US 20090192898 A1
A remote ordering system is provided using an electronic menu having a series of input devices associated with various menu items, and a wireless transmitter to send selected menu items to a receiving device for processing. A display to show selected menu items, an alpha-numeric keyboard, a non-cash payment device, and a printer for receipts are also contemplated for increased functionality. The menu may be remotely updated to reflect the customer's preferences or a change to the menu choices.
1. A handheld electronic menu comprising:
an electronic display for displaying both a first series of menu choices and a sub-series of menu choices;
a plurality of switches, each switch positioned to be aligned with one of the menu choices and one of the sub-menu choices;
a feedback mechanism for visually and/or audibly indicating selection of a menu choice;
a microcontroller including embedded software for operating the menu;
a transmitter for wirelessly transmitting selected menu choices to a central location;
an integrated payment device; and
a power supply for powering the display and the transmitter.
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23. A method for a customer to place an order at a restaurant without the use of wait staff, the method comprising:
picking up a handheld electronic menu;
reviewing a series of menu choices presented on a display;
selecting a menu choice from the series of choices by activating a switch aligned with the menu choice;
reviewing a series of sub-menu choices presented on the display;
selecting a sub-menu choice by activating a switch aligned with the sub-menu choice;
wirelessly transmitting an order to a central location wherein the order includes selected menu choices and sub-menu choices; and
paying for the order via a payment device integral to the menu.
24. The method of
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wirelessly transmitting includes providing information regarding the customer's physical location within the restaurant to the central location.
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45. A system comprising:
an electronic menu comprising:
an electronic display for displaying both a series of menu choices and a sub-series of menu choices;
a plurality of switches, each switch positioned to be aligned with one of the menu choices and one of the sub-menu choices;
a transmitter for wirelessly transmitting selected menu choices to a central location;
an integrated payment device;
a microcontroller including embedded software for operating the menu;
a power supply for powering the display and the transmitter; and
a central processor constructed and arranged to receive transmissions from the menu and to provide order information regarding customer orders to restaurant staff.
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This application is a Continuation In Part Application of pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/774,611 filed Jul. 8, 2007, which is a Continuation in Part of pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/757,998, filed Jun. 5, 2007 and which claims benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/867,740, filed Nov. 29, 2006. This application is also a Continuation In Part of pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/757,998 which claims benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/867,740, filed Nov. 29, 2006. This application is also a Continuation In Part of PCT Patent Application No. PCT/US07/88199, filed Dec. 19, 2007. Each patent and patent application cited herein is hereby incorporated by reference.
The present invention relates generally to remote ordering systems, and more particularly to electronic menus.
Ordering from a menu typically includes reading from the menu and making a selection that must be remembered while waiting for an employee to come over and transcribe the order to a piece of paper. After the employee takes the order, the piece of paper is delivered to an order processing area to process the selections. The employee then delivers the selections, and at some later time, the employee must be present to receive payment for the selections. This reliance on the employee to deliver the order and be present for payment can significantly slow the ordering and payment process. The desire for more efficient order management and a streamlined customer experience has therefore led to the development of the present inventive concept.
An ordering system that allows a customer to order and pay without the need of an employee or other wait-staff is provided. The ordering system can provide for updatable menus and can provide the facility owner with information regarding its customers.
In one aspect, a handheld electronic menu is provided, the menu comprising an electronic display for displaying both a first series of menu choices and a sub-series of menu choices, a plurality of switches, each switch positioned to be aligned with one of the menu choices and one of the sub-menu choices, a feedback mechanism for visually and/or audibly indicating selection of a menu choice, a microcontroller including embedded software for operating the menu, a transmitter for wirelessly transmitting selected menu choices to a central location, an integrated payment device, and a power supply for powering the display and the transmitter.
In another aspect a system is provided, the system including a menu that may include any combination of the features described above and a printer that is in communication with the menu.
In another aspect, a method for a customer to place an order at a restaurant without the use of wait staff is provided, the method comprising the steps of picking up a handheld electronic menu, reviewing a series of menu choices presented on a display, selecting a menu choice from the series of choices by activating a switch aligned with the menu choice, reviewing a series of sub-menu choices presented on the display, selecting a sub-menu choice by activating a switch aligned with the sub-menu choice, wirelessly transmitting an order to a central location wherein the order includes selected menu choices and sub-menu choices, and paying for the order via a payment device integral to the menu.
In another aspect a system is provided, the system including an electronic menu comprising an electronic display for displaying both a series of menu choices and a sub-series of menu choices, a plurality of switches, each switch positioned to be aligned with one of the menu choices and one of the sub-menu choices, a transmitter for wirelessly transmitting selected menu choices to a central location, an integrated payment device, a microcontroller including embedded software for operating the menu, a power supply for powering the display and the transmitter, and a central processor constructed and arranged to receive transmissions from the menu and to provide order information regarding customer orders to restaurant staff.
It is understood that different embodiments of the invention may include any combination of the elements described, even if a specific combination is not explicitly detailed herein.
These and other features and advantages of the present invention will be better understood upon consideration of the following detailed description, taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in which like reference characters refer to like parts throughout, and in which:
In one aspect an electronic menu and associated system components are provided. The electronic menu can be used in a variety of venues but will generally be discussed in reference to a restaurant location.
In one embodiment, the invention includes an electronic menu 100 with selection means 110 in the form of membrane switches, a display 120, and a remote transmitting device 130, as seen in
When a customer is seated at a table, menu 100 is made available to them from the wait staff or a docking station located in the restaurant. A food selection is made by utilizing a series of selection means 110 that correspond to selections for a desired meal. Separate selection means 110 can be included on the menu and be designated with appropriate markings to accomplish tasks such as signifying a completed order or calling a server to the table or to cycle through various other functions of the menu. The graphical overlay can be periodically replaced to reflect new selection options, and the membrane switch designations can be updated accordingly with appropriate software. Once the order is complete, the ordering information is sent to a receiving device for processing.
A preferred embodiment of selection means 110 is membrane switch 210 shown in cross-sectional detail in
As shown in
Menu 400 can employ an external antenna similar to remote transmitting device 130 shown in
The remote transmitting device 130 communicates with receiving device 140, which can be located in a food preparation area of a restaurant, an inventory location, or a centralized wait-staff location, or to individual wait staff. In other embodiments the receiving device may be offsite. The receiving device can be a standard personal computer running a software program to receive and process orders sent from the electronic menus, a beeper-type device, or a specialized device developed solely for use with the electronic menus. The communication can be one-way from the menu to the receiving device 140, or two way between the menu and a receiving device 140. The ordering system can include a broadcast station (not shown) that can send information to the menus 400 or to receiving device 140 or to both. The information can be updated menu information, specials of the day, advertisements, or other media.
Display 120 as seen in
In one set of embodiments the menu pages can be made similar to that of standard menu pages, such as a series of printed pages listing menu items. In some embodiments, the menu items can be provided with images that further describe them. The pages can include, for example, paper or plastic sheets that can be attached directly to the menu or can be inserted or laminated in a protective sheath that is attached to the menu. The page may also be formed with e-ink or e-paper that can be updated electronically.
As seen in
In one embodiment, selection means 440 can be situated along at least one edge of the display. As seen in
In one embodiment, the selection means is in the form of membrane switches. The membrane switches are preferably water resistant, durable, and are able to provide tactile feedback to a user. Alternative input devices can include a joystick having a protrusion that can be manipulated in a variety of directions to correspond to selection of a menu item; a scroll-wheel having a peripheral region capable of sensing rotation, where clockwise rotation scrolls through a list of items in one direction and counterclockwise rotation scrolls through the list in an opposite direction; or verbal input through a microphone and in conjunction with speech recognition software. A set of service buttons 421-425 can be included on the menu that correspond to various functions such as initiating menu ordering 422, calling for a waiter/waitress 425, verifying an order 421, placing an order 423, or requesting a check 424. Use of these buttons will be discussed later in the specification.
Payment means 310 in
In one embodiment, the feedback means is a display with selection means 440 being areas on a touch screen overlaying the surface of the display that correspond to words or symbols on the display beneath the touch screen. With this configuration, the touch screen can function as a signature pad to digitally capture the customer's signature for verification or record-keeping. This digital signature may be optionally printed on a receipt or invoice to preserve a hard copy of the transaction. Alternatively, a resistive or conductive separate touchpad or electric signature pad 1640 as in
The menu can be powered by any of a number of available methods. These available methods include wireless power, rechargeable batteries, fuel cell, replaceable batteries, solar power, or mechanically stored energy. In a preferred embodiment, rechargeable batteries are stored within the menu and are charged via non-contact, or inductive, charging. This is usually accomplished by having one set of coiled wire encircled by another set of coiled wire, where current flowing through one of the coils induces a current flow in the other set of coils. This induced current is then used to charge a battery. It should be noted that inductive current can be achieved using any conductive materials, and the invention involving non-contact or inductive charging is not limited to encircled coils of wire.
The menu is preferably constructed and arranged so as to be durable and rugged. Because of the use around food and drink, the display may be substantially fluid-resistant. The circuit can be sealed by a gasket or encapsulated in a fluid-resistant material. Furthermore, a flexible circuit can be used to allow for a certain degree of pliability of the menu. Similarly, the display can be made of a flexible material such, such as that used in e-ink or e-paper displays. The menu may include audio feedback to indicate that a selection has been made, or that some other event has been triggered. This can include an incoming message from the kitchen saying the meal is ready. It can be related to advertising, it can be user-provided music from a customer's storage device, or music selected from a virtual jukebox accessible through the menu. The menu may also provide feedback in the form of smell. Various chemicals can be released from the menu to simulate certain desired smells. These smells can correspond with food items or can be provided to deliver a certain environmental experience such as the outdoors. The menu can provide for language options to accommodate various spoken languages. For example, the menu can include a first grouping of pages in one language followed by a second grouping of pages in a second language. Alternatively, the menu pages can be swapped out to provide alternative languages. In either case, the central display would likewise be updated depending on the language displayed on the pages. In a preferred embodiment, the menu can be associated with a central docking station located at each table. The central docking station can provide various support functions for the menu such as printing capabilities, wired or wireless transmission means, a recharging station to recharge the menu's batteries if batteries are present, an electricity transmission means for wireless powering of the menu, and a place to store the menus when not is use. Because the menu may be a wireless handheld device, anti-theft means can be employed to prevent customers from leaving the restaurant with the menus. Such anti-theft devices could be radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, tethers, location tracking to locate a menu location and an indicator of when the menu leaves a predefined area, or any other known antitheft devices employed on merchandise, clothing, or laptop computers.
A separate software program is contemplated to provide a user-friendly method of creating menu pages or a graphical overlay for an electronic menu herein described, here the program can assign new menu items to corresponding input means locations and update the menu's computer program accordingly. The updating can be achieved either wirelessly or through a physical connection, to match up with the newly printed media. The menu program can include additional functions such as a tip calculator. It should be noted that a preferred embodiment of the electronic menu of the present invention, the program used to run and update the electronic menu uses a low-level programming language such as C++ that can be stored on a chip, as opposed to an application that requires an operating system to interface with the hardware. This improves reliability, decreases required processing power and memory requirements, requires little to no cooling, and takes up less room than a typical tablet pc or laptop running an operating system.
Stylus 1650 is used to sign signature pad 1640 to authorize credit card payments. Alternatively, magnetic strip reader 1630 can be used to read a debit card, with alphanumeric keyboard 1620 being used to insert a pin number or other identifying information. The keyboard 1620 can also be used to calculate a custom gratuity, or to enter other text or numerical information. Smart card reader 1670 can be used for non-contact payment methods. Other contact or non-contact payment devices can also be used, such as gift cards employing magnetic stripes, wireless payments from a smart-chip in a payment fob, near-field communication RFID devices, or wireless or cellular payment using a device such as a cellular phone or personal digital assistant (PDA). The instructions on display 480 instruct a customer to use the payment means 410 above, or press the service button 474 to pay by cash or check. If the service button 474 is pressed, a waiter will go to the table to deliver a check.
The menu can be used to pre-pay for a meal before ordering, similar to the way payment at a gas-pump is pre-authorized before pumping. Payment can also be made using cash by calling the waitress using a service button located at or near the menu. Additionally, when there are multiple menus used at each table, it is contemplated that each menu can have the option to pay for the items purchased from other menus at the same table. Payment for items at another table can also be accomplished. In one embodiment, there is a master menu that receives order information, including prices, from the other menus, and all order sending and payment is done through the master menu. This could provide better control over family or group ordering, and streamline the payment process. The electronic menu described above can be used in any field that may employ a menu, such as spa services, health and beauty care, movie or other performance theaters, concession stands, educational testing, means for conducting surveys, means for voting, or any business offering a limited number of products that can be displayed on a menu.
A revenue generating system based on supply and maintenance of menu service is also contemplated. Under this scheme, a revenue stream is provided to the menu provider as a percentage of sales accrued through menu use. The menu use can be in any field where the menus could be used as detailed above.
In another aspect, an electronic menu can be specifically designed to be customer friendly rather than tailored to the needs of wait staff. It can be used in any facility where traditional menus have been used, including, for example, restaurants, hotels, motels, sporting venues, movie theaters, clubs, trains, ships and airlines. The menu can include a traditional menu look while still being sophisticated enough to provide full capabilities including, for example, complete menu descriptions, multiple levels of sub-menus, wireless communication with a central processor, instant updating, integral payment devices and the ability to communicate the menu location to a central processor. The menu may have low processing and power requirements and can be operated absent expensive operating systems and microprocessors. For example, the menu may be operated by a microcontroller with embedded software and less than a megabyte of RAM.
Other features of the electronic menu may include, for example, two-way communication with a central processor; seat, table or customer location capability; and a continuously updateable menu that allows for instant price adjustments as well as removal, addition or reprioritizing of menu items.
In one embodiment, a system can include software that allows the menu to recall previous customers by communicating with a database that may be on board the menu, on a memory device at the premises, or on a memory device off the premises. The software may reside on the menu, a local server, a computer system located off site, or some combination of all three. The menu may identify the customer in any number of ways including, for example, a credit card or other auto-identifying payment means, querying the customer directly for his or her name, scanning of a frequent buyer card, or a biometric identification device such as a fingerprint reader or retinal scanner. The software may respond to someone identified as a previous customer by, for example, greeting the customer by name or altering the menu choices accordingly. For instance, the customer may be identified as having previously ordered only vegetarian dishes, and the customer may then be prompted by asking if he or she would like to see a vegetarian menu. In other instances, previously ordered items may be shuffled to the top of the menu. If the customer had previously ordered a specific drink, then the menu may be instantly updated with a drink menu that would be deemed to be of interest to the customer. As a payment option, the customer may be asked if they would simply like to use the same payment means that they have used previously. For instance, a previously used credit or debit card may be charged once the customer has been identified. Information regarding customer selections may also be recorded and used in targeted marketing databases that may used internally or may be sold to outside firms.
In other embodiments the menu may be customized based on immediate input from the user as well as from previously stored information. For instance, the menu may query the customer regarding allergies, nutrition preferences, food preferences, cuisine styles, price points or time limitations. In response, the menu may be updated or limited to include, for example, appropriate choices. For example, the menu may be updated to list items that are “dairy free,” less than $20 per entree, less than 500 calories, or require less than 10 minutes of preparation time. The menu may also provide customer specific advertising based on either previously acquired data or recently received information regarding the customer, or both.
In another embodiment the menu can be used to provide information regarding the location of the customer. For example, the menu can transmit data incorporating table, seat, or specific customer location information to a central processor (receiving device) so that a staff member is aware of the specific location of the customer. The customer's order can then be linked to his or her location so that food or drink can be accurately delivered. The customer's location may be identified by a specific table, a specific seat or simply a specific location that can be identified using a grid or other system. In one embodiment, each menu is assigned to a specific location and is meant to be used in that location only. In this case, any unique data associated with that menu can be used to determine its location. In another embodiment, the customer simply inputs his or her location either with or without prompting from the menu. For instance, the customer may point to a specific table on a touch screen display on the menu or may type or speak a table or seat number. In another embodiment, triangulation methods, signal strength methods, or other techniques may be used to pinpoint the location of the menu and therefore the customer. For example, the menu may communicate with two or more directional transmitters that allow the menu to be pinpointed within the restaurant or other service facility. In another embodiment, RFID tags or similar transmitting devices may be placed at specific locations in the restaurant. For example, a tag may be placed at each table location or each seating location. Tags may be placed out of view, for instance, under the table but in front of the customer. When it is desirable to transmit the location of the menu, the RFID tag can be read by the menu and can include identifying information that provides its specific location. This can be activated autonomously by the menu, by the customer, or remotely by a third party. The menu may include a power source capable of powering the RFID tag when it is within a specific distance of the tag. For instance, a menu may be programmed so that when a customer finalizes an order, the menu energizes a nearby RFID tag (e.g., within one or two feet) without energizing those that are outside of its range. The menu can then read the data transmitted by the tag and relay it to a central location where the menu's location can be made available to staff or other individuals. An order may be placed either before or after a menu's location is transmitted. For instance, a customer may place an order while in a waiting area but the menu may then transmit his or her location once he or she is seated at a table. The menu may also serve as a “table ready” notification device that directs the customer to a specific location once a table becomes available.
In one set of embodiments the menu can serve as a two-way communication device so that the menu can communicate with a centrally located processor (such as a server) and the processor can communicate with the menu. This path can also be used to provide communication between customer and restaurant staff. By allowing a central processor to send information to a menu, the menu can be remotely updated. For example, the processor may instantly delete or add menu items, change pricing, or change the description of an item. Additional non-menu information can also be provided, such as, the time remaining until an order is served or the time remaining until closing. In this manner, menus may be instantly updated to reflect changes that can affect sales. For instance, short term pricing specials may be employed to help promote menu items that may not be selling well. When the kitchen runs out of an item it may be deleted from the menu or, when appropriate, the item on the menu may be annotated with “only one left” or something similar. Menu updates may be provided locally by a local computer or local personnel. Alternatively, these changes may be made over a network, such as the internet, so that a single change can be implemented to update a plurality of menus at a plurality of restaurants.
Menus may also include devices for voice communication. For example, a menu may be equipped with a speaker and/or microphone for direct communication with kitchen or other personnel. The speaker and/or microphone may be wirelessly linked to a central processor which in turn can be linked to the kitchen or other location. In this way, kitchen personnel may contact a customer to confirm a menu choice or to obtain additional information to be able to fill the order to the customer's expectation. Similar communication can be performed by texting between the kitchen and the menu. In this case, a speaker and/or microphone may not be required.
In another set of embodiments, information being sent between the menu and a central processor (receiving device) may be encrypted. Thus, both the menu and the central processor may include encryption software on board. Encryption techniques may be chosen so that they conform to the requirements of credit card processors, banks, and others who may require encryption of any transmission that includes proprietary data such as credit or debit card information as well as the customer's identification.
A reader associated with the menu may be used to scan a form of identification such as a driver's license. For example, a magnetic reader integral to the menu may be used to scan a customer's driver's license whenever an alcoholic beverage is ordered. If two beverages are ordered, then the scanning of two licenses could be required before the order is fulfilled. The menu can then access a data base, either locally or remotely, to determine whether or not the customer is of legal drinking age. Alternatively, the driver's license itself may include information regarding the age of the customer. The system could also require a swiping of the driver's license with each successive order of an alcoholic beverage. In this way, the menu (or menu system) can keep track of the number of drinks served to a customer and can cease serving the customer when a specific limit is reached. An image of each customer may also be provided to wait staff so that wait staff is made aware of exactly which individuals at the table have placed the order.
Menu choices may be displayed on display 480 so that they are aligned with one or more of switches 540 a, 540 b, 540 c etc. The switches 540 may include any appropriate input device such as a tactile membrane switch requiring movement or a capacitive switch that does not require movement in order to be activated. Once the switch associated with a menu choice is activated a sub-menu may be displayed on the same display. The sub-menu may provide an additional level of choices concerning the first menu choice. For example, if the first menu choice is for a beverage the sub-menu may display a list of wine, beer and soft drinks. In choosing a specific sub-menu choice by activating the corresponding switch, the customer may either choose a specific item or launch another level of menu choices. For instance, if soft drinks are chosen, then the sub-sub-menu may list water, orange juice, ginger ale, milk shake, etc. An unlimited number of menu levels may be accessed in this way.
Several switches are visible around the menu bezel 510. These may be membrane switches, capacitive switches or any other robust switch appropriate for the restaurant, hotel or club environment. Power button 520 can be used to turn the menu on and off. Switches 524 and 522 can be used to verify (review) an order and place an order. Switch 526 is activated when the customer wishes to pay the bill and doing so starts a bill paying routine that can ask the customer how he or she wishes to pay. A payment device, such as magnetic card reader 550, may be integral to the menu and can be used to swipe any readable object such as a credit card, debit card, gift card, driver's license etc. The menu may also include a smart card reader and/or optical reader. Switches 536 and 538 may be used to scroll through text or objects and switches 532 and 534 may be used to verify or make choices. Switch 530 can be used to summon wait staff for assistance.
The menu may be operated by an inexpensive, low power microcontroller that does not require a higher level operating system such as Linux or Windows CE. It may be, for example, a thin client or similar device where the bulk of the computing power resides on a server or other processor that is not the menu. The microcontroller may include a microprocessor, memory and embedded software on a single device. In some embodiments, all software and memory are on the microcontroller. The on board flash memory may have a capacity of, for example, less than 256K, less than 128K, less than 64K or less than 32K of memory. One example of an appropriate microcontroller is a 24 bit microcontroller made by Microchip Technology Inc. and sold as model number PIC™24FJ128GA. The embedded software may written using any appropriate language such as, for example, “C.”
Bezel 510 may be used to seal and surround display 480 and may include a variety of switches, as shown. It may also include indicator lights such as an LED to indicate that a table is ready for the customer. Bezel 510 may be printed with restaurant specific colors, designs, logos or other graphics that improve the attractiveness of the device and serve to associate the device with a particular restaurant or franchise. It may also include instructions for use or other useful information. This information may also be included on the back of the menu. The bezel may be permanently printed and in this case is not updatable by replacing the bezel.
While several embodiments of the present invention have been described and illustrated herein, those of ordinary skill in the art will readily envision a variety of other means and/or structures for performing the functions and/or obtaining the results and/or one or more of the advantages described herein, and each of such variations and/or modifications is deemed to be within the scope of the present invention. More generally, those skilled in the art will readily appreciate that all parameters, dimensions, materials, and configurations described herein are meant to be exemplary and that the actual parameters, dimensions, materials, and/or configurations will depend upon the specific application or applications for which the teachings of the present invention is/are used. Those skilled in the art will recognize, or be able to ascertain using no more than routine experimentation, many equivalents to the specific embodiments of the invention described herein. It is, therefore, to be understood that the foregoing embodiments are presented by way of example only and that, within the scope of the appended claims and equivalents thereto, the invention may be practiced otherwise than as specifically described and claimed. The present invention is directed to each individual feature, system, article, material, kit, and/or method described herein. In addition, any combination of two or more such features, systems, articles, materials, kits, and/or methods, if such features, systems, articles, materials, kits, and/or methods are not mutually inconsistent, is included within the scope of the present invention.
All definitions, as defined and used herein, should be understood to control over dictionary definitions, definitions in documents incorporated by reference, and/or ordinary meanings of the defined terms.
The indefinite articles “a” and “an,” as used herein in the specification and in the claims, unless clearly indicated to the contrary, should be understood to mean “at least one.”
The phrase “and/or,” as used herein in the specification and in the claims, should be understood to mean “either or both” of the elements so conjoined, i.e., elements that are conjunctively present in some cases and disjunctively present in other cases. Other elements may optionally be present other than the elements specifically identified by the “and/or” clause, whether related or unrelated to those elements specifically identified, unless clearly indicated to the contrary.
All references, patents and patent applications and publications that are cited or referred to in this application are incorporated in their entirety herein by reference.