Wait-Staff Review Management


Was your local coffee shop so uncharacteristically helpful this morning that putting an extra buck in the tip jar didn’t seem like reward enough? Did that waiter ruin your dinner, and you think his manager should know how incompetent he is? - SFGate


While there are many ways to rate and review restaurants, almost none focus on evaluating individual servers. 

Diners turn to Yelp or similar services to share feedback. This has replaced the comment card — for better or worse, depending on whom you ask. But there is no good way for diners to rate their servers, and for restaurants to keep tabs on their service staff. More so, servers are given no voice to explain their actions, make up for slip-ups or boost their professional reputation.


Interviews + Contextual Inquiry

Being a frequent diner at restaurants myself, and experiencing the need to provide server feedback on many occasions, I could bring that layer of empathy to the process. To understand the server experience, I ventured out to a local coffee shop to speak with employees and understand their pain points and issues not immediately apparent to a diner. I observed, and later engaged in one-on-one conversations with some of the regular staffers there. In parallel, I also reached out to a few friends to hear about specific dining experiences they could recollect and what made those memorable. 


Competitor Analysis

I started with researching existing and related products in the hospitality space. Most apps and food services packaged their server feedback offering with a larger restaurant rating system, making it tertiary to the main experience. On further inspection, many of these fell short of being a cohesive and well-thought through solution where the server-side experience felt like an afterthought in most cases. 

I set out to conceptualize and design an experience tailored exclusively to fill this gap. 



Taking all that feedback, I went to the drawing board to brainstorm and pen down ideas to sketch out the experience. My first go-to step in any design process is to take pen to paper. It helps me get as many ideas realized and frees me from thinking about technological constraints.

Fig #1 shows some initial ideas I sketched out. 

Fig #1: Initial Sketches

Fig #1: Initial Sketches


Diner-side Experience

What will invoke the service for a diner?

idea 1 - diner-side mobile application

The most obvious choice was to consider a smartphone app. 

Personally, I find it frustrating to install an application to perform a one-off task. On an average, these apps once used, lay forgotten in my smartphone, taking up precious memory space.

A user needs a very good reason to subscribe to your service. For a diner to provide feedback, there is very little incentive for them to engage and contribute constructively. It thus becomes crucial to make that initial step as frictionless, fun and memorable as possible. 

This got me ideating over approaches that aimed at removing those initial barriers of entry for a diner.


idea 2 - Edible QR Codes

QR codes, short for Quick Response, are used to take a piece of information from a transitory media and put it onto your  mobile phone. 

People generally aren’t in the habit of scanning QR codes because, in almost every case, the experience is awful. Scan a QR code and you will get sent to a slow-loading website with a visual interface that you will likely have to learn from scratch. But what if we extend that concept to the context at hand? Could we leverage the restaurant environment in any way? Possibly, using this neat innovation called "edible QR codes". As the name suggests, these are simply QR codes that can be consumed. A diner simply scans the edible QR code and is instantly taken to a familiar conversational interface. Scanning the code is the same, but everything else is different!

My source of inspiration was an article I read awhile back where food companies in China were using edible codes to better inform their diners about meat origins. That got me intrigued! The article talked about QR codes created using edible squid ink, added either directly to the surface of a dining plate or as a peelable sticker. Scanning the code showed calorific information about the food. The idea fascinated me and I started to envision how this could be extended to my diner-side experience. 

Fig #2 shows one such example.

Fig #2: Source: Replicator blog, custom consumer products

Fig #2: Source: Replicator blog, custom consumer products

Probable user flow for diner-side experience

  • Each server adds their QR code (sticker) to a diner's dessert plate (as dessert is typically the last meal)
  • The diner intrigued gets out their smartphone and snaps a picture of the code to learn more 
  • Voila! Diner is taken to a native conversational UI, where text + rich media can be sent and interacted with
  • Diner receives a rich media message with the server's picture and a simple 5-star rating scale displayed as an overlay over the image
  • Diner engages with the rich media message and submits their rating
  • Depending on what selection was made, diner receives a text message asking for a quick review on what worked and not.

Issues Encountered

This approach fails for a couple of reasons - Firstly, it makes the assumption that a diner knows what a QR code is and how they function. Secondly, as it stands today, there is no platform-level solution for scanning QR codes. A user still needs to install a third-party reader app. The solution also relies on a diner always ordering dessert as their last meal. What if a group of colleagues were coming in just for appetizers and drinks? How would a server accurately predict at that point which plates to add stickers on? Generating edible QR codes is expensive as it adds a considerable overhead cost on the restaurant owners. If the aim of restaurants is to be sustainable and keep costs as low as possible, this approach is not feasible. Lastly, a hybrid conversational interface with each message acting as a mini-application is a concept yet to be realized.


chosen idea - Contextual Notification

Notifications at the wrong time are worse than useless. Irrelevant pings not only get ignored, but the noise they create dilutes focus, causes frustration and a false sense of urgency. - Intercom

The data needed for intelligent, contextual notifications is already available. If we can gather and analyze all the required data and tie it together with payment information, how can we create a seamless experience for restaurant-goers?

Concept Modeling - User flow diagram

Fig #3 shows a flow diagram of the steps involved in a diner's experience.

Fig #3: Diner Experience - User Flow Diagram


Repzu, the wait staff system, has partnered with a payment service that would have the necessary details about diner, server and restaurant.

Background Operations (payment-side)

Step-by-step breakdown of what goes on behind the scenes when server swipes diner's credit card (Fig #3 block 1):

  • Server swipes diner's card
  • Payment service tries to identify diner
  • If found in the system, it passes the diner's information to Repzu
  • If not found, payment service gets it from the bank the diner's card belongs to
  • If information is successfully retrieved from bank, it passes diner's information to Repzu
  • At the same time, it passes along restaurant and server information to Repzu
  • Once Repzu finds the information, it sends notification to the diner

Notification Design

Fig #4: Diner Experience - Contextual Notifications


This approach trumps over the previous two solutions for a couple of reasons. It does not involve any new service installation at the diner's end. It is real-time and contextual. It keeps the complexity hidden from the diner. It has an almost-zero learning curve as it uses the existing notification implementation already available in smartphones today. It is quick and actionable, with the flexibility to engage at a later time. 

The only caveat to the proposed solution is, it always relies on payment made using a credit card. For cases where a diner might use cash, we could use geolocation to send notification once diner leaves the restaurant.


Wait Staff / Manager Experience

There are 3 user types : Wait staff servers, restaurant managers & catering services, and prospective employers

For wait staff servers, our system Repzu must provide a way to view and edit server profile, respond to recent reviews and track performance over time. For restaurant managers, catering services & prospective employers, Repzu should provide insight into a server's profile, their performance and in case of prospective employers a means to contact servers for employment opportunities.

The ideal solution to track all this information on-the-go was to create a mobile application.


Profile IA

With that, I set out to create the page layout and component structure. I iterated over how to organize the content, keeping in mind user intent and available real estate. 

Fig #5 is a wireframe depicting the server's view of their own profile.

Fig #5: Server Experience - Profile View

Manager-side experience

The last piece in the puzzle for designing Repzu was a manager's view of their servers. Essentially, this is similar to a server's view with slight modifications. For example, the manager need not see "pending actions" as it applies only for servers to take action on.

Prospective employer experience

An additional user type is a prospective employer who wishes to view servers in the system and hire potential candidates. The actions available for this user type mirror those of the manager's view.


Profile Design


Fig #6: Manager Experience - Server Profile


In Fig #6, I've used two different visualizations for endorsement highlights. The horizontal bar chart is used to depict relative comparison of a server's attributes, averaged over the number of reviews received. The donut chart on the other hand gives a percentage value on a scale of 100. The bar chart is useful in informing the manager of a server's USP (unique selling proposition) where as the donut chart shows whether a diner is likely to return. Both of these are crucial metrics for managers and prospective employers.


Next Steps

Put the app in front of live users and analyze the design's impact. Define KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to get meaningful data about how users are interacting with the app. Test, observe, learn, iterate