Ansar Khan (left, with cofounder James O'Leary) is one of the developers of Ambur, an iOS app that wants to cut through the clutter and poor design choices common in too much restaurant software. Ambur is poised to receive an update shortly (pending Apple's approval). We spoke with Khan to learn about a few hurdles Ambur has encountered in its first year: the expanding designs of Square, the demands of paranoid customers, and the fact that waiters typing orders on iPhones simply look like they're ignoring you.
FAST COMPANY: You say your software is "by waiters, for waiters."
ANSAR KHAN: I worked at my family’s restaurant, Kabab and Curry, in Williamsville, New York. I started as a dishwasher at 11, worked my way up to buser, then server, then to a managerial position. I worked there as a server from 2004-2009. My partner James O’Leary worked there as a server, too.
What exactly does Ambur do?
It’s a restaurant management system. It handles everything from taking customers’ orders to modifying tickets as necessary, to handling discounts and gratuities, and processing credit cards. It can also handle inventory management, payroll, and get tip averages.
Would your system work in tandem with something like Square, or are they more of a competitor?
It’s an interesting question. Before the last update, Square was definitely something we could work in tandem with, as opposed to the latest version, which offers some of the basic functionality we offer. At this point Square is advanced enough to be used by a small coffee shop or food truck, but for a full restaurant, there’s not enough features.
How do customers react when they see servers using Ambur on their iPhones or iPod Touches?
A lot of people are delighted. A lot right away recognize the iPod, ask questions about how it works exactly. But a few people have come up and thought that the server was using their iPhone—just on their phone, texting, while taking the order. James got yelled at by a customer. Some people give you that look: "What’s up, buddy, what’s going on there..." But as soon as you explain you’re just taking their order, they calm down right away.
How much does it cost to set up your software?
We charge a flat fee of $999 for the software, to use on as many devices as you want. Most setups also involve an iPad, a cash drawer, two printers, and a credit card reader. So it comes to right around $2,200. That’s a bargain, considering most traditional systems cost anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000.
How many customers do you have?
We launched on the App Store on April 29, 2011, and as of a couple days ago had over 150 customers, most based in the U.S., but we do have a number of international customers, mostly in Australia and the U.K.
You sell a $999 app?
You can download it for free from the App Store. The free version has everything unlocked except the tax rate. It charges a random tax rate, so a Coke might be $2.00 one time, $2.05 the next. If users like it, then they call us and say, "I want to proceed, what do I do?"
What have been some challenges of the first year?
Sometimes the demands people have are pretty amazing. The firs time we said no to a customer was when this one guy wanted Ambur to integrate directly with his video camera and be recording what was going on on his iPad at all times. He also wanted it to text message and email him every time someone opened the cash drawer.
He wanted to turn your app into Big Brother.
Exactly. We said sorry, that’s never gonna happen.
Is he still a customer?
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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