That other kind of coding

How a menu lists an item and how that item gets ordered are often two very different things. Careful menu encoding is how we bridge that gap.

Like any business, we enjoy when we can add features that every customer or prospective customer can see and notice easily. When we added printed tickets - that was a perfect example. A customer could tap a button on their iPad and - zip - a half-second later the ticket would pop out of the printer, ready to head off to the kitchen. It was fast and the time saved was obvious for everyone to see.

On the other hand, there are some features that lurk under-the-hood. Things that people rarely appreciate the importance of. It's what we call 'iceberg' features on our development board - and one in particular bears looking at: menu encoding.

"Menu encoding." Sounds not-so-interesting. Perhaps a better way to put it is that the list of items you hand customers on a printed page is your menu 'as written'. How customers actually order those items is your menu 'as spoken'. Sometimes they are quite close - sometimes they are miles apart.


For every straightforward order of French fries a waiter takes, there are other more complex items that need to be explained and whose final form on a guest check happens with the help of waitstaff. Some modifications are almost universal: 'extra cheese', 'no onions' or anything having to do with allergies. Some modifications get specific to an item - such as fish ordered 'black and blue' or spice levels dialed in just so. And some modifications are, well, just how people like to order: 'please chop salad', 'halve the dressing'. Even simple items like coffee or eggs or a bagel aren't safe from specific modifications - 'half-caf', 'firm but runny', 'please scoop'.

The desire to modify food has grown over the years. Part of this was stimulated by increased awareness of food allergies and also the proliferation of eating and dietary styles - ranging from vegan to paleo and everything in between.

Most online ordering services don't really cover all those choices. They encode your items in a shallow way. The item name is a data point. The price. And the item description. The most common modifications are often lightly encoded. But that's where the process stops. If a customer of yours wants to order something with a greater level of control, a level they have with a live member of your staff, they have to use the dreaded 'special instructions' box:


The problem with special instructions? Well, humans. Typing out legible, readable and specific instructions is not something most customers focus on when placing an order. And it's one thing to type while seated at a computer. It's a different thing to do it on a soft keyboard on an iPad or on a tiny screen (with a finger or two!) on a smartphone. When you make customers type to modify items the results can get messy:

Simply put, when customers enter a lot of raw text to modify their items and order, it is easy to end up with requests you can't fulfill or items that don't get charged for properly. Staff need to spend time contacting a customer or dealing with complaints afterwards when customer requests are ignored. It's just not a great way to do business.


At OrdrUs, the answer to handling the complexity of your customer is simple: we encode your menu more deeply than any other service. We encode both the details of the item and the details of how it gets ordered - the kind of information your experienced waitstaff know as second-nature. Furthermore, our program logic generally prevents non-valid choices that may confuse a customer - like offering to add chicken to a Chicken Caesar Salad ('doesn't it come with chicken??).

Encoding is also a continuous process. The bulk of it happens during the rollout of a new menu. We work with the restaurant owner or manager to set the menu accurately. Then, over time, we continue to note areas for improvement as we learn how your customers really order.

It's an important process - and one which yields ordering that richly matches your customers wishes. Incoming tickets flow easily, with few surprises. Items are made properly and are charged for properly. And your staff is able to focus attention on the few special requests that really merit attention.

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