Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
Commentary
6/11/2014
09:35 AM
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 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
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soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
6/12/2014 | 11:35:33 AM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
 if you're not sure how to prepare or eat the item, just scan it and you can get taken to a web site with recipes and advice!

jgherbert not sure if you were joking here or not, but I think the check-out at a grocery store--or any store is the last place a shopper is going to stop to get a recipe or check out a website. : )
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
6/12/2014 | 11:32:49 AM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
but if they keep my soda refilled and keep the plates from piling up, they deserve a tip.

Yes! Just like any good waitstaff they should always be attentive and would theoretically earn tips this way.
Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
6/12/2014 | 4:02:40 AM
Touch scrrens on table
"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"

David, pizza hut already has similar facility. From your serving table (touch screen) you can order the required items and can make the payment. It also has the option to save your order for reuse on next visit.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 8:11:34 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
@David - I think this brings up a great point.  Don't most restaurants feel they have more to offer than just the food?  I'm guessing if you ask them, not many would put themselves in the "you just come here to eat" category even if that's the reality.

I personally would embrace this in even a Michelin star restaurant, but I'm that person who doesn't mind not having a live person.  There are plenty of people who feel the opposite.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/11/2014 | 6:04:53 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
You don't go to these places for the ambience or social interaction. You're there to eat. And the exchange is rarely complicated enough that human interaction is needed -- unless maybe when little kids are involved. 


@Shane- Allow me to play devil's advocate. If ambiance and service don't matter at mid-tier restaurants why are they hiring all the perky coolege kids who dance or sing or wear clever buttons or look good in barely anything? If the ambiance doesn't matter, why are they buying all those antiques or theming to music or movies or sports?

It seems like for many mid-tier restaurants that is ALL that matters. Maybe they've been making mistakes all along and it doesn't matter.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/11/2014 | 6:04:53 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
You don't go to these places for the ambience or social interaction. You're there to eat. And the exchange is rarely complicated enough that human interaction is needed -- unless maybe when little kids are involved. 


@Shane- Allow me to play devil's advocate. If ambiance and service don't matter at mid-tier restaurants why are they hiring all the perky coolege kids who dance or sing or wear clever buttons or look good in barely anything? If the ambiance doesn't matter, why are they buying all those antiques or theming to music or movies or sports?

It seems like for many mid-tier restaurants that is ALL that matters. Maybe they've been making mistakes all along and it doesn't matter.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2014 | 5:40:39 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
Kiosks or tablets for ordering/paying make perfect sense at mid-tier chain restaurants. You don't go to these places for the ambience or social interaction. You're there to eat. And the exchange is rarely complicated enough that human interaction is needed -- unless maybe when little kids are involved. I don't mean to dehumanize the situation and food servers will surely lose their jobs, but touch-screen ordering, if done right, is a win for the customer (order meal and pay more efficiently) and the restaurant (boost revenue).
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2014 | 4:24:11 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
I've seen iPads as self-service ordering devices done well in San Francisco eateries. But the app UI/UX has to be exceptional. One thing more frustrating that being in line behind someone taking a long time at a cashier is being in line behind someone taking a long time with a self-service device due to technological confusion.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 4:00:05 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
And the doctor says, "I'd turn him around so it looked like he was coming in." 

*laughs* I like that ;-)

I can't recall, but I'd bet that when you do the check-in process, you also release the from liability. That's a pure guess, but it's what I'd do!
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/11/2014 | 3:55:44 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
@jgherbert- I'm not familiar with the company, but there's an awful lot of construction going on at my two nearest pharmacies so I'm guessing I soon will be. 

I still think they better be highly insured for the first time that someone dies in their waiting room. 

Reminds me of the old joke about a doctor giving a lecture at a medical school and he's asked the quesiton: "What would you do it a patient was just leaving your office and suddenly dropped dead?"

And the doctor says, "I'd turn him around so it looked like he was coming in."
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