Bruce Horovitz, USA Today
That endless wait for the restaurant check soon may be over.
the nation's largest casual dining chain, on Tuesday will announce
plans to place tablets at every table in every one of its U.S.
restaurants by the end of 2014. Folks can use the tablets to pay
whenever they want -- and to order things like appetizers, desserts or
even play video games.
The action follows a similar move by rival
Chili's, which already has begun the process of placing tablets at its
company-owned locations. IHOP, also owned by Applebee's parent,
DineEquity, is looking into tablets, too.
The way Americans pay
for and order food when eating out is about to be turned on its head.
If these high-tech moves - already common at eateries in parts of Europe
and Asia - are a hit domestically, much of the $70 billion full-service
and casual dining industry is expected to follow.
over the next decade, it will become fairly routine for consumers in
table service restaurants to use tablets to view menus, place orders and
pay bills," says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at
the National Restaurant Association.
Tablets will "change the way
we interact with guests in restaurants," says Mike Archer, president of
Applebee's, which has 1,865 locations nationally. The chain's move to
roll out nearly 100,000 tablets will rank among the largest-ever rollout
of tablet technology in the private sector.
At Applebee's and
Chili's, customers will continue to order their meals via waiters and
waitresses. The move to tablets squarely targets Millennials, says
Riehle, more than 80% of whom say they fully expect restaurants to offer
Chili's president Wyman Roberts, says its
restaurants with the devices have seen improvements in both guest
satisfaction and customer "engagement," though the company declined to
discuss details of its ongoing rollout. Its 800 company-owned
restaurants all will have tablets by the middle of next year.
both chains, the tablets have 7-inch screens, which are larger than most
cellphones but smaller than most conventional tablets.
But will this make eating-out better for customers?
hospitality expert isn't so sure. "Other than the coolness factor, what
benefits will it have over the long term?" poses Christopher Muller,
hospitality professor at Boston University.
Archer insists there
will be many. Besides making the paying of bills and additional
ordering easier, he says, customers can play games for about a buck. The
50 Applebee's restaurants that have tested the devices have seen boosts
in appetizer and dessert sales, he says.
Theft of the devices has not been an issue, Archer notes, because the tablets are unusable once removed from the restaurant.
Applebee's opted not to use the tablets as menu replacements. Customers still will be handed individual menus, Archer says.
importantly, he notes, guests will no longer have to wait around for
their checks. 'Who hasn't felt like they've been held hostage waiting
for a check to arrive?" he says.