In the restaurant business, timing is everything. Things can go sour for patrons if they aren’t seated quickly enough, or if the staff are slow to deliver food and drinks.

Timeliness is equally critical when it comes to restaurants’ take-out operations. For BigHoller, that means network bottlenecks can’t be tolerated.

BigHoller, based in New Jersey, operates an online food order service for more than 1000 restaurants in North and South America. The company hosts a Web site for each of its clients where patrons can place food orders. BigHoller also can integrate its ordering service into a restaurant’s existing Web site.

As online orders are placed, BigHoller routes them to the restaurants, which can opt to receive their customers’ orders via fax, e-mail or integration with their point-of-sale systems. Customers receive a confirmation e-mail once the order is received.

Back in June 2004, shortly after BigHoller got its start, the company was handling 34 food orders per month. By December 2006, its network handled more than 20,000 food orders. At traffic grew, BigHoller started having some performance troubles but lacked the visibility to diagnose the problem.

“We would get these hits suddenly, and everything would just grind to a halt. We had no idea why, we were flying blind,” says G.R. Homa, founder of BigHoller. “We needed to figure out what was going on. Also, we needed to control it.”

To keep the orders flowing smoothly, BigHoller deployed Exinda Networks’ 4700 platform. The appliance classifies, monitors and prioritises network traffic. For example, customer orders take precedence over less time-sensitive traffic such as Web-based reporting and administration.

“What happens now is we give the BigHoller application the highest priority, so the end customer never feels a pinch,” Homa says. “With the Exinda box we can see exactly what’s going on, we can control who gets what bandwidth.”

The Exinda gear also gives BigHoller insight into bandwidth usage trends. That insight helped Homa prepare for the day he would need to upgrade his network capacity. “We foresaw this point in time when we would max out,” he says.

Up until now, BigHoller has been able to carry all customer orders on a single leased T-1 line, which was critical to keeping telecommunications costs down while the company was in start-up mode, Homa says. Today the company is in the midst of upgrading its network to a 10 megabit fibre connection.

Stalling the upgrade until now proved advantageous as prices have dropped, Homa says. “Because we were able to wait for so long, we’re now able to take advantage of newer pricing, newer technology to get a much better deal and a much bigger pipe.”

BigHoller’s future plans include carrying voice traffic over its new network -- and the Exinda appliance will ensure it gets the necessary bandwidth, Homa adds.