they're seeing and there's no more confusion. It's pretty important."
With the entire menu in detail on the iPad, waiters simply choose each item from the library of menu options. Once the order is complete, it's sent wirelessly to the kitchen and bar, where the order is printed out and punched. For the waitstaff, this means no more extra trips to the terminal to repeat the full order; this technology frees up servers to see more tables, take more orders, serve more drinks, and chat with customers.
Bartender Paul Bekavac was accustomed to De Santos's old POS system, a common one called Aloha, but he's quickly seeing the benefits of the iPad.
"In the history of different POS systems I've worked with—and I've worked with them all—I felt Aloha was the easiest; however, this system, with the kind of instantaneous relay that you have with the iPad, it really does cut that time down a lot," Bekavac says. "Makes you more productive."
"Now the kitchen's fast," Gonella says. "They have four or five more minutes to prepare the dish, so the food is coming very quickly. It's a huge difference because that's more or less the time it takes to prepare a dish, unless it's lamb or filet mignon. It's really efficient."
When it comes time to pay the bill, De Santos eliminates the back-and-forth exchange of credit cards and receipts by completing the purchase tableside.
"We have a credit card swiper so you can [pay] directly from the iPad," Gonella says. "They can also sign on the iPad for their bill, and if they wanted to get the receipt by e-mail, we can send it by e-mail, so I don't have to waste paper."
All of these efficient tools mean faster customer service, fewer mistakes, happier customers, more sales, and more overall revenue. The cost of this new system is considerably cheaper, too.
"We worked very closely with the president of Pro-Touch Solutions, Brad Igel. He's one of the best programmers I've ever worked with in my life, and he custom-made [the platform] practically for us. The options we have in this new system are unlimited," Gonella says.
Compared to traditional POS systems like Aloha, which will typically cost a restaurant at least $30,000 to install, De Santos's tailor-made POS system for the iPad took a fraction of the price to produce. Between contracting Igel to build the customized app and buying the 8 iPads and credit card swipers, the whole shebang cost about $18,000.
And thanks to the iPad's compatibility with Apple's other products, De Santos's owners now have more control over their restaurant than ever before. The owners—Gonella, Luis Miguel Amutio, and Alex Gonzalez—can all monitor the entire restaurant from anywhere in the world from an iPhone and receive real-time data about the restaurant's performance. Every transaction is immediately tabulated and analyzed.
"I can be in L.A. and check—live—exactly how many orders are placed, how many credit cards were used, which ones were mistakes or not," Gonella says. "You really have control over what's happening in the dining room. If [servers] want to give a free drink for a friend, or they made a mistake and don't want to tell the manager so they ring it again, that all costs our business. Now, we can eliminate that."
While De Santos was the first to make the move to iPads, it surely won't be the last.