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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David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/13/2014 | 12:03:09 PM
Re: Tablets are worthless & notoriously insecure
@asksqn- With all due respect, I think that attitude is one that holds IT back. Sure, it is easy for an IT professional to navigate any computer interface. But there is a digital divide in this country and many people (those people not suprisingly shop at grocery stores and eat at restaurants) are seeing tablets and touch screens for the first time in their lives as they are encountered in these places. 

The more universal the product (and food is as universal as it gets) the more careful we need to be to remember not everyone is as smart or experienced as we are.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
6/12/2014 | 10:15:39 PM
Tablets are worthless & notoriously insecure
First off, self service check outs in grocery stores has not gone away nor is it confusing.  It's fairly straight-forward provided that the user possesses a working brain.  Any problems, an employee can be summoned and is right there to fix it.  Boom. Done.  On the other hand, as to self-order kiosks in restaurants, the only problem I see is utter lack of security.  Tablet security?  LOL there is no such thing. Target can't even get security right and they use a WIRED connection straight to the POS AND have employees.  If anyone wants to input their credit card data into a tablet then have at it, but I won't be any time soon.  Tablet ordering is a nightmare easy ID/cr. cd. theft waiting to happen.   
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
6/12/2014 | 9:13:32 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
now that you mentioned it. I don't like the idea of automating the restaurant.  After your cross that line, it opens the door for other areas. 

Personally, I don't like the groceries self check outs, many times they do not work and they are a hassle to get your food check out by yourself.  The time it takes me to do that will be much slower than with a person. You are right, robot technician will be the next useful ocupation.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/12/2014 | 6:39:03 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
@Susan- I demand that my kids learn to repair robots. I figure at the very least, the robot overlords will need to treat them well.

Seriously, I think technical skills and soft skills that will be hardest for computers to learn-- creatvity, communication, writing. 

But I'm hoping to live long enough to see the Star Trek world where none of us works unless we want to and we all have replicators.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/12/2014 | 6:36:15 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
@Shane- Once you reduce servers to food runners, it is only a matter of time before you build a conveyor belt, a robot food runner or just ask folks to pick up their own food. 

Also, I assume when you are doing fewer things, it takes less time, so they need fewer of you. 

Funny enough, i keep thinking about the old Automat. How cool would the automat be if you combined it with tablets or mobile phones ?
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/12/2014 | 6:26:30 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
@Shane: true, just as banks sill have a couple of bank tellers during business hours. Still, delivering food doesn't require the kind of people skills that being a water or waitress does. I wonder whether other oportuniteis will open up for entry-level people to learn those skills--or whether the need for human interaction will become so unnecessary in the future that old-school things like "people skills" just won't matter anymore...
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/12/2014 | 6:22:48 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
@Dave: Expansion and contraction in labor markets is indeed a constant. To your point, it's a matter of luck, education, and being in the right place with the right skills at the right time. What do you think the "skills of the future" will be?
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
6/12/2014 | 2:44:09 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
I hear you @Susan. The collateral damage will be unpleasant to say the least. But restaurants will still need servers to bring the food orders to tables and do other tasks. So I assume the role will be diminished, but not eliminated. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/12/2014 | 2:41:07 PM
Re: Love paying this way, hate ordering
@Susan- There's no doubt that you are right that the widening skills gap is a real problem. And it is a systemic one that requires reworking education, training, hiring, and countless other things. At the same time, the sky has been falling on that front for a long time. There are movies (like Katharine Hepburn's Desk Set) complaining about this problem for a couple of generations.

I can't figure out if the sky isn't falling or if it is falling really slowly. I guess it depends on how lucky you are with your education.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/12/2014 | 2:17:27 PM
Re: Moving toward a self-service world
@Dave:  I like the Amazon analogy for self-service IT. Though, perhaps we can employ all those out-of-work waitstaff to deliver the IT hardware immediately to people's desks once restaurant ordering becomes completely self-service.

Interesting, though, the same concern about jobs applies whether talking about self-service in IT or in restaurants and retail: 

The one thing i wonder about is if we automate too many of the low level support jobs in IT whether it will become a problem for IT pros. Those are usually people's first jobs and it helps them get their feet wet in a company-facing role. 
<<   <   Page 5 / 11   >   >>
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Transformative CIOs Organize for Success
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