Tablets in Restaurants: Are They Worth the Investment?

Let’s face it: your customers show up to your restaurant, most times, to indulge in an experience. It’s up to you to be able to provide that to them through good service, quality food, and smooth operations. These are elements that every restaurant should be held accountable for. But to relay an experience for diners that’s unlike the place across the street, you must offer something different.

Technology is a huge advantage for restaurants to separate themselves from the traditional crowd. As we already know, our society has become one obsessed with smartphones, #foodporn, and tablets. It’s where most of us are comfortable. 

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Adopting technologies into your restaurant is extremely important, and will become even more of an expectation as tech culture continues to evolve. Moreover, technology – tablets specifically – aren’t just for the restaurant’s benefit, but for the consumer’s.

There are a handful of restaurants – both big chains and notable independent establishments – that have taken on tablets. Generally speaking, what we see with a lot of these adopters, however, is the inability to streamline the guest experience. When adopting new technologies, this should be the No. 1 goal for every operator: to make tablets (or other tech) part of the experience rather than an add-on. Remember, technology is supposed to make things easier, not add more steps. Also, just because a restaurant keeps up with technology doesn’t mean they’re utilizing it in the most efficient way.

In this article, we will break down a few of the restaurants that have integrated tablets into their operations and how they’re using them. Additionally, we will dive into some of the major players in the tablet game when it comes to the restaurant vertical.

How Restaurants Are Using Tablets

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Specialty’s: The west coast based cafe/bakery chain is definitely conscious of its customers. Aside from free Wi-Fi, some locations include iPad kiosks (you can view a video of how it works here). Currently, 37 locations offer this amenity, which has the ability to remember your orders each visit. What do Specialty’s customers have to say about the tablets? On FourSquare Tips, 2 of the 11 reviews at a San Diego store location mention the iPads, both with positive sentiment. According to some Yelp reviews, the iPad option is a bit confusing considering there are also normal counters to order at. While this does give customers another option if there’s a line at the counter, there’s no real draw to using them besides the fact that iPad kiosks are pretty cool. But what’s going to happen when the new and exciting feel toward them declines? On the other side of the spectrum, a blogger’s Specialty’s review described this mCommerce experience as “a perfectly executed in-store ordering and mCommerce experience.”

Chili’s: Chili’s tablets are from Ziosk, and the 7-inch Android touch screen is being used to order menu items and pay for orders by credit card. Guests can also pay 99-cents to play games and watch pay-on-demand content. Tested in early 2013 at select locations, Chili’s measured its tabletop tablet run a success. The chain will begin to rollout tablets in all of its locations beginning in 2014. Because of its easy-to-use manner in allowing guests to add items to their bill, as well as actually paying the bill without waiting on a busy server, makes it a success. Also, having an interactive component like gamification gives guests a different perception of wait times.

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Jaleo: Helmed by Jose Andres, this Washington, D.C. tapas restaurant has integrated digital menus for its beverage list. Backed by SmartCellar, the app allows guests to search wines by grape variety and climate zone, and even gives details about the wine’s tasting notes and its producers. But our favorite part? The food pairing suggestions

Some of the Big Players

Ziosk Table System: The interactive Android tablets are housed at big chains, with clients including Chili’s, Applebee’s, California Pizza Kitchen, and Red Robin.

SmartCellar: This wine list display tool has the ability to outfit itself for any brand, including logos, colors and imagery. Unlike some other systems, SmartCellar includes a full scope of a wine list – not just a tablet version of the menu, but photos of wines, as well as different ways to sort through the varieties. Notable restaurateurs that are fans of SmartCellar include Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck, and Jose Andres.

Presto Tablet: Like Ziosk, the Presto Tablet includes seamless ordering right from your table, sans waiter. It also includes gamification, a great diversion while you wait for your food or if the conversation is lacking. Presto allows guests to pay their bill without waiting for a manual check. Clients include Umami Burger, Stacked California, and Calafia California.

At the end of the day, just like social media platforms, it’s important to adopt technologies based on what makes sense for your brand and what will help build a better experience for your customers. Interactivity and seamless integration to operations are key to making the adopted technology a successful one.