Written By: Lisa R. Melsted
Published By: http://forbes.com
If you’ve eaten at a casual dining restaurant lately, you’ve likely already seen them—tablet computers that allow diners to order their own food and drinks, play games or jukebox music, and pay their bills, all from the comfort of their own table.
Over the past year, a number of prominent national restaurant chains have introduced tabletop tablets as part of an effort to enhance customer experience and make service more efficient. Buffalo Wild Wings, for instance, has rolled out tablets for every table at 75 percent of its locations. By the end of this year, they plan to fully implement tablet ordering at over 1,000 branches nationwide.
Solving customer pain points
One of the primary drivers for installing tabletop tablets is to lessen so-called “pain points” for customers. Consumer expectations are higher when it comes to turnaround times for service—no one wants to wait 10 minutes to get their check or to place their order. Restaurants are finding that the large majority of guests will opt to pay via tablet if presented with one. Faster payment benefits the restaurants as well—the faster the customer pays, the quicker tables can be turned around, increasing profits.
Order volume tends to increase with tablet use as well, further boosting the bottom line. When left alone with a tablet featuring tempting pictures of entrees and desserts—and potentially a special offer to try them—people bite. Tips for wait staff have also increased because the systems typically suggest a 15 percent baseline for tips, making for happier servers.
Vladimir Edeleman, chief development officer for tablet entertainment supplier Buzztime, says diners can expect tablets to become more prevalent in chain restaurants, but notes that “joining the crowd” will not be enough for success, he says.
Instead, brand differentiation will make the difference. Tablets allow for better customer service and less server time spent running between tables, but also provide a chance to customize the dining experience and allow restaurants to focus on customer experience and ambiance.
Most customization comes in the form of entertainment (such as games or music) offered on devices. Restaurants get a cut of the revenue collected from the systems.
Edelman points to Buffalo Wild Wings as an example of a chain focused on consumer entertainment. He says the reason they’ve been successful as a brand is not just because they sell wings and beer—many restaurants do that—but because they’ve “pioneered this experiential, casual dining segment.”
At Buffalo Wild Wings, Buzztime’s Beond system, which was developed for use with Samsung Galaxy tablets, helps fill the downtime between ordering and the food’s arrival. The option to play trivia with other patrons or placate the kids with games can make a difference for brands looking for new ways to set themselves apart in a crowded market.
Buzztime works with customers to design tablet menus based on the goals of each brand, says Edelman. Unlike print menus, which can be expensive to revamp, reprint and distribute, tablet menus can be customized on the fly or to reflect brand goals, such as catering or events.
Menu functionality for Buzztime’s Beond tablets can also be integrated with the games, Edelman says. A customer who orders a certain amount of food and drink might “unlock” a portion of a game or get free songs on the jukebox app.
“If we know that you order Johnny Cash songs every time you come in, we may offer you a free one and then bundle it into the price,” he said. “We look at this as one big ecosystem on our tablet—entertainment and menuing—as one big consumer interaction and then we manage it accordingly and integrate it with whatever brand we deploy with.”
Better service, better operations
One of the biggest benefits restaurants have seen is the immediate feedback loop between servers, managers and customers. If guests are unhappy with their service or food, tweaks can be made in the moment, ostensibly preserving the customer experience.
Edelman says these real-time capabilities will become more important for this sector in the future. By integrating tablet data with corporate marketing or supply chain applications, chains will be able to see even more bottom-line benefits. Analyzing consumption patterns should eventually help restaurants with ordering and managing the supply chain
“Today they’re novelties—but long term, everyone’s going to deploy them, and deploying them is just going to become the standard. What will be the difference is what else is on these tablets,” he said.
For more information on Samsung’s solutions, click here.
Lisa Melsted is a writer and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A tech industry veteran with turns in public relations, market research and journalism, she writes about enterprise and B2B technologies and moonlights as a food and profile writer.