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?

menu, customization of food for allergies or preferences, and the physical requirement to bring food to the table, make the transaction more clumsy.

Grocery stores jumped on self-service about 15 years ago, and at first it seemed like a success, with over 22% of transactions going through self-service in 2008. By 2011 supermarkets were actually ripping out self-service kiosks because revenue and transactions were down. Their success has been up and down and affected by region ever since.

In fact, self-service in general is getting worse rather than better. A 2011 study by the Technology Services Industry Association showed that in 2003, 48% of self-service transactions were considered a "success," a success being when the customer believes he has gotten the information or the action out of the transaction that he wanted. The number reached an all-time low in 2011 at 39%. Granted, mobile phones are changing the equation, and the TSIA has not updated the number, but self-service is increasing, and there's not a lot of evidence out there supporting the idea that we're getting better at it for customers.

Think about that for a moment: The technology of 2003 was easier for people to handle than that of 2011. There's no good reason for this to be so with a decade of improvements in UX, interconnectedness, big data, artificial intelligence, and all sorts of other areas. What's going wrong?

For one, there's a natural reality that the more complex the transaction we are attempting, the more likely it is to fail. We hit all the low-hanging fruit, so naturally it is going to get harder.

For another, customers are expecting more from each transaction. They have a decade more of experience with technology. They know what it can do. They have phones in their hands that link them to the world. So expectations have grown from, "I got my boarding pass." If restaurants want to put these kiosks in place they'd be smart to follow a few rules. They are:

Keep it simple. So easy to say, so hard to remember. Starbucks' pay-by-phone app is popular because it is easy, and it does just a few discrete things. Restaurants need to resist the urge to pile on capabilities, advertising, or other distractions.

Keep your people. Not all of them, but more of them than you want. Not only do they need to be there when the thing doesn't work, but what's the difference between the airport and the grocery store? The final step of the airport check-in is taking your ID or bags to a person. The grocery self-checkout requires no people and when things go wrong, help might be far away.

Keep it up-to-date. The shiny new tablets on the table look great. How long before they are covered in cheese, are running old operating systems, and aren't compatible with your new back-office inventory management system? Committing to self-service means a commitment to keeping current. If you can't do it, don't start.

Keep it mobile. One way to avoid the problem with old terminals is to not use terminals at all. Ditching the tablets attached to table for a mobile app (again, like Starbucks) means you aren't on the hook for physically maintaining the kiosks.

Too many companies treat digital and mobile strategies as pet projects. Here are four ideas to shake up your company. Also in the Digital Disruption issue of InformationWeek: Six enduring truths about selecting enterprise software. (Free registration required.)

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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PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
6/18/2014 | 6:55:29 PM
Re: Tablets are worthless & notoriously insecure
@nomii... That is the ideal situation, however it happens time and time again. Security takes a back seat to ease and speed of use.
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
6/18/2014 | 3:29:16 PM
Re: Tablets are worthless & notoriously insecure
@Paul i could not agree more about security threat but can't we have tech at hand to serve the purpose for better and secure envirnoment. Just a thought :)
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
6/18/2014 | 3:25:19 PM
Re: Eating Out versus Dining Out
@David I think its the best way of presentation. I think a happy mix of tradition with technology is the most suitable solution. I believe that IPads for menus and real person as servers will be the right mix as you mentioned. I think we need to understand what tech is all about and where it will serve the purpose the most.
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Ninja
6/17/2014 | 4:24:38 PM
Re: Keywords: Customer Experience
 

Dave I recently used one of these tablets in a quick service environment. It was interest sting that some aspects worked really well and others seemed clunky. It was obvious it was a new implementations. I thought it was interesting that my server did not take the opportunity to personalize the experience or even mention the tablet. They were MIA for part of the meal so we used it to pay and order coffee. Overall we liked it but we though the server should have at least wished us a good evening when he delivered dessert. I have also used the Disney app recently it was very effective in some areas such as reducing waits but clunky in others such as indicating line closures for characters. The hybrid of onsite and magic band is also not the simplest process for guests to understand.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/16/2014 | 12:25:44 PM
Re: Keywords: Customer Experience
@mejiac- Couldn't agree more, and Disney is a great example. Until very recently, Disney has always chosen to keep technology out of the hands of its customers (un;less it was part of a ride experience). They always deployed the technology in the hands of its cast members (yes, I love Disney enough to use their term cast member instead of employees or staff). 

Recently, they've adde dtheir new "Magic Bands" which interestingly enough, have no buttons or any sort of complicated things to interact with. You just hold them up to a scanner. You couldnt get any easier.

I'm quite sure that is simple by design, and a great lesson.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
6/16/2014 | 12:15:09 PM
Keywords: Customer Experience
Excellent article David,

I'm all for integrating any available technology resources that can be leveraged to enhance an experience, whether it be dining, grocery shopping or buying a t-shirt.

But one thing is critical: The Customer Experience!

Many of us like to go out to eat and ask "what's today's special?", "what can you recommend?".... and many time we end up ordering dishes different than what we had originally in mind because of the waiters feedback.

So if restaurants are deciding to have more of a "self service" approach simply to reduce overhead, this can easilly back fire on them.

I'll give a good example: Disney

Anyone who has had any type of Disney experience knows that they're all about the guest experience, and making sure you have the best time ever. Disney is all about implementing technology, as long as it adds value and not decrease it.

So like the process of paying the bill, splitting the check, and ordering something on the menu that doesn't require the waiter to come back...yeah...that's cool.... but be careful in going too far!
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
6/15/2014 | 10:01:16 AM
Re: Tablets are worthless & notoriously insecure
@asksqn...You bring up an important point. Security is always a concern and always overlooked. It will only take one breach of these tablets as they become more popular to poissibly put a damper on anyone using them.
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
6/15/2014 | 9:56:08 AM
KIS
Keep it simple... I think that should be a major part in any kiosk self serve system. If it's to complex people just will not use it. I recently visited a drs office that uses tablets to check in and pay your copay if you wish. I found it easy to use and like it.
LUFU
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LUFU,
User Rank: Strategist
6/14/2014 | 12:37:55 PM
Re: Eating Out versus Dining Out
@David - I can accept a digital menu at different levels. What levels? That's difficult to quantify. Like reading a book, I still enjoy perusing a quaiity "paper" menu when dining.

I would especially miss moments like I had at one upscale and snooty restaurant. They kept the lights appropriately low to set the elegance ambience. I, however, disrupted their meticulously controlled atmosphere by putting my menu over a votive candle so I could read it only to watch a dark spot in the middle of it grow and burst into flames. This caused quite a commotion. And while my dinner companion didn't relish the attention from the other patrons, our waiter thought it was funny.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/13/2014 | 6:48:35 PM
Re: Eating Out versus Dining Out
@Lufu- I ate at Michael Symon's restaurant, Lola. Simon isn't quite Keller and Lolka isn't quite the French Laundry, but it is definitely fine dining. They've had iPads at Lola as menus for at least 3 years. It was quite snazzy. You still spoke to a real server, but the menu was sleek, always up to date, and looked really good.

I think you can find a way to make it work for even fine dining. 

As an aside, the servers kept asking me if I could help them make their menu play Angry Brids. :)
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