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Active RFID Helps Deliver Food Fresh at Restaurants

Fast casual restaurants, such as Grub Burger Bar, are using technology from HME Wireless to enable food runners to locate diners as they deliver meals, as well as to collect historic data to help them improve their efficiency.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 09, 2015

Several thousand fast casual restaurants around the world have installed, or are installing, an RFID solution provided by paging technology firm HME Wireless, a subsidiary of HM Electronics, to manage the serving of food to customers. Fast casual restaurants are a growing segment in the restaurant industry. These independent and chain eateries are set up to take food and drink orders from customers at the counter, after which the diners find themselves a table and a runner delivers their order to them once it comes out of the kitchen. HME Wireless' Vuze Table Location System is designed not only to help food runners locate the correct table for an order in real time, but also to enable restaurants to collect analytic data regarding how long it takes for guests to find tables and receive their food, and for an employee to return to the counter after making a delivery.

The challenge for many fast casual restaurants is getting the food to the proper diners efficiently. At most venues, guests carry a card printed with a number to their table, and are expected to display that card prominently so that food runners can spot the number and deliver the food quickly. For larger restaurants, however, containing dozens of tables, often within multiple rooms—and even outdoor seating, such as patios—this is not a quick process. If a runner is unable to find the number associated with a particular order, he or she must stop at tables and ask customers about their order until locating the correct recipients. By that time, the food may have either cooled or warmed toward room temperature.

HME's Vuze Table Location System includes active RFID tags, a gateway RFID reader and software.
In 2010, the staff at HME Wireless began working to create a paging solution to help diners receive their food more efficiently, according to Russ Ford, HME Wireless' VP of sales. However, he says, they realized such a system would not help runners locate a specific guest's table and deliver food any faster.

Ford says he began studying how the health-care sector uses RFID-based real-time location system (RTLS) technologies, and the company decided to design its own RTLS solution for use in restaurants. The resulting system, commercially released two years ago, features battery-powered 915 MHz (or, optionally, another frequency) RFID tags employing a proprietary air-interface protocol that HME Wireless developed to enable each tag to not only transmit its own unique ID number, but also receive the IDs of other nearby tags. There are two main types of Vuze tags: guest tags, which a restaurant provides to its customers, and reference tags, which are mounted to the undersides of tables within the dining area. The Vuze solution also includes an RFID gateway reader to collect transmissions from all tags and forward that information to the system's software. The transponders and gateway are custom-produced for the Vuze system.

HME's Vuze Table Location System software can reside locally as a standalone solution, or be hosted on a cloud-based server. A hybrid solution consists of software that locally stores RFID data , but also forwards that information to the cloud server at preset intervals.

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