CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
This application is a continuation in part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/548,615, filed Apr. 13, 2000, which is incorporated fully herein by reference.
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to an illuminated transaction tray, and more particularly, to a transaction tray that includes the ability to facilitate a point of sale transaction.
Tip trays are quite common in restaurants and bars. The waiter or waitress usually delivers the check to the customer directly at the table for the customer's review. The customer then leaves cash or a credit card in the tip tray. The server then collects the tip tray, brings it to the cashier to complete the transaction or to process the credit card, and then returns the tip tray to the customer. The customer reviews the transaction sheet, leaves a tip, or signs the credit card transaction slip. The customer has had access to the tray at least twice. Mostly the restaurant or bar is poorly lit, and it sometimes requires supplemental lighting, such as a flashlight carried by the server, to properly read the transaction sheet on the tray.
A further problem with the traditional method is that the customer must wait for the waitress/waiter to pick up the tray and process the transaction with the cashier (for example, generate the correct amount of change or generate the credit card receipt). This is problematic when the customer is in a particular rush or when the waiter/waitress is particularly busy, and is a generally inefficient process.
There is also technology available to allow for electronic point of sale transactions, that is, where a credit or bank card can be processed directly from a tray.
A further problem exists with the traditional method of ordering products/services from a catalogue or menu. Traditionally, customers are given a printed menu or catalog from which to order and the waitress/waiter generally leaves. The customers then review the printed catalogue/menu to determine what they would like to purchase. After some given amount of time, the waitress/waiter comes back to the customers, inquires if they are ready to please their order, and manually writes down the customer's order or, in some cases, memorizes the order. While generally effective, this process also suffers from several problems and can be improved.
One such problem with traditional ordering process is that the waitress/waiter to come back to take their order. This is particularly problematic if the establishment is very busy, the waitress/waiter is very busy, or if the waiter/waitress is inattentive. Moreover, this is also problematic for waitress/waiter's because they must guess at when the customers are ready to order. If they are too early, then they often annoy the customers. If they are too late, then the customers often because annoyed because they must wait.
Yet another problem is that the waiter/waitress must either write down the order or memorize it. When a waiter/waitress writes down the order, it is often difficult for the cooks to determine what is written. Also, the waiter/waitress must remember all the questions to ask (e.g., how the meat is to be cooked, what side dishes, etc.). If the waiter/waitress memorizes the order, then the waiter/waitress must remember it correctly, including who ordered what, and must also communicate the order to the cooks, who must also either write it down or memorize it. This process is fraught with problems.
A further problem with the current ordering method stems from the use of paper menus/catalogues. Anytime an item is changed (e.g., an item is added/removed, description or price is changes, format changes, etc.), then each and every paper menu/catalogue must be reprinted/altered. Not only does this waste considerable amount of paper, it is also quite expensive and time consuming.
This problem has forced many establishments to not utilize menus/catalogues, particularly when the items to be ordered change on a daily basis, and have instead relied on the waitress/waiter to memorize the menu/catalogue and recite it to the customers. Unfortunately, many people are less likely to order a particular item if they cannot read the description of it prior to ordering it. Additionally, many customer find it bothersome to have listen to the waitress/waiter recite the entire menu, and find it difficult to remember/consider everything in order to make their choice.
Accordingly, what is needed is a method and apparatus that preferably decreases the time it takes to complete a transaction. The method and apparatus also should preferably make it easier for customers/establishments to place/take customers' orders. Lastly, the method and apparatus should preferably facilitate making changes to the menu/catalogue.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
It is important to note that the present invention is not intended to be limited to a system or method which must satisfy one or more of any stated objects or features of the invention. It is also important to note that the present invention is not limited to the preferred, exemplary, or primary embodiment(s) described herein. Modifications and substitutions by one of ordinary skill in the art are considered to be within the scope of the present invention, which is not to be limited except by the following claims.
According to one embodiment, the present invention includes a transaction device comprising a communication device and a display. The communication device receives data from a remote database. The data containing at least information relevant to one or more items or services to be purchased by a consumer, preferably items/services to be ordered from a restaurant or the like. Optionally, the data information relevant to an order placed by a customer (for example an expected wait time for the order placed by the customer) and may also include monetary data associated with the user's commercial transaction. The communication device is preferably a two-way communication device and is preferably wireless.
The display displays at least the data relevant to one or more items or services to be purchased by the consumer. In the preferred embodiment, the display is dispose on a lid hingedly connected to a base.
The transaction device may optionally include at least one input device. The input device is adapted to allow a user to interact with the transaction device. In the preferred embodiment, the input device includes on or more devices selected from the group consisting of a touch pad, mouse, pointer, track ball, touch sensitive screen, key, button, video camera, speaker, microphone, and voice recognition software. The one input device is preferably illuminated.
The transaction device as claimed in claim 9 wherein the input device receives a user selection of at least one item or service from the customer and wherein the two-way communication device transmits the user selection of the at least one item or service to the remote database.
The input device optionally includes an advice input device. Upon activation of the advice input device by the customer, additional information relevant to a user selection of one or more items or services is displayed to the customer on the display. The input device may also include a help input device. Upon activation of the get help input device by the customer, one or more personal associated with a business selling the at least one item or service to be purchased by the consumer is notified.
The transaction device may further include a credit card reader and a printer. The communication device transmits and receives data associated with a point of sale transaction.
According to another embodiment, the present invention features a method of ordering at least one item or service from a restaurant. The method comprising the acts of transmitting from a database located at a first location electronic data containing one or more available items or services for purchase by a consumer. The electronic data is received on a transaction device disposed within the restaurant and is displayed on the transaction device for the consumer to view. Optionally, additional information relevant to one or more of the available items or services selected by the customer is displayed upon activation of an advice input device by the customer.
The user then generates a user-defined order including at least one item or service which the consumer which the customer selects using at least one input device disposed on the transaction device. The user-defined order is transmitted from the transaction device within the restaurant to at least a second location within the restaurant wherein the order is processed. In the preferred embodiment, the customer can request assistance upon activation of a help input device.
DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
In yet a further embodiment, the present invention features a transaction system. The system comprises means for transmitting data from at least a remote database. The data contains one or more available items or services for purchase by a consumer. The system also includes means for receiving the data on a transaction device from at least the remote database and means for displaying the data on the transaction device. The system further includes means for generating an order at the transaction device, the order including customer-defined selection of one or more of the available items or services. The system also includes means for transmitting the order from the transaction device to at least the remote database, means for entering customer financial information at the transaction device to complete a point of sale transaction, means for transmitting the customer financial information from the transaction device to at least the remote location, and means for completing the point of sale transaction at the transaction device.
Having thus generally described the nature of the invention, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawings, showing by way of illustration, a preferred embodiment thereof, and in which:
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of one embodiment of a transaction device in accordance with the present invention.
According to one embodiment, the present invention features a transaction tray 10, FIGS. 1 and 2, preferably including one or more displays 12, one or more input devices 14, and a two-way communication device 16 for communicating with a second, remote communication device as will be explained in greater detail hereinbelow. The transaction tray 10 may be substantially the same as described in copending, U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/548,615, filed Apr. 13, 2000, which is incorporated fully herein by reference, except with the differences noted herein.
At a minimum, the transaction tray 10, according to the present invention, displays one or more items to be purchased by a consumer (for example, but not limited to, a menu, catalogue, or the like) on one or more of the displays 12. In the preferred embodiment, the transaction tray 10 includes one or more hinged lids 50, preferably containing the one or more displays 14 as described in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/548,615.
The transaction tray 10 optionally includes one or more input devices 14 that allow a customer to remotely choice one or more items to be purchased from the list shown on the display 12. The present invention also features a method of remotely ordering one or more items from a catalogue, menu, or the like as will be explained in greater detail.
For illustrative purposes only (and to satisfy the best mode requirement), the present invention will be described with respect to a restaurant or the like. Those skilled in the art will readily understand that this is not a limitation of the present invention, and that the present invention is useful in many other applications.
As discussed above, the transaction tray 10 preferably includes at least one display 12 and at least one communication device 16. The communication device 16 preferably at least receives data 20 from a remote database 18 (for example, but not limited to, a personal computer, server, personal digital assistant (PDA), or the like). The communication device 16 preferably includes any wireless communication device known to those skilled in the art. Alternatively, the communication device 16 may be hard-wired to (either directly or indirectly) to the remote database 18 in any manner known to those skilled in the art such as, but not limited to, local and wide area intranets, telephone, cable, etc.
The remote database 18 preferably contains data 20 pertaining to the items to be ordered. This data 20 is preferably received by the transaction tray 10 and displayed on one or more of the displays 12. In the restaurant example, the data 20 may contain the types of food and beverages which can be ordered, descriptions of food and beverages, specials, prices, as well as expected wait times and the like. The later information (i.e., the expected wait times) may be general (i.e., not specifically based on the individual's order) or specific to the customer's order.
Because the data 20 is stored on the remote database 18, any changes to the data 20 need only be made at the remote database 20. Once the data 20 is altered at the remote database 18, these new data 20 is immediately available for download at each transaction tray 10. As such, changes to the data 20 can be made easily, cheaply, and without the need to reprint the menus.
This feature is particularly useful in situations where the data 20 (e.g., the menu) changes very often (for example, day-to-day, meal-by-meal, etc.). It is also useful in situations where an item is of limited quantity (for example, a special on a limited quantity of a particular type of food, wine, etc.).
The present invention allows the data 20 to be displayed on the display 12 in any manner, format, or arrangement. As such, the restaurant can arrange the food into “Groups” or folders 22 (for example, “fish”, “beef”, “vegetables”, etc.), thus simplifying the ordering processes. Alternatively, the entire menu can be displayed on the display 12.
Using one or more input devices 14, the customer can select a particular item being displayed on the display 12. The input device 14 may include any means known to those skilled in the art such as, but not limited to, a touch pad/mouse/trackball/etc 30, a keyboard or keypad 32, buttons 34, touch sensitive screen 36, or voice recognition 38. The input devices 14 are also preferably backlit facilitating their use in the low-light conditions which are prevalent in restaurants. Once selected, additional information related to the selected item (for example, a description of the food/beverage) may be displayed on the display 12.
In a preferred embodiment, the input device 14 may include an “Advice Button” or the like 24. The “Advice Button” optionally provides additional useful information related to one or more of the selected items such as, but not limited to, a selection of suggested wines that go well with a particular food, preferred side dishes, etc.
In yet another embodiment, the input device 14 optionally includes a “Get Help” button or the like 40. The “Get Help” button 40 preferably sends a signal to the wait-staff indicating that the customer would like to speak with someone. According to a first embodiment, the communication between the waiter/waitress is be done in person (i.e., the waiter/waitress may physically come over to the customer' location). Alternatively, the communication between the customer and waiter/waitress may be done electronically. In this embodiment, the communication may include voice communication using speaker 42, or optionally may include video (either 1 or two way) displayed on a portion of the display 12 using camera 44.
In a further embodiment, the transaction tray 10 further includes a “Refill” button 55. When a customer desires a refill or the like (additional bread, etc.), the customer simply pushes this button 55, selects the desired action, and it is transmitted to the appropriate personal for attention. These features further reduce the amount of labor necessary since it is no longer necessary to “check-up” on the customer's status periodically.
The transaction tray 10 also preferably includes a credit card reader 46 or the like as described in copending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/548,615, filed Apr. 13, 2000, which is incorporated fully herein by reference and preferably includes a printer 48 to make receipts and the like. Other forms/means of effecting the transaction described in the U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/548,615 are also considered part of this invention.
According to one embodiment, the customer views the menu using display 12 and makes a selection of one or more items using input devices 14. Upon selection (and preferably verification), the customer's order is transmitted to the remote database 18 to be processed. According to this method, the waiter/waitress need not come to the customer to take their order. This greatly reduces the labor costs needed to service the customers since all that is required is enough people to bring the order (once prepared) to the customer's table and remove the dishes at the end. Additionally, this method also solves the problem of when to take the customer's order since the customer simply places their order whenever is most convenient to them.
A further benefit of this method is that it minimizes the likelihood of the customer's order being incorrectly processed. Rather than relying on messy/difficult to read hand-written notes or memorization, the customer's order is contained electronically. A further embodiment of the present invention features a monitor or the like 52 which is connected to the remote database 18 which displays the customer's order to the correct people for processing/preparing. The present invention also minimizes the likelihood of an error occurring on the bill since the order is electronically processed.
From the above description, it is clear that the various embodiments of the present invention provide a method and apparatus that decreases the time it takes to complete a transaction. The method and apparatus also preferably facilitates the overall transaction by making it easier for customers/establishments to place/take customers' orders, and reduces the amount of labor necessary to handle the transactions. Lastly, the method and apparatus facilitates making changes to the menu/catalogue.
While the present invention has been primarily described with respect to a restaurant or the like, those skilled in the art will readily understand and appreciate that this is not a limitation of the present invention (unless specifically and explicitly claimed in the following claims). Any modifications necessary to use the present invention in circumstances/situations/applications are considered within the knowledge of one skilled in the art.
As mentioned above, the present invention is not intended to be limited to a system or method which must satisfy one or more of any stated or implied object or feature of the invention and should not be limited to the preferred, exemplary, or primary embodiment(s) described herein. The foregoing description of a preferred embodiment of the invention has been presented for purposes of illustration and description. It is not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the invention to the precise form disclosed. Obvious modifications or variations are possible in light of the above teachings. The embodiment was chosen and described to provide the best illustration of the principles of the invention and its practical application to thereby enable one of ordinary skill in the art to utilize the invention in various embodiments and with various modifications as is suited to the particular use contemplated. All such modifications and variations are within the scope of the invention as determined by the claims when interpreted in accordance with breadth to which they are fairly, legally and equitably entitled.