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WeChat moves to your restaurant (speed, efficiency and savings)

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

Is Chat a replacement application platform? Can Chat replace your web browser? It’s what has Facebook, Google and Apple all worried. It’s an opportunity and threat and it’s real, at least at the Beijing restaurant I recently visited..

WeChat is “the” chat application in China and if you have any Chinese connections may well have used it. But if you’re physically in China, WeChat turns into a wholly different dragon. A recent tour of the country gave me a new perspective on the potential power this beast has.

First off, surprising to me is how much WeChat leverages QR Codes for adding contacts, making payments and ordering (as we will see soon). QR Codes can work on any smartphone and perhaps a word to those trying to create more complex solutions.

Second WeChat has entered into restaurants as an application and my first impressions are quite positive. The odds of me downloading a restaurant application are zero and there are similar odds for me going to a restaurant website and trying to order. Too much work, too little return. WeChat has fixed both.

I find Western restaurants terribly disorganized. This whole process of “Hi I’m Jan and I will be your server today” drives me nuts. I particularly dislike having to flag my server down when I want something (because I usually can’t remember what the server looked like). This whole process takes away time enjoying the meal and interacting with my guests. I won’t touch the “is everything all right” interruptions we’ve all had to field. Unless I’m setting the tablecloth on fire, assume everything is alright, so leave me alone.

Can technology be applied to minimize me being annoyed?

Years ago, I was impressed in Korea where most restaurants have a doorbell button at each table. You want something, push the button and someone will quickly appear. Don’t push the button and you’re left alone to enjoy your meal. I always wondered why the US didn’t employ a similar system.

I’m not a germaphobe, but I often wonder how many people my plastic covered menu has passed through. I know, you’re thinking about this now. Restaurants no doubt incur expense in printing new menus.

WeChat is trying to address increasing guest experience and restaurant experience and you don’t need anything other than the WeChat app. My colleagues took me to a new mid-range restaurant near Peking University to wow me and indeed they did.

img_1979Quickly being seated, the hostess didn’t leave a menu. A plexiglass stand offered me free Wi-fi which I signed on to. Opening WeChat, I then scanned the QR code. Up popped the restaurant menu with different views (small/large pictures and descriptions, most popular dishes, specials, types of meat, vegetarian offering – highly efficient).

From within WeChat, our table could quickly order the dishes we wanted. No need to log-on, no password, no complexity, just click n’ go. The unique WeChat QR code at our table had already identified us.

img_1978Cooler still, as the table ordered, you could see real-time what we (the entire table) was ordering as our screens updated on the dishes in the queue. As most Chinese restaurants are shared dishes, this started a friendly chat on what we should get.

Once you submitted your order, a server quickly popped round with their smartphone and confirmed what we wanted and in a few seconds transmitted the order to the kitchen. You could also order more things by going thru the same process again.

Lunch over, we wanted to the cashier and paid via a QR Code using WePay.

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The restaurant didn’t get any of my personal information and I didn’t have to join their channel. They simply vanished off my phone. No special offers, come again soon or anything that might annoy me (as you know I’m easy to annoy). It was a beautiful experience which left me wondering why we don’t have similar here in the US. Or rather, I’m eagerly awaiting WeChat to bring this concept to US restaurants.

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