Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
Commentary
6/11/2014
09:35 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

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

Next Page

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. 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
Previous
1 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 9 / 11   >   >>
jgherbert
50%
50%
jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 3:47:59 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
"I feel like that's what people are for in a technological world-- to cover times when computers aren't ready to do it yet."


You are undoubtedly correct. Just like we'll always need somebody in a restaurant, it's helpful to have a face. My guess - and it's just that - is that the financial model of something like Minute Clinic is based precisely on it being a self-service check-in, so they don't have to employ anybody to do it. In this particular case, Minute Clinic is not a company owned by CVS - they are a true concession within the stores, and totally self-contained, so they're also missing the ability to get that resource from, say, the pharmacists or the shop staff as part of the existing overhead.

This is a really interesting discussion. It certainly raises some fascinating questions about how our experience may change in the coming years.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/11/2014 | 3:45:19 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
 

That might be nice in addition to an on-table tablet offering, but if you make it exclusive to smart phones you automatically create a Have versus Have Nots situation and offer (effectively) prioritized service to those with phone hardware capable of using it to order, and I can't help feeling that this might alienate a certain proportion of the customer base.

@jgherbert- I don't look at it as an advantage so much as an add-on. The server is still there for the phoneless. But I get your point. You need to make sure you market it so it doesn;'t make you feel like you are missing something for not having your phone. 
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/11/2014 | 3:41:56 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
@jgherbert- Fair enough. I think they do have a ton of experience. But you are right that this is 1% situation. but I feel like that's what people are for in a technological world-- to cover times when computers aren't ready to do it yet.
jgherbert
50%
50%
jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 3:41:03 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
"Why can't I use my phone to get ribs at Chilis while i'm at the table?"

That might be nice in addition to an on-table tablet offering, but if you make it exclusive to smart phones you automatically create a Have versus Have Nots situation and offer (effectively) prioritized service to those with phone hardware capable of using it to order, and I can't help feeling that this might alienate a certain proportion of the customer base.

I do agree with the earlier comment about being able to use your phone to reserve a table though, so perhaps I'm in favor of giving advantages to smart-phone owners after all!
jgherbert
50%
50%
jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 3:37:42 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
"I get the value of the check-in from a fiscal point of view, but in a healthcare setting shouldn't a person lay eyes on a patient immediately? What if someone stumbles in with a gun shot wound or small pox and they don't know it isn't just a rash?"

I look at it like when I call my family practitioner out of hours and the outgoing voicemail message begins with "If you are having a medical emergency, hang up and call 911." You have to have the common sense to know when it's appropriate to visit a Minute Clinic or other service aimed at very minor ailments, versus going to the ER.

I don't know - beyond obvious things like an ax handle sticking out of your cranium - whether the average doctor's receptionist is truly able to do eyeball triage anyway. The most they'd likely do is ask you not to bleed all over the carpet please; they're unlikely to identify small pox I would think? Maybe I underestimate their medical training! :)
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/11/2014 | 3:36:49 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
@michelle- Thanks. I didn't want to turn the article into a full-blown endorsement of what amounts to BYOD in restaurants. But I think the lack of hardware is key to making this work long term. I can order a pizza online on my phone and go pick it up. Why can't I use my phone to get ribs at Chilis while i'm at the table?
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/11/2014 | 3:32:48 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
@jgherbert- I get the value of the check-in from a fiscal point of view, but in a healthcare setting shouldn't a person lay eyes on a patient immediately? What if someone stumbles in with a gun shot wound or small pox and they don't know it isn't just a rash?

Should someone who can at least say "wow, this perosn is not well" be there to chekc them in?
jgherbert
50%
50%
jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 3:32:48 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
"love the barcode idea. And the pic is fantastic. But question-- does each bunch grow one barcode or do you have to scan each individual banana?"

I guess if we sell by weight rather than by the bunch, perhaps they can all have the barcode, but the code is simply used to identify the product that is sitting on the scales? That way you can safely split a bunch as well ;-)
jgherbert
50%
50%
jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 3:31:12 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
Right. It's entirely possible that the card reader was there, but since we proffered a piece of plastic to our server, they may have just processed it anyway. I really didn't use the tablet at all; the kids enjoyed playing a few games on it, then I made them put it aside to eat their meal.

It's an interesting area though. We'll always need people there to answer the non-obvious questions like "is this cooked on a grill with meat" or similar though. Just maybe a few less people.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/11/2014 | 3:30:09 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
@jgherbert- love the barcode idea. And the pic is fantastic. But question-- does each bunch grow one barcode or do you have to scan each individual banana?
<<   <   Page 9 / 11   >   >>
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest, Nov. 10, 2014
Just 30% of respondents to our new survey say their companies are very or extremely effective at identifying critical data and analyzing it to make decisions, down from 42% in 2013. What gives?
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.