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Winter 2011 Do You Want Carrots With That?

An innovative self-service kiosk helps diners make healthy eating choices.

A new healthcare technology company is helping consumers make healthy eating easier. Usable Health, the culmination of three years of research and IT development at Georgia Tech, is headed by Jiten Chhabra, a physician with a master’s degree in human computer interaction, and Chad Bonner, a healthcare business and consulting professional.

The company, which was recently profiled on CNN, offers self-service kiosks at restaurants as well as an online tool at usablehealth.com that helps match consumers to healthier meals.

Currently Usable Health kiosks are located at Tin Drum, an Atlanta-based quick service restaurant, and a fast casual chain called Fresh to Order. The company is looking to break into other restaurants and major chains in the near future.

Healthier choices at a touch

Usable Health takes ordering a meal at a kiosk a step further by recommending food based on the customer’s specific health concerns. “It can be as simple as choosing a health goal right away or you can fill out more information by creating a profile,” Bonner says.

At the Usable Health website, a customer can create a profile that includes height, weight, health goals and activity level information. This option isn’t available directly from the kiosk at the moment, but users who have already created a profile can log in at a Usable Health kiosk to get more personalized recommendations when they’re dining out. Consumers can opt in to receive emails from Usable Health, but private information is not shared.

If a customer does not have a profile, he or she selects a health goal: manage diabetes, lose weight, stay healthy, build muscle or manage blood pressure. The kiosk then provides menu selections from that specific restaurant based on those goals and provides nutritional information for each dish. The user can compare items to see how many calories or grams of fat could be saved by choosing one meal over another.

Once a person selects a meal, he or she can pay right at the kiosk. The order is then sent to the kitchen and processed.

Those who do not live in an area with a Usable Health kiosk can use its free online tool to get recommendations for healthy meals and compare items at many popular chains like Panera Bread, Starbucks and Subway. Even make-at-home dishes can work. The tool displays specific recipes with cooking instructions for the non-restaurant meals, making it easy for the user to stick to the nutrition guidelines recommended for them.

Benefits of the system

Beginning this spring, most restaurant chains will be required by the Food and Drug Administration to disclose nutritional information at the point of sale. According to Bonner, this requirement is one of the biggest incentives for restaurants to adopt services like Usable Health.

In addition to the regulatory benefits, self-service kiosks can cut down on wait times. “The kiosk really improves the efficiency of orders for dine-in or takeout and can handle more volume. Long lines often turn away potential customers, so having a second line at the kiosk can really be helpful in ‚Ä®moving traffic,” Bonner says.

He adds that about 150 orders are placed at Tin Drum every day and that its customers have been requesting even more personalization. “People really enjoy being able to have personalized service that you often can’t get from a cashier,” he says. And Usable Health is developing the capacity to include less common issues such as Crohn’s disease, allergies, and more.

As for the potential to offer Usable Health kiosks at sit-down restaurants, Bonner says the company’s vision includes having a digital menu at the table. The kiosk would not replace a server, but serve as a sort of nutritional advisor to assist in the ordering process.

For more information, please visit www.usablehealth.com.


Kristin Larson Contino

Kristin Contino is a freelance writer and copy editor based in Philadelphia. She writes for a variety of print publications and blogs, and also covers women's fiction for examiner.com.

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