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Do Restaurant Table Tablets Really Provide a Convenient Dining Experience?

For a few years now, I have heard about restaurants someday having tables that take your order, therefore eliminating the need for waiters and waitresses. I really never thought I’d never see this happen, but I was wrong. Just recently I had dinner at a Chili’s restaurant and was surprised to find a small touch tablet on the table when I sat down.

The hostess explained that the table tablet was just for ordering appetizers and desserts, and a server would be over to take my drink and entree order. She also said I could look at the menu, sign up for their rewards club, check the weather and news, play games, and pay the bill with the tablet. It was nice to know that I had all these great options at my fingertips, but also a relief to know I still had a server to interact with as well (the tablet can’t bring me extra napkins or answer questions). The server promptly came over to my table and took my drink order while I looked over the menu. When he came back with my strawberry lemonade, I placed my order and then the waiting began.

Table tablet matching game

The matching game killed some of the anxious waiting time.

It was great having a something to do while waiting for my food. It took my mind off of being so hungry (usually when I’m waiting I look around at everyone eating and it makes the wait so much longer). I played a few rounds of the ‘Capital One Credit Card’ matching game (nice subtle advertising, huh?) that held my attention for about five rounds, then I switched over to check the weather and news. Before I knew it, my delicious avocado burger was in front of me.

At the end of my dining experience I paid my bill using the tablet. It took literally ten seconds to swipe my card and sign the tablet with my finger. It was so fast! Normally it takes another ten minutes for the server to bring you the bill, pick up the card to charge it, and bring the receipt back for you to sign. The tablet saves you all the hassle of waiting, but there is an option for the server to bring you a paper receipt if you’d prefer.

Here’s a quick recap from my experience:

Pros of restaurant table tablets:

  • Easy to use
  • Fast and convenient for paying the bill
  • Ability to check the weather and news
  • Games pass the wait time faster
  • Has a calculator for splitting the check or calculating the tip

Cons of restaurant table tablets:

  • Takes away the human interaction
  • Cannot answer specific questions (about food or your bill)
  • Some of the games cost money to play
  • Threatens many jobs for wait staff

All and all, I had a great first experience with the table tablet. It was mildly entertaining and very efficient. An early study showed that people who dined at restaurants with table tablets ordered 10-12% more than they would have with a waiter; therefore I’m certain that other restaurants will jump on the table tablet band wagon in the near future. Here’s my main concern, though: if we use the table tablet technology in every restaurant, what will happen to the wait staff? Of course people will still be needed to operate the restaurant smoothly, but they will have less to do if the tablets are taking all the orders. My guess is that jobs will be lost, and restaurants will have only the bare minimum staff. That’s a huge con, especially in this economy!

What do you think of table tablets in restaurants? Have you experienced it? Do you think many people will lose their jobs because of it? How would you improve on the table tablet idea?

Image credit via TableTop Media’s press kit.


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Comments

  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    Great post, Jen! I have a love/hate relationship with these tablets, too.

    My mom and I dined at our local Chili’s the day they installed them. Admittedly, they were nice for checking the news and movie times, and the games were fun. However, I don’t know if I had more than a 3 minute conversation with my mom that day.

    Now all the fun games cost money! Lame! And I’m scared that the restaurants don’t sanitize them well enough between parties. Restaurants are public enough to catch something, I don’t need the table tablet to help.

    BUT I do like that I can scroll through the dessert menu without having to ask for it, and I love that it only takes seconds to pay my bill.

    • Jen

      Great point Mandy, the tablet does take time away from conversation with whom ever you’re dining with. But I was with my fiance, and he was using his smart phone the whole time anyway…so i didn’t feel bad :)

      I was also worried about the sanitation of the tablets, I wonder if they clean them after each guest???

      • Mandy Kilinskis

        Oh! If your dining partner is playing with their smart phone the whole time, then no worries!

        They told my mom and I that they did, but we totally watched one party leave and another sit down — NO SANITATION. So I’m seriously skeptical now.

    • Amanda

      Yeah, I agree Mandy. I think this will get in the way of the conversations over dinner, which I think is sad. But if you went to eat by yourself, it could help you feel less awkward by being able to play a game or something. And good point about them being sanitized. That alone might keep me from playing with them–I want my hands to be clean before I eat.

      Paying your bill at the table is a nice feature. But I worry about the jobs it might take away. =(

  2. Kyle

    Paying the bill at your table? I’m sold!

    But in all seriousness, this sounds like a pretty cool idea. I’ve heard about tablets at restaurants, but I haven’t gotten the chance to try one out yet. I’ll definitely be interested to check one out next time I get the chance.

    I think you nailed the pros and cons. It has the possibility of taking away jobs, but I can also see it making the dining experience much more enjoyable. Great stuff!

  3. Jill Tooley

    Chili’s is the only place I’ve seen these so far. We played a trivia game while we waited and swiped our cards to pay the bill, but other than that the tablet was just one more thing in the way once our food arrived (and one more thing to handicap actual human conversation). Anyone who’s been to Chili’s can attest to how cramped the table space is in the first place.

    To me, the coolest feature is to be able to pay your bill directly from the table. I have matching and trivia games on my iPhone, so there’s not a pressing need for something like that to pass my time. Like you, my main concern is the possible job elimination. I don’t like the idea that these tablets will get more advanced and eventually take over the entire need to have a waiter/waitress in the first place! How many people do you think they’d need to staff if the only waitstaff responsibility was carrying the food to the table? Not to mention, people would assume they didn’t need to tip if they didn’t interact much with the server…

    Despite my qualms about these, great post, Jen! :)

    • Jen

      Thanks Jill. I also agree with the table space issue! It was just two of us at the time, but it would be a huge pain in the rear if there was even just one more person eating with us.

      • Jill Tooley

        Yeah, we had 6 people at a table that looked like it could comfortably seat 4. So we needed all the space we could get! ;)

  4. Rachel

    I was just reading about this the other day! I can definitely see the pros and cons that you point out. Like others, the job loss aspect is what I see to be the biggest con.

    While I’ve not been to a restaurant yet that has table tablets, the discussion reminds me of one of the fast-food restaurants I went to in Disney World. Despite there being probably a dozen cashiers taking orders, each with their own separate line, it’s always been one of the more crowded places to eat. But last time I was there, you could place your order on a touch screen kiosk instead of actually going to one of the cashiers. It was fairly easy to use and made the process go a bit faster, and I’m sure those kiosks help a lot in thinning out the huge lunch crowds during peak seasons. So I wonder how this touch screen/tablet technology could be used in a (non-Disney) fast-food setting, instead of a sit-down place like Chili’s? There seem to be a lot of opportunities with this technology–and perhaps it’s better suited in an environment where customer service isn’t as essential to the dining experience.

    • Jen

      I agree Rachel, I think this would be great for a fast food setting!

      • LK

        It could be really neat if you could use a touch screen to enter your order at the McDonalds drive thru! You wouldn’t have to worry whether or not they heard you correctly and try to decode the screen that abbreviates your order.

        However, I guess it could be a problem if it was raining or snowing out and the touchscreen was getting all wet, cold and frozen.. Hmmm

        • Jen

          I would even like to use it inside!

  5. LK

    I haven’t been to a restaurant that uses these yet, but definitely would like to try it out. The pros and cons you mention are so accurate! I would love to be able to pay the bill at the table and not have to wait for my waiter/waitress to bring it, but I can definitely see it as a distraction and a space waster. Plus, I bet the tablets can’t dispense the yummy treats some restaurants leave you with when they give you the bill (..not yet anyways!)

  6. amy

    I know Buffalo Wild Wings have those monitors hooked up at the booths to play games with, but I’ve never seen ones that you can pay your bill with or order desserts from. It’s a good idea, I’m just not sure I like it. However, I’m also the type of person that gets easily annoyed when people use their smartphone while we’re having a conversation.

    Being able to pay your check though without having to hunt down the server though gets a major thumbs up from me! Great post Jen!! :)

  7. Jen

    Thanks Amy! I think the ability to pay the bill right there at the table is the best part of it!!! It was seriously soooo easy :)

  8. Joseph Giorgi

    “An early study showed that people who dined at restaurants with table tablets ordered 10-12% more than they would have with a waiter…”

    I’m not surprised to hear that. Impulsive decisions are much easier to make when they’re only a ‘click’ away. I’m anxious to use one of these “table tablets” next time I’m at Chili’s, but something tells me that my impulsive nature will get the better of me — yet again.

    Your pros and cons are spot-on. This type of tech seems to be both a blessing and a curse…

    And in the end, it may prove to be more of a curse — if, like you pointed out, waiters and waitresses start losing their jobs.

    Still, I can’t wait to try one of these tablets out. Awesome post, Jen! :D

  9. Eric

    Definitely can see both the benefits and hindrances in this technology. Will the computer let you pay your bill without a wait? Sure. Will the computer tell you what your options are concerned as far as you cheese choices for a burger? Likely not. Moreover, automated ordering would make it very difficult for people with food allergies (which, in the food service business, are a big honk’ deal). My girlfriend is gluten-intolerant and often substitutes parts of her meals to align with her allergy. Moreover, as someone who has made himself practically a regular at several restaurants he goes to? I like getting to know someone, have them ask how you’re doing, etc. You really think that tablet’s going to strike up a good conversation? Nope. Not one bit. Take that, tablet.

    • Michael

      I’m sure there is a way to program the software to allow the inputing of any dietary restrictions along with all of the options to modify your order. Many places already offer on-line ordering, which uses a similar interface. Service staff will always be needed to carry out the actual assistence to diners. As well as providing a clean, comfortable environment to eat.

  10. AJ

    Very nice writeup! With regards to taking away jobs, don’t sweat it. Technology has been displacing labor for ages… ATMs-bankers, bulbs-candlemakers, etc, etc and the standard of living keeps going up overall. Best not to emphasize the economics if you’re not an expert in that subject. The most important economics question is, “does it create value for the consumer?”

    Thanks.

  11. Tanner

    I am currently a server, doing a report of tablets in a college class. As I read over many articles, I see that they is a great deal of people exclaiming that it is so quick to pay at the table and have the tablet do it for you which also includes a tip calculator (which I am all about!). But here’s my only problem about it. If paying at the table is so easy, then I’m pretty sure leaving without paying would be even easier. No interaction with a server is needed, so why shouldn’t they? Besides the integrity in a person, though we live in a world that puts that in question at all times, what is stopping them from walking out?

  12. Lauren

    Hi Jen, enjoyed this post, was hoping to quote some of the ideas in one of my university assignments. I’d like to know when you published it please? Thanks!

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