Tablets & Serving Restaurant Customers at 100,000 Tables

by , Dec 4, 2013, 3:43 PM
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More mobile technology is going to be on the table.

I mean literally, on the table.

Well, at least on 100,000 tables at Applebee’s, which bills itself as the world’s largest casual dining chain, with some 2,000 locations in 49 states and 15 countries.

While numerous restaurants have been moving to various mobile payment schemes, many utilizing and leveraging the consumer’s phone, the Applebee’s approach is to actually provide the technology itself.

This will be interesting to monitor on several fronts.

One issue is whether consumers will lean to venue-supplied technology or prefer the comfort of using their own mobile device to interact with the establishment.

An early example of this was by supermarket chain Stop & Shop, which provided shoppers with scanning guns so they could scan and bag their own groceries. This was before the proliferation of smartphones, so the stores provided the technology.

The company eventually expanded the scanning capabilities to smartphones. Its Scan It app program ultimately was expanded to about 400 Stop & Shop and Giant stores and now drives $1billion in annual sales, says John Caron, VP of Marketing at Catalina, which developed and deployed the technology.

The idea of using technology in stores and restaurants is hardly new, though new ways to use it keep coming.

When the cashier at the local espresso shop takes your order, enters it into the computer and the person just behind him sees the order pop on her screen, the technology is being used for automating a process.

Meanwhile, a Starbucks barista asks you for your drink order, your name (don’t we all use Bob?), uses a marker to write all of that on a plastic or paper cup and then has you wave your phone in front of their scanner to pay.  In this case, technology also is being used to automate a process, but only the process (payment) at the end.

What these technology deployments have in common is that they’re exposing more consumers to mobile technologies and helping them gain knowledge in how they can be used.

“The greater the exposure, the higher the comfort level,” says Caron, who’s been dealing with consumer behaviors around mobile scanning for a number of years.

“With time, this will accelerate adoption of all mobile experiences as consumers become more comfortable with the smartphone as their direct connection to the companies, brands and services they love,” he says.

In the case of Applebee’s, the tablets will let customers order and pay at their table through a credit-card reader on the tablet.

Another aspect to watch will be whether the tablet will be viewed and used as essentially a self-service, food ordering and payment device or if it will become a centerpiece of the dining experience.

The company plans to add additional features, such as video streaming, music, games and social media capabilities.

The mass verdict is yet to come in on mobile usage within the restaurant experience, but at least now more of it will be on the table.


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