Tim Nguyen

The future of restaurant service?

A pair of Red Deer entrepreneurs believe they’re on the cusp of revolutionizing the food service industry.

A pair of Red Deer entrepreneurs believe they’re on the cusp of revolutionizing the food service industry.

Tim Nguyen and Jason King have developed a system that enables restaurant and coffee shop patrons to place and pay for orders using personal devices like smartphones and tablets. Their Gopher Systems software has already been tested in a restaurant setting and is scheduled to roll out at select businesses later this month.

“The restaurants we have talked to have been really receptive to it,” said King, who is business development manager of Gopher Systems.

The appeal of Gopher to food service businesses is its potential to improve operating efficiencies. Customers can view menu items and wirelessly transmit their selections to the kitchen, and then pay and leave without having to wait for a server or cashier.

“So table turnover is a lot quicker, increasing revenue,” said Nguyen, Gopher Systems’ CEO.

This improved efficiency also benefits customers, said King and Nguyen, both of whom have young families and have endured long waits in busy restaurants.

“It can work well for families; it can work well for business people,” said King.

Speedier service is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Gopher’s potential, agree the partners — both of whom grew up in Red Deer. Rather than memorize menu details — such as which items are gluten-free — servers can access the information on their own devices.

“It helps them ramp up and get up to speed a lot quicker,” said Nguyen of this training benefit.

Customer convenience is also enhanced, said King. For instance, someone relaxing in a bookstore might use Gopher to request and pay for a coffee from an in-store coffee bar — with the hot beverage delivered to their precise location.

Gopher will also keep a history of each user’s meals and comments, for future reference, said Nguyen. And subscribers will be able to interact with each other electronically if they choose, either in a specific restaurant or with others outside.

King contemplates that Gopher restaurants might push out notices about things like special deals. And customers might earn Gopher loyalty points that they can redeem for products, added Nguyen.

The impetus for Gopher came about a year and a half ago, when King and Nguyen reflected on the poor service they sometimes experienced in restaurants. Discussions with friends in the industry confirmed that the problem was widespread.

“We thought there’s got to be a better way,” remembered Nguyen, noting that restaurant owners, servers and customers all lose out under traditional systems.

A bit of research revealed that only a few electronic point-of-sale systems existed, and none allowed users to order and pay for food remotely.

The two men were well positioned to tackle the problem. Nguyen is CEO of Vinasource, an international software development company; and King is president of King’s Energy Services Ltd, a Red Deer-based valve and instrumentation business.

They set to work developing Gopher, with Nguyen expecting that the project would be relatively easy.

“I somewhat underestimated just how complex the restaurant industry is,” he said.

“There are a lot of things that servers do that we take for granted.”

For example, waiters and waitresses have to be mindful of the different preparation times for meals at one table, and ensure they are all ready at the same time.

“It definitely took more effort than I had originally anticipated.”

Much of the software development was done by Vinasource programmers, with cutting-edge technology going into the design, said Nguyen.

The result is a system that allows wireless communication between multiple devices in real time, and supports monetary transactions using a secure third-party payment system.

“The ability to pay for your products, in the app, is very unique,” said Nguyen. “That opens a whole new gamut of opportunities.”

For instance, Gopher users might soon be able to order and pay for food and drinks from their seats in a movie theatre or sports stadium, with runners delivering the products to them.

Nguyen and King are optimistic Gopher will proliferate across Canada and eventually the United States. In Central Alberta, Leto’s Steakhouse & Bar and Lacombe Golf & Country Club have both committed to use the system.

Consumers with Apple devices will be able to download the free Gopher app from the iTunes store, while those with Android devices can get it via the Gopher website. Restaurants and other business users will use a separate app, supported by iPads.

“I think Gopher will go viral,” predicted Nguyen. “In the tech world we call these types of things ‘disruptive technology’ — things that completely change the way people operate, in a positive sense.”

Additional information about Gopher Systems and its food service app can be found online at www.gophersystemsinc.com.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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