Changing the restaurant game with tabletop technology

Over the past several years, there’s been a technological revolution happening at the restaurant table. Eateries ranging from quickservice to fine dining are employing technology both to connect customers with staff members and to entertain them.

Tabletop technology runs the gamut from small, sometimes indiscreet buttons to tablets with all the bells and whistles. The Ziosk tablet, for example, allows diners to peruse the menu, order items, pay their bill and even play games directly at the table, with restaurateurs choosing the options that best fit their venue. On the other hand, Kallpod makes one- to three-button devices for both restaurants and hospitality venues that allow diners to page their server, who is outfitted with a wearable device.

“When we started the company, we very simply wanted a platform to reinforce the human element of service,” explains Steven Barrow Barlow, chief operating officer of Kallpod. “And secondly, something that aesthetically didn’t bring down the experience, while also being customizable for each venue from both a programming and an aesthetic standpoint.”

Likewise, Ziosk has a very simple goal with its technology. “All we want to do is make sure that we are enhancing the guest experience in the ways the guest wants it to be enhanced, and if they don’t want to interact with it that’s fine,” Ziosk CEO Jack Baum told Skift Table.

How are restaurants benefiting?

While some in the industry might see tabletop technology as a distraction or hindrance, restaurants large and small are beginning to take the plunge. Shane Wheatland, chief marketing officer of restaurant technology provider Omnivore, believes it can take time for the technology to be fully understood and embraced, but it does come with several benefits.

“In some people’s mind they might worry the technology is replacing people and labor, but it’s just enhancing the experience and creating a more efficient experience,” Wheatland says.

Kallpod found an unlikely partner in Chick-fil-A, which rolled out the technology at three of its locations in Texas. Not only did customer satisfaction at those restaurants go up, but sales also increased 500% thanks to the re-ordering capability. “Chick-fil-A is a new partnership we’re really excited about,” Barrow Barlow says. “We really never envisioned this would be a sweet spot of where it seems to work really well.”

Providers are keen to help customers understand that the technology provides a human element while also streamlining the dining experience. When bringing on a new client, Kallpod focuses on making sure the guest understands that the technology actually brings them closer to a person, Barrow Barlow explains. “From the guest side, very simply, it’s perceived like a butler button,” he says. “It’s something that reinforces the human aspect of service.”

For Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant, a partnership with Ziosk has reinforced that human element of service while still allowing the restarant to reap the benefits of the technology. Customers still order with a server, but have the option of paying at the table. Ziosk also offers actionable data through real-time customer surveys, which Abuelo’s president Bob Lin says has helped the way the chain trains and rewards its staff.

“If an employee’s consistently getting low marks in a particular area, then we can counsel the employee,” Lin told FSR Magazine. “Or, if an employee is getting superior ratings at every interaction, then there are things we can do to reward the employee.”  

Tabletop technology also helps restaurants create a unique experience that allows them to stand out from the competition. “People feel empowered,” Barrow Barlow says. “I think today, people are distracted, people are staring at their phones. Even with a great server, people don’t want to wait for anything and they want to feel like they’re in control, especially from a time sense. I think that’s really played into making guests feel special.”

Where tabletop tech is headed

While tabletop technology is currently used for payment and paging, among other options, there are several additional applications that restaurants will be able to tap into. Omnivore’s Wheatland sees feedback as an important service that tabletop technology can offer.

“Feedback is critical,” he says. “Restaurateurs [are] able to leverage that digitized technology, expand outside of just payment and get feedback immediately before it gets to social or four hours after the experience. That real-time feedback at the point of payment is critical.”

Wheatland says his company continues to focus on technology and solutions that are important to restaurateurs and the tools they need to be successful while standing out in a crowded field. “They are embracing the need, primarily, to be unique, to go back to the consumer experience, what differentiates that, and how to manage the average check,” he explains.

Barrow Barlow also believes the shift in the restaurant industry is lending itself well to this type of technology. “It’s interesting to think of the transition it seems like the industry is taking,” he says. “There’s the full-service piece, then the mixing of QSR and fast casual, and even full-service restaurants migrating over to a more fast casual-like approach. Our technology sort of fits in the center of that.”
 

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