Some entrepreneur noticed that people at restaurant tables were totally absorbed and fixated on their smart phones instead of being actively engaged in a live conversation, and decided to capitalize on this acceptable form of 21st century alienation.
“Restaurants are faced with either being outside of that communication and just allowing it all to take place on guests’ phones or they can be part of that,” says Austen Mulinder, president and chief executive of TableTop Media, which makes the Ziosk, a device that lets diners order, pay and play games. Chili’s franchisees are using the Ziosk in more than 100 restaurants, and Applebee’s is testing it.
Sarah Nassauer with the The Wall Street Journal recently featured an article on the increasing amount of casual-dining restaurants using interactive computer touch screens on restaurant tables.
Some devices let diners order their meal, while others assist them in paying the check.
Chili’s Grill & Bar, Applebee’s, and Chevys Fresh Mex are among the restaurants using or testing computer screens at the table. Diners are presented with food photos, can order menu items, and pay a check without a waiter.
Some of the devices also offer videogames, movie trailers, news articles, and some include advertising, or plan to add it; device makers plan on charging liquor companies for ads and retailers for coupons.
Sarah points out that casual dining chains are the main target for these devices. Some higher-end restaurants have chosen to use iPads to show menus or wine lists. Most device makers charge restaurants a monthly fee.
Terry Bader, vice president of marketing and strategy for eTab International Inc., which makes one of the devices being tested by Applebee’s, claims the “upsell” — persuading a customer to buy more than originally intended — is a big feature of the product.
“We can prompt consumers at the table with a message, ‘Hey, how about another round of drinks?'” says Bader. At Chevys, which is testing the Ziosk in 12 of its 60 U.S. locations, the device shows dessert photos around 20 minutes after the time a waiter comes to the table.
Dessert orders are about 30% higher than before restaurants used the Ziosk, says Mike Bova, senior vice president of operations for ERJ Dining, a Chili’s franchise with 122 restaurants that have used the Ziosk since 2010.
Tips More Generous
Restaurants using these devices claim the pay-at-the-table systems influence tippers to be more generous. The systems are designed to suggest a tip amount, say 20%, letting users adjust up or down.
Tips are above average when people use T.G.I. Friday’s app to pay, says Trey Hall, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the company.
The app suggests an 18% tip. More than 90% of restaurant diners choose the predetermined tip on Viableware’s device, a pay-at-the-table device that looks like a traditional black bill holder, the company says.
Like tabletop machines it lets users divide up the bill, add a tip, swipe a credit card, and email themselves a receipt.
Years in The Making
Inamo, an Asian fusion restaurant in Soho, London, has used computer food ordering for years. Diners place orders from an illustrated food and drinks menu projected on their table surface.
Orders are place from the table’s touchpad top, which is sent to the kitchen. A food server delivers your meal and the check. The digital dining menu includes computer games and a map of the local subway system, and the ability to order a taxi.