Tableside ordering and payment technology is not new. With benefits like increased speed-of-service and faster table turns, as well as the security of a customer credit card never leaving the table, restaurant operators have long considered the technology a next-gen option. Despite the benefits, many full-service restaurants feared that customers would see the technology as getting in the way of a personalized service experience. Coupled with concerns over the high cost of enterprise solutions, adoption has been limited to boutique locations and independents. Now, it seems the tide is finally starting to turn.
Approximately 10% of restaurants in Hospitality Technology’s “2013 Customer Engagement Technology Study” currently offer tableside ordering via a tablet device (such as an iPad). By 2015, that number is expected to jump to 24%. Tablet devices are the current hardware of choice by a small margin: nearly 20% of restaurants plan to use a solution other than the tablets for tableside ordering by 2015.
With rapid consumer adoption of tablets and smartphone technology in their personal lives, restaurants no longer see customer acceptance as a barrier and the hardware itself has come down in price, says Dave Matthews, CIO of the National Restaurant Association (www.restaurant.org). There are even many large point-of-sale (POS) providers adding the option to their offerings.
“We did a study in 2011 that showed consumers ages 18 through boomers had no objection to mobile devices and pay-at-the-table devices, and we saw the consumer sentiment turn,” notes Matthews. “Once that barrier was crossed, it was only a matter of the technology catching up.”
“We go to the NRA show every year and always look for technology to enhance our customer experience, and we looked at many tableside options,” notes Ron Parikh, CMO at Genghis Grill (www.genghisgrill.com), based in Dallas and operating 170 locations. One of the reasons his company chose eLaCarte (www.elacarte.com) tablets was because it integrated with the chain’s current NCR (www.ncr.com) Aloha POS and Paytronix (www.paytronix.com) loyalty solutions. “It’s easy for us, and our loyal cardholders can just punch a phone number or email address into the tablet to redeem items.” (See this month’s case study for more on Genghis Grill’s loyalty solution.)
“It gives the control to the guest, and guests are wanting more and more control in everything they do,” says Robert Caldwell, regional manager and national operations technology manager at Specialty Restaurant Corp., based in Anaheim, Calif., and operating 21 locations in six states and using Aireus (www.aireus.com) iPad solution. “Also, a lot of people don’t like to hand over their credit card anymore and feel more comfortable paying at the table.”
An add-on service
While customers do want more control over their ordering and payment process, many still want service from a waiter or waitress, and expect a quick response when they need something. As a result, many companies are positioning tableside ordering and payment as an add-on to their regular service.
“Our goal is to make the technology a server assistant not a server replacement,” says Scott Bedows, director of IT at ERJ Dinging, based in Louisville, KY and operating 124 Chili’s franchise locations (www.chilis.com). The chain is using Ziosk (www.ziosk.com) tablets integrated with its NCR Aloha POS system. “We had our host educate the customers and let them know it’s not replacing the server, and that it’s designed to let the guest control the experience at their own pace.”
At Blazing Onion Burger Co. (www.blazingonion.com), a fast-casual chain of 5 locations based in Seattle, the company wanted to offer customers the option of ordering at a table rather than waiting online to order and pay at a cash register, so it installed HubWorks Interactive’s (www.hubworks.com) tableside option using an iPad with digital menus, and is in the process of rolling out ordering and payment via the system.
The chain customized a pager button on the HubWorks system to alert servers when a customer has a question or needs something. If a customer hits the button, all employees on the floor are alerted so the one closest to the table can respond within 30 seconds or less, explains David Jones, CEO and co-founder of the chain.
“With the pager button, we can tell customers if they have any questions just hit that button, and we will be right there,” he notes. “That takes the fear away from people.”
Also, for payment, customers can pay via a credit card when they are ready to leave, and can hit the pager button if paying with cash so a server can come and handle the transaction, says Jones.
Increased speed and profit
Operators using a tableside option — whether a fixed display or mobile device — report faster table turns, increased speed-of-service, and even an increase in sales.
Many of the devices allow a restaurant to customize special offers, limited-time only products and upload pictures of food and desserts, which often draw a customer to purchase these items.
“Our dessert sales went up 40 percent when we introduced the digital menus with pictures,” Jones says. “Normally, a server would come over and bring dessert menus when the last person is done eating and then at that point many people decide they don’t want dessert. This way they don’t have to wait.”
ERJ Dining also saw an increase in per-person dessert sales at its Chili’s franchise locations with the tableside ordering option, as well as an increase in items featured on the tablet. Guests can pay at any time by hitting a button and completing the transaction with a credit card, and this also increased table turns by an average of four minutes, he says.
“Our goal was to try and increase table turns, but there are other benefits, including guests being entertained with the games available on the device,” he says. “Right now guests can order dessert on their own, and we are testing appetizers and drink re-ordering.”
Table turns increased specifically during lunchtime at Genghis Grill, which has the eLaCarte devices installed in eight locations, and severs have seen higher tips and more upsells on products, says Parikh. The chain plans to roll it out across all locations in the near future.
“We have a feedback survey at the end of the transaction to ask customers about the food and service and so far the reaction to the tableside option has been positive,” he notes. “About 60 percent of all checks are being closed on the systems.”
Speed of service is another major benefit for both the guests and the restaurant. Hotel Tavern, a new restaurant in West Jefferson, N.C. is using Revel Systems’ (www.revelsystems.com) iPad POS. Servers enter the order on the tablet right at the table, and the order goes directly to the kitchen or bar, says owner Sherman Lyle. Also, the manager can perform voids or any other function from anywhere in the building so there is no longer a line of servers or a manger crowded around a standing terminal, which slows down service, he notes.
“If it makes sense, the deal is right, and you operate a tech savvy brand, a company should definitely pull the trigger on this because there are a lot of benefits to it,” says Parikh. “Also there is not a lot of maintenance and the devices don’t take up much room on the table.”
When it comes time to migrate to EMV payments, it’s up to the vendors to change the devices to read a chip rather then a swipe and sign method, says Matthews, who believes this change alone will increase the adoption of tableside ordering and payment because many operators will be looking to upgrade hardware.
“As long as they are re-terminalizing, and now that there is not the same customer pushback, I think they will look to tabletop devices,” he notes.