Seated with red placemat at Table 3? Your food's coming up

Account executive Ms Chua having her order taken by a waiter using the colour-coded system. Each customer's place at a table is marked by a mat or coaster of a different colour. Waiters then take orders using a tablet that locks in the customer's order ba
Account executive Ms Chua having her order taken by a waiter using the colour-coded system. Each customer's place at a table is marked by a mat or coaster of a different colour. Waiters then take orders using a tablet that locks in the customer's order based on his colour code at that table. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Colour-coded food ordering system helps ease challenges for F&B servers with special needs

It is lunch time and orders are coming in fast.

A waiter with a hearing disability struggles to hear a customer's order and asks him to repeat it.

An autistic waiter serves the main course to a customer who has yet to have his appetiser.

In the kitchen, the cook takes five minutes to decipher an order written by a dyslexic waiter.

"These are some of the challenges our students face when they work in restaurants," said Mr Ernest Toh, principal of Mountbatten Vocational School (MVS).

MVS provides training for students with disabilities, such as autism, mild intellectual disabilities and hearing disabilities.

Mr Toh said: "They have difficulties remembering and tracking orders, communicating and multitasking."

To solve such problems and to help the disabled remain employable in the food and beverage sector, polytechnic associate lecturer Aaron Soon developed a colour-coded food-ordering system and introduced it in MVS' in-house restaurant, Cafe Bon Appetit, last year.

Each customer's place at a table is marked by a mat or coaster of a different colour. Waiters then take orders using a tablet that locks in the customer's order based on his colour code at that table.

OBSTACLE OF THE PAST

In the past, orders were taken with pen and paper, and there was much confusion caused by illegible handwriting. It was also hard to track which part of a set meal had been served.

MR AARON SOON, who set up the BevEat social enterprise in 2014

If all the waiters are busy, customers can also scan a colour-coded QR code on the table with their smartphones to browse the menu and choose what they want.

Their orders will go straight to the kitchen and, when the food is ready, the colours guide the waiters to the seat from which the food was ordered.

Mr Soon said: "In the past, orders were taken with pen and paper, and there was much confusion caused by illegible handwriting .

"It was also hard to track which part of a set meal had been served; so we decided to tap technology to simplify these tasks."

He set up BevEat, a social enterprise, in 2014 to develop IT solutions for the food and retail sector. It now hires one physically disabled person, who helps with its digital operations from home. A part of its profits go to charity.

BevEat was one of six tech start-ups that Singtel supported last year as part of its Enabling Change programme to support people with disabilities. Each start-up received $10,000 in seed funding and mentoring opportunities.

Mr Toh said about 80 per cent of MVS' students who graduate each year find work in the food and beverage sector, but many quit after some time due to the pressure of working in the fast-paced environments of restaurants.

Besides MVS, Mr Soon is in talks with another special education school to implement his colour-coded food-ordering system.

He hopes to roll it out to commercial restaurants by the year end.

Mr Nashrul Rasman, 20, who works as a waiter and dishwasher at the MVS eatery as part of his training as a student there, said he found it easy to take orders using the system.

He said: "I used to work at a Western food place and my manager would shout at me because my handwriting is atrocious, and I would have to go back and forth from the tables to the kitchen to clarify orders. Now, I don't make any mistakes."

Account executive Chua Yue Yi, 29, often goes to the MVS restaurant for lunch. "When they were using pen and paper, our lunch could stretch to as long as one hour and 45 minutes, but now, though they sometimes still forget impromptu requests, such as for chilli sauce, the food arrives promptly."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2016, with the headline 'Seated with red placemat at Table 3? Your food's coming up'. Print Edition | Subscribe