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Monday, March 10, 2014

New Restaurant Tablets and Apps Want to Make Asking for the Check Obsolete

Posted By on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 4:00 PM

Could you resist the lure of a margarita with marketing like this at your table? - ZIOSK/GOOGLE PLUS
  • Ziosk/Google Plus
  • Could you resist the lure of a margarita with marketing like this at your table?

Asking for the check is so 20th century. OpenTable's latest iOs app update lets diners settle their check on their iPhones. That's right: If you've made your restaurant reservation through the app, you no longer have to wait to flag down your server at the end of your meal, give them a credit card, have them run it, and go through that whole tiresome human interaction. The new payment system is currently found at 12 pilot restaurants around S.F., including Radius, the Boxing Room, DOSA on Fillmore, and Jardinere (see the full list on the OpenTable website). Currently there's no functionality for splitting the check, but the company says that's on its way soon, along with an Android update.

Meanwhile, some restaurants are taking technology one step further by offering customers tablets where they can both order their food and settle up. A new company called Ziosk is testing its tablets in Chili's, Red Robin, and Buffalo Wild Wings (participating Bay Area restaurants include Chili's in Morgan Hill, Manteca, Vacaville, Rohnert Park, and Hanford). The goal is not to eliminate the need for servers, Ziosk and Chili's CEOs have stressed in interviews, but rather to increase sales. So: Customers can potentially be upsold on appetizers and desserts through a stream of appetizing photos, encouraged to tip more a la taxicab credit card devices, opted-in to mailing lists and marketing surveys more easily, and -- perhaps most lucratively -- presented with pay-per-play games while waiting for food.

And Ziosk isn't the only game in town. Applebee's announced last year that it would be adding 100,000 tablets to tables at its more than 1,800 locations around the U.S. Initially the app would be used for apps, 'zerts, and second drinks, with a server to take orders for mains and first drinks. Again, both Applebee's and the company providing the hardware, E La Carte (ugh) stress that all this new technology isn't designed to eliminate the need for servers, but instead to let servers focus more on customer interaction -- while increasing the average size of tips and encouraging customers on upsells, of course.

But it doesn't seem unreasonable to assume that fewer servers could be needed on the floor at any given night if machines have basically regulated them to essentially food runners. And if the goal of these apps/tablets is ultimately to make more money for restaurants, it follows that replacing servers with these devices could be the best cost-cutting measure of all.

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About The Author

Anna Roth

Anna Roth

Anna Roth is SF Weekly's former Food & Drink Editor and author of West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food From San Diego to the Canadian Border.


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