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Subway Order Taker

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This essay does not describe an existing computer program, just one that should exist. This essay is about a suggested student project in Java programming. This essay gives a rough overview of how it might work. I have no source, object, specifications, file layouts or anything else useful to implementing this project. Everything I have prepared to help you is right here.

This project outline is not like the artificial, tidy little problems you are spoon-fed in school, when all the facts you need are included, nothing extraneous is mentioned, the answer is fully specified, along with hints to nudge you toward a single expected canonical solution. This project is much more like the real world of messy problems where it is up to you to fully the define the end point, or a series of ever more difficult versions of this project and research the information yourself to solve them.

Everything I have to say to help you with this project is written below. I am not prepared to help you implement it; or give you any additional materials. I have too many other projects of my own.

Though I am a programmer by profession, I don’t do people’s homework for them. That just robs them of an education.

You have my full permission to implement this project in any way you please and to keep all the profits from your endeavour.

Please do not email me about this project without reading the disclaimer above.

Subway is a successful chain of sandwich shops. They have more outlets that McDonalds. You go in and they ask you dozens of questions about the sandwich you would like and they custom build it to your specifications. You have to choose between about 6 types of bread. You must choose a combination from about 16 different kinds of meats and cheeses. You have to choose a selection from about 15 types of salad vegetables. Then you get to choose from half a dozen sauces and dressings and finally decide if you want salt and/or pepper.

This process is quite slow and frustrating for both staff and customer since the staff usually speak English as a second language and the shop is noisy. I would guess it takes more time to get the sandwich described than it does to create it. This results in irritating lineups for the customers.

My idea is to put a couple of terminals at the entrance to the shop to let customers optionally describe their own sandwiches. Possibly a staff person with a good command of English could stand at the entrance of the shop and take orders on a tablet computer, or assist people to use tablet computers he lends them. The orders are summarised and displayed at the appropriate time at the appropriate sandwich-making work station.



Your order taker program is pretty simple. It just asks the same multiple choice questions a staff person would. It might optionally show pictures of the ingredients for people who have trouble with English or tell you a bit more about them — calories, sodium etc.

Get as many friends and relatives to test your program as you can. Don’t give them any instruction. Watch them to see where they hesitate, become confused, frustrated, or make errors. Any problem is your program’s fault You can’t very well fire your customers, no matter how incompetent they are.

The computer programming is not the problem. The problem is selling the program to Subway and getting them to install it in every outlet. You must not just show proof of concept. Otherwise they will just steal your idea and implement it in house. You need a fully polished product, ready to go. This requires not that big a gamble with a stupendous payoff. You might find a franchisee willing to test your product, but then again his franchise agreement may not permit that. Even so, he might be able to help you get a foot in the door at Subway HQ.

Selling the System

It is almost impossible to sell a computer program just with a description of it. It is also almost impossible to even write a spec for such a program without having a prototype no matter how crazily different just to give them something to say — I want that, but I want this different. Management won’t talk or get interested until they see the screen flash.

They are not about to put the balls of the Subway corporation in your grubby little hands. They will want the full source and the right to install it wherever they please. They may want to hire you as a consultant, but they will definitely want their own people taking charge of future development. A smaller chain might want you to do a turnkey, but surely not Subway.

If you can find some competitor to Subway, see if you can frighten each into buying it exclusively just to keep it out of the hands of the competitor.

I would go into a shop and offer anyone there $50.00 CAD to tell you everything there is to know about making sandwiches. Staff will know far more about how the shop works than the execs ever will. Ask them how to sell and who to sell to. You just have to find one person in one franchise to try the idea for a week or two. Do this first before you do any programming. You need to find out early about show stoppers.

For a prototype, you can run everything on a laptop, single user.

To demonstrate the system, with minimal risk and interruption, with permission, you could just sit outside the shop and take orders, or help customers select their own order from the computer menu with a mouse. You could get fancy and drag food ingredients around to get some visual interest. The order is printed on a piece of paper that the customer then takes into the store and hands to the clerk. You do this to demonstrate a few things: Customers may ignore you if they choose and buy their sandwich the traditional way.

The drive-in is reaping a nostalgia benefit. You could use something like this to take orders from a touch pad you operate from the car, or from your Android cellphone. You could even do the Subway thing as a cellphone app. You could even pay for the sandwich and pick it up when it was ready, saving the customer wait time. The sandwich would be ready to go, bypassing the line. Cellphones are sexy right now. Execs might bite just for than reason alone. If Subway will not bite, you could do a generic turnkey pizza ordering system that used cellphone or even a desk phone (but that would be ordering blind).

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