When I first read about Foodparc I was super excited for three things:
- Pork dumplings
- Futuristic touchscreens!
The first two, I have to say, fully lived up to my very high expectations. The third — which unfortunately is a big part of what is supposed to make this place special — needs some work.
The basic premise is one I actually really like. I’m often amazed at how disorganized the ordering process is at fast food restaurants, considering how much their bottom line is affected by the speed at which they’re able to move people through. Seems like it shouldn’t be too complicated to speed up the process and cut down on mistakes with a little automation. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for the human element in the process, but when I’m ordering something to go I’m much more concerned about efficiency.
The Foodparc approach to this problem is to line the front of the space with touchscreens, where you can browse the menus of the four mini-restaurants on the premises. Once you’ve placed your order, you’re given a number. Screens overhead show the status of each pending order and indicate when your food is ready (you can also opt to receive a text message alert). This method doesn’t sacrifice much compared to the ordering process at the average takeout place. You can still see pictures of some of the menu items, and you can still make various customizations to your order. It also offers a few advantages:
- You can move as fast as you want. If you know what you want, you can pick it and get out of there. If not, there’s nobody pressuring you to keep the line moving.
- Generally, you don’t have to wait in line to order at all. Because ordering stations are cheap, they can have dozens of them and allow many people to order at once.
- Most takeout places really break down at the pickup stage of the process, especially during the lunch rush. Even if you get an order number, you have to crowd around the pickup counter and try to hear what numbers get called out. Here, you can have a seat and just keep your eye on the screen.
That said, a few things muddled the whole process for me for a net result that wasn’t a much better experience than the regular way of doing it:
- The touchscreens used for the ordering system are pretty unresponsive. Seems insignificant, but can be frustrating when you tap a button and it doesn’t seem to do anything. At several points I hit a button multiple times to get it to work, and then I’d find that I had accidentally hit a button on the next screen, adding things I didn’t intend to to my order or in one case canceling my order altogether. Arg.
- The order status screens are great but few and far between. We found a table in the middle where we couldn’t see any of them very well.
- My order took quite a while to come up, which isn’t really the fault of the interface. I wonder though if there’d be some way to better confirm that your order is in progress and give you some idea of how long you’ll be waiting, even if not an exact time estimate.
Overall, I do think this concept shows some promise. Sort of an update on the old-school automat. If it were me, I’d put iPads in place of the touchscreens and run the ordering system through a web interface. Seems like a cheap solution, and it’d be a lot easier to support and upgrade.
PS short rib buns at RedFarm Stand are a must. It’s the crazy love child of a Chinese pork bun and a White Castle slider.