Happy 2nd birthday, Serve!

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It’s been two years since Serve was first used in a cinema restaurant. Since its first sale of a classic Vanilla ice cream, more than ten million ice creams, burgers, beers, and all sorts of other food and drinks have enriched the cinema experience for countless moviegoers.

Two years on from Serve’s first sale, more than 1000 devices are running Serve, helping 10 cinema chains provide outstanding customer experience in cafes, lounge bars, restaurants, and in-theatre dining.

The Story

We knew for a while that conducting dine-in service with POS on a Windows tablet had its challenges. A dedicated mobile POS wasn't a novel idealots of restaurant systems have been doing itbut it was time that we made one specifically for dine-in cinemas.

Using a standard restaurant mobile ordering system simply will not cut it in a cinema environment. So we set out to make the thing that would. User-led design was crucial to make Serve something that matched exactly what was needed, and something truly unique for the needs of cinemas. We worked closely with staff at Studio Movie Grill on the creation of Serve, bringing the waitstaff that would be using Serve into the development process, and it's a beautiful story, let me tell you.

Actually, my favourite moment from Serve’s development was during some user testing with a Studio Movie Grill staff member. She had never seen or touched Serve before, I left her with it for a moment before giving an introduction, and when I returned, she’d put through an order… to the production kitchen. As soon as she realised what had happened, she got up and ran to tell the kitchen not to prepare it. That really proved how intuitive Serve is!

The Team

Serve’s team wasn’t massive, but it did span the Pacific Ocean. We had an incredibly talented group of developers based in New Zealand, who created Serve at a rate which I still can’t quite believe.

We also had some key players in our LA office, testing, installing, and providing feedback on Serve – keeping us honest when we thought we could cut a corner.

The Solution

Standard restaurant systems aren’t built to work with seat layouts and requirements like those of a cinema. Considering the massive scale of a cinema seat map compared to that of a restaurant, it’s easy to see why a dedicated system like Serve is essential.

As a Vista Cinema product, Serve integrates seamlessly into the Vista ecosystem. Many of the resulting features are something that only Serve can do, like automatically finding Loyalty information associated with seats’ tickets when taking an order. Integration with other Vista systems opens huge doors for the waitstaff using Serve, and by making these connections, from Loyalty to the seat map at its heart, Vista has produced a stand-out handheld F&B point of sale.

The Launch

The first Serve go-live was at a brand-new Studio Movie Grill (SMG) location in Florida, USA. The only plan B was writing orders on pen and paper and running them back to the kitchen. It went off without a hitch! Two years later, SMG is now running Vista, Serve and the guest-facing mobile app at all locations.

"Because a customer sat in a Serve seat, we know what they ate and drank. That gives us a much stronger marketing window into customer behaviour, and we can provide an even better experience in future." Tearlach Hutcheson, Studio Movie Grill

Soon after the launch, more cinemas became interested in Serve. Just as SMG, they were equally fascinated by the opportunity to enhance their guest experience.

The results were quickly noticeable. At CinemaCon, while running between customer meetings, I was approached by one of Serve’s early adopters, and he was delighted that Serve sites were seeing a real uplift in guest spending.

And they aren’t the only ones seeing the uplift. In the United Kingdom, Everyman Cinemas have decided to go ahead, and use Serve at all their locations, as it aligns with their goals of enhancing the guest experience. As Gavin Hughes of Everyman Cinemas said, "Serve has been a key component in our plans to deliver a more personal style of service. Giving our customers additional opportunities to purchase food and drink at their leisure without the need to queue has helped to both improve the guest experience and increase customer spending."

The Evolution

Since its launch, we gradually added more superpowers in Serve that would allow cinemas to provide an even better experience. The latest Vista Cinema 5.08 Release Overview showcases Serve’s rich loyalty integration and split checks, among other exciting updatestwo things that we have wanted to do since the early pre-development days of Serve. I'm stoked that we've finally been able to get these out!

Of course, COVID-19 has driven a stake through our industry and Serve has largely fallen victim too. We had some high-profile deployments which have been temporarily put on ice. But we've also seen some customers who traditionally did a lot of bar service have found new benefits from using Serve, and it has helped them cater to guests in a socially distanced way.

The ability to alleviate crowding at the static points of sale has also enabled us to manage social distancing in the bar areas without compromising the customer journey, a task that would prove challenging without the flexibility that Serve offers.

— Gavin Hughes, Everyman Cinemas.

The Future

We still have a couple of surprises in store for Serve. The only one I’m able to divulge right now is that our customers will soon be able to use vouchers and gift cards as a payment method starting in early 2021. At the same time, we are looking at extending the Vista Cinema mobile POS concept beyond Serve. Our goal is to bring the benefits of Serve to the traditional cinema experience. We can't wait to tell you more about it.


If the story of Serve has you itching to learn more, to share your thoughts on a mobile POS for a traditional cinema, or to make suggestions for our next big thing in Serve, get in contact with your account manager or let us know!


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