High-tech devices put more options on diners’ plates

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Technology is fast becoming a top item on restaurant menus.

They are adding sophisticated systems and high-tech gadgets to enhance customer service and run their businesses more efficiently. The technology ranges from databases full of preferences for frequent customers to hand-held wireless devices used to take orders.

“This is a tough business,” said Alisa Neary, an account executive in Washington for OpenTable Inc., a San Francisco online restaurant-reservation system. “Anything a restaurant can do to enhance their service, the better.”

For example, a frequent customer at Capital Grille in Northwest prefers a particular diet soda that the restaurant does not carry. When he makes a reservation, the staff stocks the drink without being asked. It’s done with OpenTable’s customer database, which allows notes to be attached to a frequent diner’s profile.

“It’s in our best interest to make sure [diners] are taken care of like they are a guest in our home,” said Stephen Fedorchak, regional director of operations for Capital Grille.

The District’s Capital Grille started using OpenTable.comin early 2000.

“It blends efficiency with hospitality,” Mr. Fedorchak said.

OpenTable offers online reservations that hook the guests into the restaurant to make real-time reservations via its Web site, www.opentable.com. The company’s system allows a restaurant to keep a customer database with detailed information about frequent diners, as well as a computerized system to manage its tables.

The OpenTable system is the high-tech version of note cards or slips of paper tucked in a reservation book — the old-fashioned way that restaurants and maitre d’s keep tabs on what their best and frequent customers prefer.

Mr. Fedorchak says the database, which includes phone numbers, e-mail addresses and guest favorites from a tasty red wine to a preferred booth or window-seat table, helps the restaurant serve the customer better.

“The guest never has to tell us something twice,” he said. “The database allows you to recognize [the guest] and additionally customize.”

Oren Molovinsky, general manager at Mie N Yu, agrees.

The 170-seat restaurant in Georgetown, which has been using OpenTable since opening in February, has collected detailed information on 450 to 500 frequent guests. Between 3,000 and 4,000 names and phone numbers of people who have dined there are registered in the system, Mr. Molovinsky said.

The servers are encouraged after a customer leaves to make notes that may help enhance the dining experience next time.

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