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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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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