In real time; a look at how an Apple II handles takeout orders at Hunan - the first in a series of columns focusing on interesting applications. Sherrie Van Tyle.
The lunch hour bustles at Hunan, a Morris Plains, NJ restaurant that offers southern Chinese specialties with intriguing names--General Tsao's Chicken, River Shan Scallops, and Seven Beauties Around the Moon. The thriving food-for-takeout business at Hunan has been streamlined by a unique program for an Apple II equipped with a light pen and a printer.
The program comprises the entire menu of 127 food items, the various sizes, prices, and special requests, including no salt and extra spicy. As an order is phoned in, the host or cashier touches the light pen to the monitor screen to enter the order category by category--appetizers, soups, entrees. The order is totaled automatically, printed out, and taken to the kitchen. The chef works from the print out, which eventually becomes the customer's receipt as it is tucked between the white food cartons when the order comes out of the kitchen.
Onscreen are the food categories--appetizers, soups, pork, beef, poultry, seafood. A touch of the light pen summons the category listing. The quantity and size are entered along with any special instructions--no msg, sugar, or salt, a little spicy, or even pepper steak with no beef--with the two-key combination CONTROL-I.
If a group discount applies, 10% is deducted automatically when the bill is totaled. The time of day and the customer's name is printed on the order; attached to the bottom of the printout are two receipts with the date, number of the orded, tax, and totals. The hours, address, and phone number of the restaurant appear on the order too.
James Wen, who owns Hunan along with two partners, describes the program as the only one of its kind in the country. It was written by his son, Peter, a senior pre-med student at Harvard, who has been teaching computer courses for several years.
"He thought it would be good for us, especially during the busy times. Before, when a customer asked how much the takeout order would come to, we had to stop and add it up by hand. Now we can give a new total immediately, cancel and add items, and give another new total," Wen explains.
The speed of the program was an essential ingredient. Wen notes that the program would have tripled in speed had it been written in Pascal rather than in Applesoft Basic, but Pascal required extra disks. A printer buffer frees the computer to process a second takeout order while the first is being printed out.
Accuracy was important also. Wen had considered a card reader system that is widely used in fast food establishments, but he prefers the light pen and screen set up because it allows the cashier to double check the order onscreen before it is printed.
Reducing errors and mechanizing the order process have saved him money, although he has invested about $3500 in hardware and peripherals--Apple II+, Apple III monitor, expansion board, light pen, two disk drives, Epson printer, and Quadram Microfazer. The cost of the custom-written software, of course, would be extra. Wen explains that he could have spent more than the total hardware and software cost to pay the salary of a takeout person to process orders by hand.
Does Wen use the Apple for other purposes, for example, restaurant inventory? Taking the inventory of the pantry is actually quite simple, and he can check items quicker with a paper and pencil, he says. He and his son are thinking about other ways to use the Apple in the restaurant, however.
Use of a light pen rather than the keyboard means that a new cashier needs no special training to use the program. The cashier need touch only the space-bar to print an order or to return to the main screen menu.
The program has been in use at Hunan for over year with few problems. Ideally the takeout order would go directly to the kitchen, but the smoke and grease in the air would damage the computer and printer.
A cashier can easily answer the phone with one hand and wield the light pen with the other; as the phone rings, Wen demonstrates with a deft twist of the wrist, noting with satisfaction, "This program is 99% perfect for our needs,"