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David Wagner
David Wagner
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Restaurants' Switch To Tablets Is Trouble

Tablets and self-service are the next big thing in restaurants. But is it a good idea?

Casual dining restaurants, including Chili's and Applebee's, will be rolling out new self-service kiosks using tablets in the next few months. The tablets will allow customers to order food, call their servers, and pay their checks without needing to interact with a human.

Preliminary tests show that such kiosks will improve revenue and table turnover while increasing customer satisfaction. But past experience with such kiosks in other industries is mixed, and restaurants should beware. Putting aside that it seems as if all this does is turn table service into fast food, CIOs looking to jump into this technology need to follow some rules to avoid major mistakes.

Before we talk about it, here is a home video of the menus in action:

As you can see, the tablets are interactive menus making use of a lot of images (though no video yet) to entice buyers into appetizers, drinks, and other "upsell" items. In addition, the tablets feature entertainment and a way to pay your bill. And we can only assume advertising will soon be on its way.

Clearly, this will eliminate some customer service problems common in restaurants. Who hasn't been ready to leave, then sat for 10 minutes waiting for the check? Who hasn't needed ketchup or a refill and suddenly the server is AWOL? Splitting checks and even figuring the tip is now easier as well.

And from the point of view of the restaurant there are obvious benefits including quicker turnover, more efficient use of staff (read: layoffs), better inventory management, better kitchen management, easier POS integration into other systems, and increased revenue opportunities via payments for game and ad placement and upselling.

Sounds like a win-win, and we've seen other success stories with kiosks like these, including ATMs and self check-in at airports. Airlines particularly have seen great savings from self check-in, reducing check-in costs to 5% of what they were before self-service.

Except there's a problem. We've also seen self-service that looked like a similar bargain turn out poorly for other industries, especially grocery stores. Self-service check-out in grocery stores is an especially good example, because they more closely resemble the transactions of a restaurant than an airline. An airline check-in is a straightforward, repeatable set of operations: identify guest, identify itinerary, offer upgrades, accept payment for extras, and direct the guest to security or to check bags.

In a grocery setting, the number and type of items is more complex. There are physical objects to be manipulated, coupons to be scanned, and sometimes physical money in the transaction. Similarly, with restaurants, the varying

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2014 | 12:14:48 PM
Love paying this way, hate ordering
I would like to see a hybrid approach, where a human takes the initial order, based on your choice of a traditional or tablet-based menu, and then the device stays at the table to ask for refills on drinks, let kids play games if that's your thing, and then pay the check when you're ready as opposed to trying to flag down a server.
David Wagner
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/11/2014 | 12:00:19 PM
Re: It will take time
Thanks, Nomii. I think people will get used ot them faster than you think. There are few places these days where there aren't touch screens. But even getting used to them doesn't mean that they will work as hoped. That requires good user experience, constant updates, and makign sure your backend and the kiosk stay compatible. 
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 10:49:08 AM
It will take time
@David a nice post. I think shifting to tablets was on the card for some time but I feel that it will take sometime before customers will get used to them. I doubt that it will be a roaring success but it will help at few places especially the management of the restaurant as you have mentioned. I think to have win win situation I think the management need to work out where it will be suited the most not across the board all together.
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