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Delivery and takeout order service GrubHub is testing its OrderHub service  in more than 400 restaurants in Chicago. I’ve complimented GrubHub before for adapting to how restaurants do business — by sending orders to them by fax. Now it’s helping some of its higher volume restaurants in Chicago automate the process with OrderHub, a tablet that alerts restaurants to new orders and allows them to confirm the order.

I visited GrubHub’s Chicago headquarters last week and the device I saw being used was the re-branded Kindle Fire pictured above.

The company says it has tested a variety of tablets, but using the Kindle Fire for small businesses is a great idea: It’s cheap and portable. GrubHub provides the tablets to restaurants at no cost, eliminating a key barrier in adopting new technologies. The company says that its surveys have shown that 80-92% of restaurants already have Internet access, eliminating another potential barrier. (GrubHub makes its money by taking a percentage of each order — typically 10%-30%.)

The tablet solution should ease the order fulfillment process for GrubHub restaurants and make GrubHub’s job easier too. GrubHub currently serves more than 300,000 diners each month. Currently, the way it works is that restaurants receive a fax followed by an automated phone call. The restaurant then has to enter the order number to confirm the order. If the restaurant doesn’t respond to a call, GrubHub customer service manually calls.

Although this can work well for low-volume restaurants, it can be a challenge for those with higher volumes.

With OrderHub, orders can be confirmed instantly on the tablet’s screen. The application is beautifully designed and simple to use. OrderHub has reduced confirmation times by 80% and has resulted in an 85% reduction in phone calls from diners asking where their food is, due to more accurate estimates, according to co-founder Mike Evans.

Steven Lou has been using OrderHub at Sushi X in Chicago. He said the restaurant typically gets 5 to 6 GrubHub orders and, on busy days, will get twice that.

In addition to speeding up order confirmation, Lou found another benefit: In the small dining room, the fax and phone ringing were distracting to diners. The tablet eliminates that racket, creating a better dining experience.

For GrubHub, it improves operational efficiency and provides an important foothold into restaurants that could eventually be used to provide other services, including loyalty programs and entering new menu items and nightly specials. It could also help restaurants monitor social media mentions, enabling more responsive service to influential diners.

Getting restaurants better connected with the Web is something I’d rate four stars.

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