Chilli’s is giving its patrons something to do while they wait for their mix and match fajitas.
The casual dining spot has recently introduced tablets in dining rooms nationwide that customers can use to place orders, browse the menu, and entertain otherwise noisy children.
These tablets, as The Verge notes, aren’t the high-end Apple and Samsung devices we’ve become accustomed to seeing, but rather less expensive computers that are cheaper to replace or repair (theft isn’t uncommon).
As tablets in restaurants go, Chilli’s has become a standard bearer. They just announced the introduction of 45,000 Ziosk tablets in 800 locations.
“By this fall, guests at nearly every Chilli’s in the country can place orders, play games and pay their checks from our tabletop tablets,” said Ziosk CEO Austen Mulinder in a statement.
Ziosk’s tablets run Android OS and incorporate a camera as well as an optional receipt printer. Save bringing your meal out to you, they effectively replace servers.
But Chilli’s is not alone in this push toward automation. Applebee’s announced the installation of 100,000 tablets last December, made by E la Carte and powered with Intel chips.
“Let’s face it, everyone who has ever been to a restaurant has been frustrated by waiting for their check,” said Applebee’s President Mike Archer in a press release.
Archer is definitely right. But this influx of technology raises the question: Are tablets poised to replace waiter and waitress jobs at larger chain restaurants?
Such a shift would require companies like Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and TGI Fridays to bet that computers are easier to interact with than humans.
Some major chains have already made the bet. Buffalo Wild Wings announced a big tablet push in March, promising to have them in all North American stores by the end of 2015.
E la Carte cofounder and CEO Rajat Suri argued that tablets are designed to work alongside human employees, not replace them.
“If someone does not want to spend time with a server, they’re going to ignore the server anyways,” he told Business Insider. “The truth is, today even the best servers are not going to be at your table every second. The tablet plugs those gaps.”
Servers seem enthusiastic about the devices.
“They’re our little sidekicks, they help us do our jobs,” said Tuesday, a server at Applebee’s in San Francisco where they already use tablets. “A lot of customers don’t like handing over their credit card to server, so it allows them to [pay] by themselves.”
Just how much restaurants have invested into tablet technology is unclear, but if a chain like Chilli’s is paying $US100 a pop for these (the iPad Mini starts at $US299), it’s still a significant investment when you’re ordering 75,000 or 100,000.
Ziosk, who works with Chilli’s, told Business Insider that the restaurants pay a monthly fee for use of the tablets “but the revenue they generate via guests’ purchases of premium content more than offsets the cost.”
Applebee’s has hinted toward adding functionality down the road, suggesting that tablets are more than just an industry fad.
“During the next 18 months, enhanced functionality, such as video streaming, music, additional games, social media interaction with Applebee’s active Facebook community and personal pages, sharing, gift card sales and more, will be added,” said their press release.
These enhancements are geared toward increasing customer satisfaction and driving up revenue. Patrons are far more like to buy a restaurant gift card or buy dessert if they’re pleased with their dinning experience at the end of the meal.
Tablets are also making life better for waiters with the help of some behavioural science.
“The machines automatically suggest a tip of 20 per cent; you can go lower than that (or higher), but you’ll need to actively decide to make that change,” reports The Atlantic. “Chilli’s is finding the same thing that New York City taxis have: Default settings are, behavioural economics-wise, powerful.”
This tablet tsunami suggests waiters might not be getting the job done.
NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.