Tableside Ordering: What's Next?

By the end of 2014, more than 4,000 well-known restaurant chain locations will feature tableside ordering via a tablet device. And it’s only the beginning. 

Now, we’re talking about mostly utility value here to begin with – guests will be able to order appetizers, drinks, and desserts, with a few games and news headlines available. Some are worried about how this will derail the dining experience, and only further turn consumers away from the casual dining segment. On the other hand, casual dining has been scorched by the speed and convenience of fast casuals for some time now. Something had to give so the segment can forge a new identity. 

 
Foodable WebTV Network

Foodable WebTV Network

 

We know the casual dining segment is adopting self-service tablets in order to save labor costs, but I think several things will happen or need to happen – if restaurants are to see a lift in brand perception, guest traffic, and guest spend. Here are some suggestions:

Foodable WebTV Network

Foodable WebTV Network

1. Tableside ordering needs to take advantage of the tablet. 

When eating alone or with just one other person, the menu and ordering experience on a tablet can be more fun – I’ve lived it. In some cases, it is a tap and add-to-cart experience, not unlike shopping at Amazon.com, which is not so unique. But in others, you literally custom-build your order, dragging items on or off your burger or pizza. It’s genuinely interesting. And it feels less error-prone. 

But it’s certainly not faster. Guests in groups will still have to page through their printed menus, then await their turn to order their dish or dictate to someone inputting all the orders for their table. This will frustrate some people. 

Given that, restaurants using tableside ordering – and the technology providers – need to take advantage of the tablet’s capabilities and find ways to at least deliver a more rewarding ordering experience, including richer images, the use of video, audio, even nutritional information. All available with a finger tap in the right place. 

2. Tablets need to help tell the brand’s story. 

Let’s consider the typical casual dining restaurant visit. Of course, as a guest you’ll immediately begin “experiencing” the restaurant the moment you walk in the door. But the reality is, the host and server have a limited amount of bandwidth – and sometimes, interest – to really tell the brand story. Everything hinges, therefore, on what the guest sees and smells. 

Tablets can give a brand – whether a local independent, a regional, or even a national chain – a chance to share that history in a narrative way that pulls a guest in. Guests are a captive audience in a casual dining setting considering they’re stuck at the table, not going anywhere. Tablets present a perfect opportunity to share the founders’ stories, to share how food is selected and where it’s grown, to let guests peek behind the scenes as to how food is prepared in the back of the house. 

3. Tablets need to be interactive. 

On at least one occasion, I was at a restaurant featuring tableside ordering via iPads and I had a question that a human needed to answer. The waiting began in trying to spot my server and wave her down. That’s a missed opportunity. 

In the future, tablets will need to be fully integrated, not merely inputting my order into the system, but allowing me to alert staff that I have a question or comment, or need to speak to a manager – a human! No doubt, Millennials will find ways to get their questions answered via technology, but plenty of people will still like, enjoy, and expect that human interaction. 

What we’re seeing today with tableside ordering is version 1.0. utility value. I’m bullish on this technology, however. I’m excited when I imagine how some brands will embrace technology to improve the overall customer experience with elements they couldn’t offer before. And I think it can make the casual dining experience with some brands relevant again.