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Will Tablets Replace Restaurant Servers?

Restaurant technology has been in the news lately as more chains roll out tablets for diners to order their meals, pay the bill, and even play games while they wait. Is this the death-knell for human waitstaff?

Probably not. A closer look reveals that rather than replacing professional servers with glossy iPads, pioneering chains are having success augmenting traditional service with tabletop devices.

Chili's, partnered with Ziosk, has been getting positive responses in their initial rollout. After seeing increases in per-person check averages during the pilot program, they intend to place tablets in all 823 U.S. company-owned restaurants by the middle of 2014. Applebee's and Buffalo Wild Wings are getting on board as well, and Pizza Hut recently released a fun video concept of their plan to turn entire tables into tablets.

Speedy service

We already talked about the changing consumer preference for speedy dining. With tabletop tablets, there's no more waiting for the check, or trying to catch the waiter's attention for drink refills. A customer can pay at the table, and their credit card never leaves their sight. Guests are more prone to reorder things like another round, or dessert, without having to wait for the server. Along with upping check averages, the speeded-up service helps turn tables faster.

Increased customer engagement

With tablets already in customer hands, it's easier than ever to connect.  Chili's VP of Marketing, Edithann Ramey, told Nation's Restaurant News that they'd seen an increase in email signups through the tablets. The tablets also allow customers to check in on social media sites like Facebook and Foursquare, helping spur a restaurant's social media engagement.

The impact on labor

Analysts expect tablet technology will become more widespread as a combined result of rising labor costs and increased customer adoption of the technology. Early results seem to show that servers and customers alike feel the tablets give a great experience.

Will tablets be boon for servers? When guests get in and out faster, they tend to be more satisfied with their experience, and even to leave higher tips. It's a plus for both restaurants and good servers – with the extra help, servers can take care of more tables, more effectively. It lowers the number of staff a restaurant needs to have on, while increasing the take-home pay of the servers on shift.