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Columns

Order up, the wireless way

New devices help waiters keep focus on customers at Arigato Steakhouses.

By MARK ALBRIGHT
Published April 11, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Willie J. Allen Jr.]
With the Micros Pocket PC in hand, Septi Milton takes an order at Arigato Japanese Steak House restaurant in St. Petersburg on Monday night.

The servers at Arigato Japanese Steakhouses spend less time schlepping drink and food orders to and from the bar and the kitchen.

That's because they're armed with holstered, wireless computers that telegraph orders that are delivered by runners dispatched from the bar or kitchen. At meal's end, the device swipes credit cards tableside.

Arigato is among the first full-service restaurants in the Tampa Bay area to switch to a new choreography transforming big-room food service.

"It took a lot of training, but it frees our servers to spend far more time in the dining room tending to customers," said Danielle Del Bello, vice president of marketing for the family-owned restaurant company with stores in St. Petersburg and Clearwater and plans to reopen a fire-damaged location in Tampa this summer.

Similar devices are old hat at car rental agencies. In Europe, where settling up with a waiter tableside is an established tradition, many restaurants turned to wireless registers years ago.

The devices aren't cheap, so adoption has been slow here. The Don CeSar Resort in St. Pete Beach also uses them, and the Hooters and Ruby Tuesday chains are testing them in other states.

"But restaurateurs are accustomed to technology now," said Joe Pawlak, vice president of Technomic, a Chicago research firm.

Prices are dropping. Portables can enhance profit by speeding table turnover. The new selling point: identify theft protection because a credit card never leaves a patron's hand.

The leap of faith? Restaurants must use passwords, encryption and firewalls to stop parking lot hackers from plucking card numbers in midair from a laptop.

- - -

Target Corp. has been tentative about flooding Florida with supercenters that combine a discount store with a grocery store.

Citigroup analysts say that will change now that the Minneapolis retailer is building its first perishables warehouse in Lake City.

Target uses a wholesaler to supply 27 supercenters in Georgia and Florida with fresh produce and chilled or frozen foods. Its own warehouse, however, could support more than 100 in the Southeast once it opens in 2008.

Rival grocers are casting a wary eye at Target, which is doubling its three superstores in the Tampa Bay area to six. That's far behind Wal-Mart, the market's No. 2 grocer with 21 percent of the area food market from 16 supercenters, according to Trade Dimensions Market Scope.

But it's enough to double Target's share to 4 percent.

The warehouse also helps Target expand a food offering that's grown to 20 percent of sales in its conventional stores that already sport frozen food aisles.

- - -

Need more evidence fashion retailers think the taste level on Florida's West Coast has matured beyond shorts and T-shirts?

Nordstrom, which stepped into the market six years ago in Tampa, is close to a store deal at an enclosed mall proposed at Interstate 75 and University Parkway in Sarasota.

The upscale apparel retailer, which opens in Naples next year, would be part of University Town Center, a 276-acre mixed-use project slated to open in 2009.

"We're right on schedule," said Shawn Benderson, director of leasing for the 900,000-square-foot-mall in Sarasota that ultimately will be flanked by 1-million square feet of retail, a 500-room hotel and 1,700 residential units.

Meanwhile, Taubman Centers Inc., which runs International Plaza in Tampa, is negotiating for an upscale, two-story, home decor/housewares store on 4.1 vacant acres by the parking entrance at Boy Scout and West Shore boulevards.

Nobody's talking. But word is the tenants are the region's first Crate & Barrel and a financial services company.

Taubman courted Crate & Barrel before International Plaza was built.

"We've looked at the Tampa area for some time," said Crate & Barrel spokeswoman Vicki Lang.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or 727 893-8252.

[Last modified April 10, 2007, 22:42:16]


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