New table tablets that allow diners to order electronically rather than tell a waitress may cut time at a restaurant, but Michelle Ponce de Leon said the device makes going out to eat too impersonal.
“I want somebody to cook for me,” Ponce de Leon said. “I want somebody to wait on me and serve me. And I want to tip them in the end for the work they’re doing.”
Ponce de Leon, who had joined her friend for lunch at Chicago’s downtown Chili’s restaurant, said she understands technology is everywhere, but this is a place she wants the person-to-person experience.
While Chili’s 800 restaurants began the launch of the Ziosk devices in the fall, Applebee’s, the nation’s largest casual dining chain, will begin installing tablets in its domestic franchise locations nationwide this month with plans of having one at every table by the end of this year – 100,000 tablets across over 1,800 locations.
“It really is the future of the industry,” said Dan Smith, spokesman for Applebee’s. “It’s this notion of putting more control in our guests’ hands.”
Smith said the table tablets have been tested at various restaurants nationwide with the goal of reducing “pain points” of the traditional dining experience – waiting to pay at the end, getting drink refills and ordering appetizers and desserts.
“It’s really game changing, and we want everyone to embrace it and understand the benefits,” Smith said.
Although Smith said the tablets are a good plan, the first announcement in December led to social media posts by servers who feared they would be replaced by tablets.
With Illinois’ unemployment rate at 8.6 percent, which is worse than the nation’s 7.9 percent, the potential for job loss is a major concern.
Greg Rivara, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, did not comment on the tablets specifically, but he said his organization and the Illinois Department of Labor expect to see a large growth – nearly 11,000 additional restaurant jobs – by 2020.
Smith spoke to the servers concern. He said the devices are meant to help servers by allowing them to spend more time interacting with their guests instead of worrying about splitting up checks during payment.
“There is no substitution for that face-to-face personal contact,” Smith said. “The Presto device will not reduce or cut any of our team members in any Applebee’s stores.”
Tarish Morris, a frequent guest of the downtown Chicago Chili’s, said although she misses the traditional personal interaction, she sees the benefit.
“If you have a huge party the tablets will be perfect because you can split the check up yourself,” Morris said. “The busier it is, the more beneficial they’ll be I think.”
Morris added the featured games are a great option to keep children occupied.
“I would pay that table’s dollar for the games if it’ll keep their kids happy,” Morris said.
The first devices will feature a variety of games that can be played for a dollar. Smith said once the rollout is completed Applebee’s will look to include nutritional information, music, live-streaming video, social media connections and gift card purchases on the 7-inch screen devices.
“It’s an Android platform so that possibilities are really endless,” Smith said.
While the tablets will bring a different dining experience to guests, Smith said Applebee’s prides itself on innovation and this is one advance where, “Everybody wins.”