I sure hope you like technology, because there's the possibility that it could be coming to a casual dining chain near you very soon.
The latest and greatest trend among casual dining chains is the implementation of tablets on restaurant tables. The purpose of the tablet is simple: to allow the customer to enter beverage, appetizer, and dessert orders and reorders to cut down on the wait time between being seated and talking to a server. Not only does this improve the operating efficiency of the restaurant, but it also tends to make the customer happy.
Source: Amy Claxton, Flickr.
In addition to improving operating efficiency, the ability to pay at your convenience rather than waiting on a bill should positively affect table turnover, allowing tablets the opportunity to generate more money for restaurant chains. Think about all those times you've gone out to eat and decided you wanted dessert only to wait around 10 minutes before your server came back around to check on you again. By that time you were full and decided to pass on what's considered to be a high-margin item for the restaurant industry. The convenience of placing a tablet in front of the customer should veritably eliminate these lag-time instances and ultimately improve sales.
A tablet revolution
A number of nationwide chains have already begun implementing this tablet revolution. Brinker International (NYSE:EAT), the owner of Chili's Bar & Grill, has actively been testing tablets with early success and plans to implement them companywide.
In similar fashion, Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD) a restaurant chain that tends to cater to a younger and more tech-savvy generation to begin with, has been testing tablets in around 20% of its locations. In March, following a successful test campaign, BWW announced plans to equip all of its locations (more than 1,000) with tablets by the end of 2015, choosing Samsung's Galaxy tablets due to their advantageous price point over Apple's iPad.
The crème de la crème of tablet experiences, though, could come from DineEquity's (NYSE:DIN) Applebee's, which is the nation's largest casual dining chain. Applebee's announced its intentions last year to install 100,000 tablets in its restaurants in 2014 to give customers the option of ordering and reordering drinks, appetizers, and paying their bill without waiting for their server. A 100,000 tablet order demonstrates pretty decisively that times are changing, and that tablets could be a serious moneymaker for the restaurant industry.
Surprise! Restaurant tablets are going to benefit you as well!
But, here's the good news: these restaurant tablets are just as much about you the consumer as it is about the restaurant becoming more profitable. The way I see it, there are three primary benefits of restaurant tablets that should have consumers jumping for joy.
First off, tablets hone in on perhaps our biggest constraint and objection of all: time.
Source: Thomas Galvez, Flickr.
There is nothing more valuable to us than our own time and we'd like to think that the restaurant industry runs on our schedule, but that's simply not the case. A packed restaurant means waiting for your food order, drinks order, and even your check on occasion; and a poor experience could very easily be enough in some instances to dissuade diners from returning in the future.
Tabletop tablets put the ability to order basic necessities such as drinks, desserts, and appetizers into the hands of consumers. More so, it allows the consumer to be in complete control of when they pay which is often a big sticking point when it comes to evaluating our restaurant experience.
But, to also be clear, these tablets aren't going to replace servers at these chains, but merely act as an aide to the server to improve certain aspects of order efficiency. Ultimately these restaurant chains are still counting on personal and emotional connections forged between its front-end staff and customers, as well as the quality of their food, to be the driving force behind return visits.
Secondly, tablets are going to provide something equally valuable to you and your family: entertainment.
While the idea of businesses advertising on restaurant tablets has been discussed, the possibilities for your tabletop tablets are nearly endless. Imagine going out to eat with your young children and being able to play cartoons or a movie on your tabletop tablet, suddenly giving you the ability to relax while your children are entertained. Restaurant tablets have the potential to bring families that generally avoid chain restaurants because of their children a reason to at least come in and give them a try once again.
However, you won't need children or anyone else necessarily to appreciate these tablets. In addition to games they're also likely to have general news content on them as well. According to a Fox News report, Chili's tablets already offer games on their tabletop tablets as well as digital copies of USA Today. While you can access this information on a smartphone it's certainly much easier to see and navigate with a tablet. Like I said, the entertainment possibilities are boundless.
Finally, tablets are going to give consumers the opportunity of a lifetime: the ability to voice their feedback at the click of a button.
As consumers we'd like to think that businesses are listening to our suggestions and implementing them in order to improve their emotional engagement with customers and to drive brand loyalty. The truth of the matter is that this often doesn't happen, either because businesses are unwilling to admit their faults in the public eye, or because consumers simply have no convenient way to leave feedback. Tablets are going to change that.
Tablets are going to give consumers easy access to feedback requests which is going to make it much easier for restaurants to understand what consumers do and don't like about their establishment. The hope would be, rather than relying on phone-in feedback which has a very low response rate, that more consumers complete the tablet-based feedback forms and that restaurants take consumers' constructive criticisms to heart in order to boost brand loyalty.
Make no mistake about it; tablets are here to stay. However, this is a learning curve that's going to take some getting used to for both restaurants and the public. The way I see it now, it looks as if both consumers and the aforementioned three restaurants are poised to benefit, but only time will tell if that's the case.
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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