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Former waiters James O'Leary and Ansar Khan designed Ambur, an app for restaurants. It's available on the App Store for $999. Photo: Daniel Robison, Innovation Trail
Former waiters James O'Leary and Ansar Khan designed Ambur, an app for restaurants. It's available on the App Store for $999. Photo: Daniel Robison, Innovation Trail

Phone app serves wait staff

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The days of waiters and waitresses scribbling down orders on a small note pad may be coming to an end. Yes, there's now a smart phone app for that. As the Innovation Trail's Daniel Robison reports, it's the work of two former waiters turned digital entrepreneurs.

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This story starts a decade ago, when Tahir Khan fled Pakistan with his family and moved to Buffalo. Shortly after, he opened Kabab and Curry.

“I am the owner, also the manager, also the server, also the buser, I perform all these activities,” says Khan, laughing.

Now it’s a local institution with 65 dishes of authentic Pakistani and Indian food and a devoted clientele.

In 2010, he also had a talented wait staff that knew a thing or two about writing software. Including James O’Leary, who thought the restaurant’s existing computer system interrupted the flow of business and was outdated.

“Restaurant computers are a big touch screen, just like an iPad is a big touch screen,”  O’Leary says.

So he bought an iPad and set about designing an app that would make things more efficient. He teamed up with another server, Ansar Khan, a son of owner Tahir. Together they worked on the app after hours:

“In the restaurant environment, seconds are priceless. So any rough edge in the app that were costing our users any sort of time was important to sand down before we actually launched. Having the experience as a waiter has informed the development process of the app so much.”

Within a few months, every Kabab and Curry server was carrying around and iPad or iPod running their software, which they call Ambur, which roughly means “sky” in Urdu. The app opens with a bird's eye view of a restaurant's table layout.

Food comes out quicker, which increases table turnover. Servers can swipe credit cards with the iPad at the table. For a family restaurant serving traditional dishes, says Ansar Khan, this new way of business has forced an adjustment.

“Some people get a little upset thinking that the servers are using their phone while taking the order, so that’s come up.”

In the meantime, the two former servers have launched a company around their app known as Refulgent Software. Based on how Ambur has worked at Kabab and Curry, the app is marketed as a way to make restaurants more money and eliminate mistakes, O’Leary says.

“They’re hoping they always get the math correct. They’re hoping that they remember what the customer ordered. They have to run that ticket back manually to the chef. There’s a time savings using a computer in a restaurant as opposed to not using one.”

Ambur also remembers each customer. Kabab and Curry uses that list to hone in on their most loyal patrons, which they shower with coupons. Eateries worldwide are noticing. James says more than 140 are now using the app in places as far flung as Japan, Australia, Mexico and India.

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