Needs Analysis



Introduction Introduction

Watching groups trying to pay at restaurants is always interesting—some groups split the bill evenly, some pay by dish, and some owe each other confusing amounts of money. Some groups use credit/debit cards and asking the waitstaff to solve the problem, an often annoying request. We are interested in designing a better system for payment systems. The end goal is to make payment easier for customers, by providing an interface to easily split bills for big groups, calculating tips and so forth.


Information gathered and explanation of process Information and explanation


Interviewing Users, Process Overview

We interviewed customers and waiters as well as sat down in a restaurant and observed the payment behaviors of both the customers and waiters. Before we interviewed our users, we had several conceptions of the restaurant experience based on our own experiences. By interviewing with our uses, we confirmed some of our conceptions, realized some misconceptions, and learned some new things we hadn’t previously considered.

First, we realized that even among the class of sit-down dinner serving restaurants, there are many different flavors that considerably change the reason why many people go there. There are independently-owned restaurants that have a rather outdated but accepted paying structure in place, as well as chain restaurants that have a structured training process and already use sales software such as Micros. There are high-end restaurants where customers dress up and use cloth napkins, and low-end restaurants, where customers mainly just are looking for a bite to eat. One thing we confirmed is that in all restaurants, the bill is presented as if it were a secret, either on a folded piece of paper or in a leather-bound black folder. Also, in most restaurants, all wait staff have a period of training, in which they become familiarized with both the dishes and the paying software (Micros); however, even after this period, they will often help each other, both peering on the same screen and pressing buttons.

In interviewing customers directly, we also gained some insight on the motivations for the paying methods at meals. For example, friends who frequently eat together do not nitpick over bill paying, and will commonly just split the bill evenly; more formal meals, however, are either split by dish or paid completely by one person.  Different customers also  tend to eat at different restaurants (unsurprisingly); at pizza kitchens, you find primarily family and close friends, whereas in Cambridge, you find more formal dates, interviews, etc, where people actually take the time to calculate how much they owe (sometimes rather painstakingly).

Interviewing Users, in detail

To begin gathering information about our problem and our users, we began by working to clarify exactly who our user groups would be.  We began with the idea that we would target full service restaurants in which meals are paid for through interaction with a waiter/waitress rather than handled at a checkout counter, although that left the problem too open.  We argued about reducing the user group to just customers or just waitstaff but ultimately we agreed that we should gather information about both customers and waitstaff before narrowing down our options.  We decided that it would be best to conduct interviews in groups of two when possible, as it is easier to record observations with an assistant while breaking up our group helps to prevent overwhelming the subjects with our numbers.  Because we decided not to reduce the size of our user group, we wanted to target diverse users ranging from college students to families to businessmen in a diverse range of eating situations - eating with family, eating with friends, eating with romantic dates and eating with business associates.

Due to the availability of college students to interact with, we headed over to Babson to try to interview a few college students about their payment interactions when dining at full service restaurants.  These interviews were informal in nature as we inquired into common reasons the students chose to dine out, most used and preferred payment methods when dining out, and especially how bills were handled when dining with others.  We found that these users most often ate out as a social experience with friends and rarely went out alone.  This meant that they were commonly faced with the problem of paying bills which were split between multiple people.  We found that among close friends, bills were sometimes paid for completely by one person with the understanding that other friends would cover the bill the next time the group went out.  The other common strategy for dining with close friends and when dining with friends who were not quite as close, billmonk was a common choice to deal with bill splitting, requiring one person to pay the full bill and record debts owed amongst the others in the group online.  The third strategy employed was to assure that everyone dining came with plenty of cash to cover their portion of the bill, both inconvenient and often requiring tricky math and breaking of larger bills.  While these interviews did not take place at the location of the interaction, we nonetheless found these interviews to be quite useful.

While our target user group is not necessarily bars, we made a trip to a bar/pub in a nearby college town to observe users in action.  We had not planned on visiting this specific location, however we noticed that this was a very popular location and would afford us lots of contact with users.  The bar we went to is a sit-down style bar/pub that offers a fairly complete meal menu while primarily focusing on drinks.  The bar caters primarily to students and staff/faculty of the nearby university and its convenient location to these users means that a majority of their customers attend with friends or colleagues.  We seated ourselves at a centrally located table, ordered a few drinks so as to not draw the ire of the waitstaff and proceeded to record our observations of other users.  We did not interview or interact with the users, but rather closely observed waitstaff-user interactions, especially regarding bill payment.  We found that at this location more than others interaction with waitstaff was quick and to the point, with few words said.  The waitstaff would drop a folded check at the table with no words said, pick up the check and only ask "do you need change," and then thank the customers when the transaction was finished.  The patrons often sat and waited for a fair deal of time after paying their checks - they did not seem to be in a hurry, which we assumed was partially because we attended at an off hour.

A few days later, we went to a nearby mid level chain restaurant and spent 3 or so hours there.  We came in at around 4:00PM to ensure that we were able to talk with waiters during a non-busy hour.  Upon arriving, we explained to the hostess that we were interested in observing other patrons and interviewing the waitstaff and we were very well received.  We sat in a booth with a good view of the entire restaurant so that we could observe all the patrons.  The hostess explained our purpose to the waiter before he came over.  After he put our drink order through he was very eager to talk to us about all of the workings of the restaurant.  At this particular restaurant, approximately 70% of the dinner crowd is families and most of the dinner patrons pay with credit.  During the lunch hour, it is more common for groups of friends or business people on lunch break to stop in and these customers typically pay with cash.  The night customers are far less likely to ask the waiter to split the bill, but even the lunch customers typically split bills themselves as they are paying in cash.  The waiter explained that he rarely was asked to split checks but that it wasn’t something that he struggled with when customers did request that he split their checks.  Observing the other patrons on the restaurant, many of them were older groups of friends or families eating together and in both cases very few of the bills we saw paid were split.

We interviewed an additional waiter who works at a restaurant in Needham center.  While our interview with this waiter was somewhat more brief, he was very insightful into how restaurants' electronic billing systems work.  Apparently, the software system used by the restaurant he works for is very commonly used among similar restaurants.  While he said that he did not often get requests to split the bill on his side, when he did have to split bills it was extremely difficult.  He recalled a story of a time when a group of four people each ordered one entree each but ordered three appetizers between them.  Splitting one dish to each person and then splitting the three dishes between the four was extremely difficult for him to accomplish quickly.  He also commented that the system was difficult to learn and even after completing training he required assistance for his first few weeks on the job.

We relied on participant observation a number of other times, dining in restaurants as a group and with friends.  We employed a number of strategies for paying our checks, in all cases we chose to handle the bills ourselves rather than try to have the server split them for us.  In one case, we had one person pay for the entire bill by credit card and then mentally divided the cost between the other members who then immediately reimbursed the credit card owner with cash.  In other cases, Billmonk, an internet service which makes tracking debt between people easier, was used to ensure that the costs would go to the correct members.  We thought it was telling that in no case did we even consider asking the servers to split the bill before we began discussing who would take the bill on their credit card or how we were going to split cash.



Process for synthesis

After gathering information as detailed above, we sat down and decided how to best synthesize the data.  We decided that the most important information we hoped to get out of our user data was what prompted different people to eat at these type of restaurants and how their motivation dictated they handle their bill.  To accomplish this, we began by creating spectrums portraying the space different ideas covered.  We created these by quickly making sticky notes to capture ideas that came to mind when thinking about the idea space.  We started with the restaurant idea space, brainstorming types of restaurants and nearby restaurants that we thought could fit into those different types.  We chose to do this to help us better understand the type of restaurants we want to target for users. 

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Types of restaurants

We then moved on to reasons people go to restaurants.  We decided that our ideas fit into three main clusters, business, social, and Convenience, which are shown as pink stickies on our spectrum.  These are the primary motivations our subjects had for eating at restaurants and are ideas that we want to make sure show in our personas. 

Reasons to go out

Next, we brainstormed reasons that people might choose one restaurant over the other or that might influence their experience at the restaurant.  We set up or space to have an x axis from customer considerations to waitstaff considerations and the ideas fall somewhere along the axis based on how they pertain to each group. 

Characterizations of users

Finally, we brainstormed different types of restaurant customers - in this case each team member took one color of sticky note so the colors as they appear do not have any significance.  From this spectrum, we decided to create detailed personas for a business person, Wal-Mart mom, tourist, waiter, college student, and single person living alone.

User types

To create our personas, we began in a similar fashion, with each of us throwing out ideas about the persona and then coming to a consensus as to how this person would act.  We tried to keep in mind the idea spaces we just explored and tried to focus on explaining how these personas would choose restaurants and pay for meals at the restaurants.  We tore through multiple nearby magazines to find pictures that we thought might fit with the image we had created for each persona and used more sticky notes to add important text information regarding the persona.


Tom the businessman: A 45 year old who is a health-conscious food connoisseur. He goes to restaurants mainly for business reasons, which means he values quality of the experience and will often have lunch at restaurants. As a CEO of an investment banking firm, money is not a big issue; often, he will pay for the entire meal, and will probably follow a predetermined etiquette.  He is married and has two children, both of whom are in college.

Joe the college student: Joe is a junior at Boston University who works at a fast food restaurant and an affinity toward junk food. He enjoys going out with friends to restaurant because the college cafeteria food is gross. He stays up at odd hours and needs food at 2am to keep him going. His primary goal when eating out is nourishment; however, social relaxation and impressing the opposite gender is also important to him. Because he doesn't often carry cash, he likes to pay with his credit card wherever possible. When eating with his friends, he tends to split the bill evenly; when eating with lesser-known acquaintances, he tends to split the bill by dish..

Maria the Wal-mart mom: Maria is a hispanic mother, married and busy with 3 little kids. She works as a kindergarten teacher in a not-well-to-do neighborhood. Because she's required to cook so much, she enjoys a night out every once in a while, but as she is living on a tight budget, she chooses cheap, kid-friendly restaurants, and is often accompanied by a coupon. Also, she is very health-concious about her food.

Jacqueline the traveller: Jacqueline enjoys visiting various cities and try out different dishes. She has an active social life and loves to travel with friends. She may often be seen at restaurants overloaded with souvenir bags, and is accustomed to asking waiters for help when dealing with foreign etiquette.

Liz the new-grad employee: Liz is a a 26 year old tech-savvy human resources employee who is currently dating Jake, her exercise instructor. She is very image-conscious and is on a diet. She loves to try new restaurants and, as she does not yet have a family, has discretionary income. As an HR employee, she often conducts interviews and meets people in restaurants, with her meals being reimbursed by her company.


paying: the act of paying for a meal. This can be done via cash, credit card, debit card, IOUs. We are only referring to the process that takes place in a restaurant, not at the reimbursements that happen afterwords, although we will take those situations in account in our design.

splitting the bill: the act of deciding who pays what in a party of more than 2, and in the case that no one person pays for the whole meal. Can be done evenly, or by dish, or by other creative methods.

tech willing: characterized by willingness to deal with completely new technical interfaces. Not exactly necessarily tech savvy, but willing to take 20 minutes or so to use any rather important interface, or 5 minutes of hearing someone else explain it

eating with friends: going out with people you see on a fairly daily bases, and whom you will probably go out with again in the near feature. We are not including friends with strings, ie business associates or formal dates, nor unfamiliar friends, ie people at a new school whom you find agreeable.

waitstaff: people explicitly in charge of giving and collecting the bill in a restaurant. not including cooks, food runners, bussers, etc

efficiency: treating the dining experience very practically and not using it as a way to relax. ie, a businessman may wish to enjoy a good meal with his colleagues, but he doesn't want to spend 20 minutes or so waiting for the bill if he has a family to go home to, so he desires an efficient dining experience. this also applies for college students who have homework or moms with rowdy children

high class (with reference to restaurants): trying to provide a high-class experience, possibly characterized by
     - providing cloth napkins
     - most of the customers dress up
     - a dark and moody atmosphere
     - a rather expensive menu
     - small portions, served cleanly

low class (with reference to restaurants): trying to provide an efficient experience, possibly characterized by
     - paper napkins
     - small, not very clean dining space
     - well-lit
     - cheap dishes, large portions
     - you don't have to be quiet

convenience (as a reason to eat): going to a restaurant not for its particular menu, but because it is close, open, cheap, etc.

social (as a reason to eat): going to a restaurant with people you care about, ie close family and friends. Also, going for a personal celebration, ie an anniversary, birthday, or a social event, ie prom

business (as a reason to eat): going to a restaurant with an ulterior motive, such as networking, discussing deals, conducting interviews, etc.

chain (with reference to restaurants): a restaurant with more than one location, owned by those who do not manage the stores, and with the budget, standards, and in-place system to train employees, have standardized menus, and provide standardized software.

independent (with reference to restaurants): a restaurant that is privately owned, whose owner probably also works at the restaurant, and whose main concern is to provide a different experience.

BillMonk: an online program that facilitates splitting the bill among friends.

Micros: a software program used by many restaurants to control their sales, often interacted with by the wait staff.


List of team members and work.Teamwork

Benjamin Salinas (25%)

(Away) Did 2nd edit for everything, adding content where necessary
Chujiao Ma (25%) Brief summary of problem, made personas more presentable, took pictures of personas, and made the website.
William Yarak (25%) Information about the process used to learn about user needs

Yifan Sun (25%)

brief summary of what learned, lexicon, loaded pictures, gliffy-ed post-its