UI/UX case study: Designing a waitstaff review app

While there are many ways to rate and review restaurants, these are not focused on evaluating individuals servers. In this exercise I would like to design an experience where diners can submit positive comments and constructive suggestions for the waitstaff, and servers can use this feedback to both improve and help to secure new employment.


— 01. Research

I started working on this project by trying to understand the current state of the industry landscape.

Competitor analysis

As I briefly mentioned at the outset, although there are many platforms designed to rate and review restaurants, these platforms are not focused on evaluating individual servers. As a result, there are no direct competitors to a product like the one I am going to design in this exercise. In support of these observations, I researched apps and sites that allowed people to rate the dining service itself or the person that provided the service.

Yelp

Yelp focuses on enabling people to write long reviews (as well as short tips) to small businesses; however there is no way to review waitstaff other than in a general comment. People use Yelp to read reviews but rarely write reviews themselves.

Google

People mostly search for restaurants on Google Search or Google Maps, neither of which allow users to review waitstaff separately. The review flow is pretty basic; it consists of submitting rating by stars, pictures, and comments.

OpenTable

OpenTable is primarily designed and used to make online reservations. The app does not let you review a restaurant unless you have made a reservation through them. More and more people use OpenTable because of it’s booking functionality.

Zomato

Zomato shows the review section above the fold in several spots. That said, the flow is pretty straight-forward and there is no way to review waitstaff separately.

Foursquare

Foursquare offers suggestions of the most highly rated places and shows you short user tip. Each of the three steps in the review flow is optional.

User interviews

My exploration of the industry landscape informed the list of questions I developed for my interviews with users.

In order to get into the appropriate mindset as well as to understand the user needs, I interviewed some of my friends who dine out regularly as well as those who work or have worked at a restaurant. I also wanted to interview a food service manager for a complete picture from the restaurant’s side.


Diners

“I go to restaurants mostly for dinner 3–4 times a week. I don’t really rate restaurants because, in my opinion, it takes too much time to write a review. I am more likely to review the negative experience to punish, take action, and warn other people. I mostly use Zagat and Michelin because they show expert ratings. Yelp looks a bit outdated to me, the photos on it are poor quality, and I do not trust it’s reviews as they were written by random people as well as they can be paid reviews. I would prefer to review anonymously because I don’t want to reveal my geo location or any other information. I might give a review to a server but doubt I’d look through other people’s server ratings that much.”
Karina, 32 — Journalist
“I usually eat out about once a week. A delicious compliment would more likely make me review my lunch or dinner. I have written ‘Thank you’ on a check a couple times, food and service are undoubtedly the most important parts of the dinner. I would never eat at a restaurant with an average 3-star review. I have seen some Michelin 1-star restaurants rated below 4 on Yelp (people might downrate a restaurant just because it is expensive). I care about service and not sure I would spend time on checking the server reviews.”
Alex, 35 — Manager

Takeaways

  • The most important parts of the dining experience are the Food (70%), Service (15%), Ambiance (15%), and Value (sometimes it is not worth it)
  • As for the servers, diners expect to see in them product knowledge, politeness, unobtrusiveness, etiquette, attentiveness, and cleanliness
  • Diners do not review often. While they might be willing to review servers, many diners are not convinced that seeing other peoples’ server reviews would be helpful
  • The best time to ask a diner to review is “when they bring the check”, “on my way back from a restaurant”, or “a day after I went to a restaurant”

Servers

“Sometimes we bring pen and paper for the users to review us. We consider tips to be an indirect way to say thank you. Now we share the tips equally and it would be great to be evaluated separately to see who works better. When I want to get a job at a restaurant I am willing to work for free as a trial. It’d be cool to send them a link to my resume with feedback from my previous diners.”
Taisia, 28 — Server for 5 years
“When people want to express gratitude they write on a check, they draw hearts or say “Thank you”! I have read about me in the restaurant reviews. It would be awesome to be able to read detailed feedback from the customers, sometime you just don’t know why they tipped you poorly.”
Alexander, 26 — Server for 7 years

Takeaways

  • Direct diner feedback is helpful because sometimes it is difficult for servers to tell if people enjoyed their service or not
  • Politeness is the key — even if a diner is not happy, servers they should remain polite, constructive, and willing to solve a problem
  • Having access to the diner reviews would be useful as means to help servers develop professionally

Managers

“A knowledgeable staff is an essential element of every successful restaurant. Of course the servers have to show up on time and be a team player, and have to be polite. A server is the salesman same as the car dealership staff so I train my staff to increase the average check, overall sales, and ultimately their tips. I use Instawork, Indeed, Craigslist, and sometimes my fellow managers to find servers; I’d love to be able to use one app for both seeing the diner reviews and for recruiting. In the job interviews I pay attention to their resume, how they answer questions, and if they are proactive. Usually I set a two to three hour test period for the servers to work with diners to let them show themselves in action.
It is odd but usually people remember the name of the waiter when their experience was good and they do not when it was bad.”
Alex, 33 — Food Service Manager

Takeaways

  • “I would love to have access to the reviews the diners left to a server instead of calling to his previous manager when I am recruiting”
  • Reading the diner reviews of the servers would be super helpful to see what is good and what is bad

— 02. Defining the problem

After analyzing the interview data I was able to define most of the user problems.

Diners

  • Most diners think writing reviews is time-consuming and not-helpful
  • Diners doubt they would spend time on reading other people’s reviews on the waitstaff

Servers

  • There is no app that explicitly collects diner feedback on their service
  • There is no way to share diner reviews in a job interview other than as a stack of checks or napkins

Managers

  • It is impossible to access the server’s previous diner feedback
  • It is hard to learn what diners think of the servers

— 03. Plan

Now, after interviewing various users and identifying the users needs, I am ready for a plan. In the image below you can see where the product is, I’ve combined servers and managers as one group to simplify the MVP, however, in the future the app can have a separate version for each of the three user groups.

  • I will be designing an app that will be useful for several user groups. Consequently, it will have several versions (i.e. business, server, and customer)
  • The app will have insights for the managers and servers based on the diner feedback
  • The product will have a web version and a potential integration with a table tablet

— 04. Exploration

Initially, I was torn between a table tablet (such as Square), web, and a mobile app. With a tablet device people would be able to review a server after they paid. However, restaurants prefer traditional paper checks to the tablet devices, and using a tablet would not solve all of the user needs because user behave differently when it comes to interacting with someone else’s device at a public place. After taking all of this into account, I ultimately decided to design for the mobile client and web.


Personas

In order to better understand the product and the user needs, I identified the personas.

Mike, 29 — Business owner/Manager
Mike is a small business owner and the manager at his restaurant. He’s the father of a small kid and wants to open an Italian food chain together with his wife in the near future.

Sam, 24 — Server
Sam is a college student and a server at Mike’s restaurant. Sam has been a server for quite some time already. He likes his job and the restaurant he works at.

Diane, 32 — Diner
Diane is a foodie — she really likes to eat out regularly, and she does it every other day. Her favorite cuisine is Italian, which is why she likes to check out new Italian places.


User needs

Managers

  • Receive diner feedback
  • Recruit talent

Servers

  • Get diner feedback
  • Secure new jobs
  • Get recognition

Diners

  • Complain
  • Express gratitude
  • Get better service

User journey

Based on the research and user needs here is how I would approach the user flows for each user group.

Managers (Business owners)

Mike hires Sam and adds him as a server in the business version of the mobile app. Sam confirms by clicking the link in the email he received from the app and finishes the creation of his account by adding more info about himself. Sam is serving Diane’s dinner and after she has reviewed her experience, both Sam and Mike receive either a push notification or an email (or both) with Diane’s review.

Servers

Sam has gotten a job at Mike’s Italian place. It is his first day at work, he’s been working all day and now he’s got a new client named Diane. He welcomes Diane after she is seated, he serves her dinner, and after she is done she requests the check. Sam brings the folder with the check, a warm compliment, and the QR-code card to Diane. She puts her credit card in the folder and uses her iPhone camera to scan the QR code to review the dinner as well as Sam. The code opens a web page or a mobile app (if it’s already installed) with a few questions about the dining experience. Sam takes the folder back and charges Diane’s credit card while Diane continues to rate her experience. After the payment has been processed, Sam brings back Diane’s credit card and the check to sign. She signs, thanks, and leaves. Sam receives an email with Diane’s review and the mobile app promo.

Diners

Diane is looking for a restaurant and finds the one she is curious about. She arrives at the restaurant at the appointed time, wherein the hostess greets her. In a few minutes, Diane is seated and welcomed by her waiter, Sam. Sam is taking Diane’s order and serves her dinner. After the dinner, Diane asks for the check, Sam brings the folder with the check, a polite compliment, and a card with a QR-code asking Diane to rate her experience. Diane puts her credit card into the folder, appreciates the compliment, notices the QR card, and reads it. While Diane is waiting for Alex to pick up the folder with the check and return later with her credit card, she has time to review her dining experience. She scans the QR code with her iPhone, it opens the app or a web version of the “Rate Me” page (if the app is not installed) where Diane reviews the food and service. Sam takes the folder with the check and the credit card and brings it back to Diane after he is done. Diane says “Thank you”, takes her card, and leaves the restaurant.


Wireframes

Managers (Business owners)

In the business version of the app, a manager taps ‘People’ in the hamburger menu on the left, clicks ‘Add an employee’, then he selects ‘Server’ as the employee type, and enters waiter’s first/last name as well as their email address. Waiter’s info appears on the restaurant page among other servers without a photo (Note: I didn’t want to burden the manager with adding server’s photos as it might be time-consuming, and it would also be better for the server to use their favorite photo rather than a random one). The app sends an email to the server asking them to confirm the invite and to add more information about them. Once they’re done, the app notifies the manager by sending a push notification.

The app sends a push notification (notification consent required) and an email (in case someone doesn’t have or use the mobile app) to both the manager and the server every time there is a new diner review.

Servers

Once the server clicks “Confirm” in the email he received from the app, it creates his account and adds him to the corresponding restaurant. In the server’s version of the app, a server adds more information to his page (including the profile picture and a short description). This profile stays with them while they work at a restaurant and for as long as they want. The system will recognize a server by their email in the future when they’re added to a new workplace. It will also automatically remove him from the previous restaurant if the manager had not already done so.

The app sends a push notification (notification consent required) to both the manager and the server every time a diner posts a new review.

Diners

The diner’s experience varies based on whether they have the mobile app installed or not. If they do not, I recommend opening a web page with the rate and review info as well as a banner promoting the app.

For this exercise, I would like to focus on the user experience in the mobile app.

In order to review a place within the app a diner clicks on the colorful button with ‘+’ in it (or goes directly to the restaurant page). They then either search for a place by entering its name or select it from the list (filtered by location). At first, I wanted to use 3 separate ratings — food, service, and ambiance — but after experiencing the flow and keeping in mind the insights from my interviews, I decided not to overwhelm the user with too much action.

A diner can also rate and review using a QR-code from the card their servers hand them together with the check. In this case, they would rate and review on the web (if they don’t have the app installed).

I have also tried to whiteboard a possible experience in a tablet device.


— 05. Proposed solution

Given all of the information, I decided to proceed with two ratings: the overall restaurant rating and the waitstaff rating. Below is the future user experience.

Clickable prototype is here


— 06. User testing

Once I locked down the polished version I wanted real users to play with the prototype and tell me their thoughts. I asked my friends to complete a couple of tasks, including posting a review. All 4 of my friends tapped the + button in the bottom nav bar right away. Diners did not want to write a detailed review; instead, they were only interested in tapping the stars and the buttons.


— 07. Introducing Bravo!

After receiving the user-testing results I decided to slightly change the experience. In the review section I have swapped the text input for the “Write a review” link along with adding some context tag buttons to make it easier for the users to share feedback. The final app designs are below.

Clickable prototype is here

Android version

— 08. Questions and ideas

First, I wonder if people are willing to install a new app just to be able to review servers and read other people’s opinions of them. Most of the interview participants admitted they would not install a restaurant rating app just because it has server reviews in it. That is why it is a good idea to explore if this functionality can be incorporated into an existing app such as Zagat, Yelp or Google, as opposed to creating a standalone app.

Questions and potential ideas to consider

  1. Would it be a good idea for the servers to be able to respond to the reviews (e.g. they way app developers can respond to the reviews on App Stores)?
  2. What if the servers were able to review the diners in return, similar to how it happens on Uber? It might be a nice conversion point
  3. An experience like this could be extended to rating/reviewing hairstylists, masseurs, and cleaners etc.
  4. In the future, diners could be able to select several people among the waitstaff to review, such as a hostess, servers, barmen etc.

Overall, I found this to be a fun and meaningful learning experience. Thank you!


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