Mrs K's Goes 21st Century

The restaurant feels like an antique, but the staff is high-tech.

By: Cynthia Hacinli, Thomas Head

Along a leafy stretch of Colesville Road on the fringes of Silver Spring, Mrs. K's Toll House Restaurant is known for its period charm--from green lawns complete with gazebo to antiques in the upstairs bedrooms. Diners soaking in the old-fashioned ambience of this "inn in the city" might be surprised to spot servers taking orders with handheld computers.

Using a wireless device and the software program Restaurant Manager, created by the Silver Spring company Action Systems, servers take orders, send them to the kitchen, and add up tabs with just a few clicks.

Say you crave bread pudding. The server writes "BP" on the mini-screen with a stylus, and a list of items with those initials appears. The server highlights the right item and scribbles notes such as "no whipped cream," and within seconds the order is placed.

Just about everything happens faster, according to Mrs. K's manager, Spiro Gioldasis. "We can take orders in less than a minute, and there are no mistakes." He credits the handhelds with enabling the restaurant to get diners in and out for a full meal in 45 minutes, a draw that has increased lunch and pretheater business. Servers can handle more tables, which means more turnover--and more money in tips.

It's also changed the notion of service at the restaurant: Servers now only take orders. Another group, called runners, transports food from the kitchen to the dining room--diners are identified by number, so there's no fumbling to see who gets which plate.

Another time-saver: Servers can take payment with the swipe of a credit card on the handheld.

Mrs. K's Toll House Restaurant: 9201 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 301-589-3500.