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NFC System to Aid Diners

Canadian startup CustomerIn Systems has developed a solution enabling patrons to interact with a restaurant using an NFC-enabled phone, and also plans to launch a Web site in July to help developers create similar solutions.
By Claire Swedberg
May 24, 2011CustomerIn Systems, a Canadian software-development firm located in Vancouver, B.C., is providing Near Field Communication (NFC) solutions for restaurants, bars and other entertainment establishments.

The first of what the company hopes will be many NFC solutions is a restaurant application dubbed the Connected Restaurant. This application, which has been deployed and tested, allows diners to use their mobile phones to request a table, order a drink and receive other services via their NFC-enabled phones.

In addition, by July of this year, the company plans to launch a Web site for mobile developers looking to pursue NFC-enabled solutions. The site, known as SimpleNFC.com will provide developers with application software to build their own NFC solutions, and enable them to purchase software kits and tags.

To interact with the Connected Restaurant system—which is not yet commercially available, since it must first go through a pilot with a restaurant—patrons must have an NFC-enabled phone, such as Samsung's Nexus S model, capable of reading passive NFC RFID tags. A customer arriving at a participating restaurant—one with a CustomerIn application and NFC tags installed in its business—could check in by tapping his or her NFC phone against a tag affixed at the front desk. Once the patron taps the phone, it sends the tag's ID number to a CustomerIn server via a cellular link. By using the Connected Restaurant application loaded onto the phone, that individual can then select prompts to request a table. In the meantime, he or she could also order an appetizer or a drink using a drop-down menu of choices in the Smart Phone app, from the same front-desk tag read. The visitor can then receive a text message indicating when his or her table is ready.

Once seated at a table, the diner could read the NFC tag placed on the menu, or on another location at the table. When the phone is tapped against the tag, that tag's ID is forwarded to the CustomerIn server, where it is linked to information regarding items on the menu, such as a specific entrée's ingredients, calorie count or sodium content, for example. To summon a waiter or waitress, or to request the check, the patron can read the tag once more, and another prompt can be selected from the drop-down menu.

CustomerIn has tested its first version of the system using RFID tags from UPM RFID and a Nexus S phone in its own laboratory, but the company is still seeking a restaurant to pilot the technology. The greatest challenge, says Fred Rego, CustomerIn Systems' president, will be to identify a restaurant willing to try a new technology. "It depends on their willingness to pioneer a new way of doing things," he states.

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