Applebee’s & Others to Make Tablets in Restaurants a Mainstay in 2014

Mounted tablets in restaurants that let diners view menus, order drinks and food items, and pay their checks at the table via credit card are now making their way into major restaurant chains across the U.S., changing the dining experience for both guests and wait staff in a substantial way.

Chili’s announced in mid-September its partnership with Ziosk, a tableside tablet application provider, to be rolled out in most of its 1,266 U.S. locations in early 2014, making it the first major restaurant chain to go digital.  Following suit, Applebee’s has recently announced its partnership with another provider, E La Carte, in a similar full-scale roll-out of tablets in its restaurant locations across the U.S. by the end of 2014.  With the laggard economy pushing casual dining revenue to lower-cost fast food alternatives, the strategy to embrace the digital forefront could not have come at a better time for Chili’s, Applebee’s, and other casual restaurants looking to win back lost customers through enhanced ambiance.

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For the customer, tablets allow patrons to order drinks and appetizers immediately upon seating without having to wait for the initial server, leading to quicker service.  In addition, diners are treated with vibrant visual cues and more detailed menu item descriptions making order selection more enjoyable through a fun touch interface.  Tablets also provide entertainment in the form of games during waits.  Further, diners can pay their bill right at the table, eliminating the time it takes to process payment as well as increasing security by no longer relinquishing credit cards to the control of a server.  In its entirety, a tablet at the table is a simple yet alluring tool to streamline dining in a highly rewarding way for customer.

The concept of bringing tablets tableside is very compelling for not just the diner, however, but the restaurant as an enterprise.  The overall aim is not to reduce labor costs, but rather to enhance the dining experience for the customer in order to reap greater overall satisfaction and encourage greater visitation, therefore ultimately increasing revenue.  Additionally, not only do tablets reduce the need for paper menus, thereby significantly reducing costs, but also provide the enterprise with a new powerful channel of communication with its diners.  Restaurants can entice patrons with increased spending through the convenience and ease at which orders are made, while streamlining workflows for all staff involved.  Restaurants are also rewarded in increased loyalty signups, enticing reoccurring visits with personalized offers for individual patrons.

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Following a two year pilot release to test the efficiency of tablets at select locations, Applebee’s found significant results.  Through their initial pilot, Applebee’s gained 10% sales boosts, 7 minute faster table turnarounds, and significantly improved customer engagement through tableside surveys and email club sign ups.  Similarly, Ziosk has come to testify to similar benefits in their trials with 15% increases in tips left by diners, 30% increases in desserts orders, a 10x increase in EClub enrollment, and a whopping 77% opt-in for tableside payment.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of tablet complimented dining seems like a win-win scenario for everyone involved.  It wouldn’t be all that surprising to find the concept a mainstay in casual dining in the very near future, as large private chains begin to reap in the reward, encouraging others to follow in adoption.