Chili’s To Add Tablet Computers to Tables

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Chili’s Grill & Bar has announced that it will install tablet computers in most of its 1,266 restaurants by early next year. The devices, basically tablets in heavy duty mounts will allow patrons to order, pay and play games. However, Chili’s says that the intent of the program is not to replace wait staff or cut down on their hours. “We never pursued this as a way to cut labor,” said Krista Gibson, senior vice president of brand strategy for Chili’s.

The devices will also feature promos for various items. For instance, half way through a meal, pictures of desserts will start showing up on the screen. Chili’s is also looking into using the screens to promote certain menu items and possibly alcohol. Tests so far show that users of the tablets order about 20 percent more dessert when it’s promoted and coffee orders also went up what that was pushed. Interestingly, tips were slightly better as the tablets allow people to pay on the spot, but also suggest a tip based on the total tab.

The tablets are made by a company called Ziosk but there are other, competing platforms on the market and other chains are equally interested. At least one tablet maker is pitching the idea that the computers can cut labor costs, but at present that doesn’t seem to be the major push. Rather, Chili’s says that a customer’s first contact is still with a wait person and that the initial meal order must be placed with that staff member. The tablet is only available for ordering items after the fact. It can also be used to play games (at $.99 each), which seems to appeal to parties that include children. Many movies that are set in the future portray restaurants that are fully automated so this could be a first step in that direction. I just hope that the large chains don’t just use this as another way to maximize profits while hurting employees.

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