Restaurant Tableside Technology

by Raymond Pucci 0

“Waiter—my check, please.” Four words that may vanish from the restaurant dining experience. As related in the following article, POS technology has arrived at a restaurant near you, and Chili’s has taken the lead in making this a pivotal part of their customer service and marketing programs.

It’s a mistake to think that a waiter’s job is primarily to deliver food. Waiting tables is a multifaceted art form that includes providing guests with feelings of recognition, comfort, and anticipation, providing a bit of theater, and, sometimes, serving as couples counselor and family mediator. Getting food to the table is really the least of what’s involved.

Which brings me to Chili’s Grill and Bar, the ubiquitous casual dining chain. Chili’s, which pretty much defines the mainstream of chain restaurants (and is not a place that self-service couponing – free chips with your loyalty points! – will be off-brand), is quickly becoming a definitive mainstream example as well of tabletop point of sale (POS) technology and mobile self-service restaurant technology.

The Chili’s technology offers a lot of Chili’s-appropriate functionality: loyalty points earning and redemption, mobile carryout ordering, easy check-splitting (including easily moving items to the appropriate side of the split, even in large parties), re-ordering drinks, even “getting in line” while the customer is still at home, so they can be seated not 15 minutes from arrival but 15 minutes from when they set out to drive to the restaurant, which may mean zero to three minutes from arrival.

POS technology has been a main cog in restaurant operations for many years in functions including food & beverage ordering, inventory control, and payment transactions. Typically the terminals and enabling software were out of sight of the customers. Now the curtain has been pulled back, and technology has arrived at tableside, and chains such as Chili’s have installed an integrated package of customer-centric features involving marketing programs and payment options. Left unsaid is that the typically low-margin restaurant business is under pressure of rising food and overhead costs, so that tableside POS will prove to be a significant staff productivity enhancement. Expect to see more table tech as more applications are rolled out by software developers, especially for national chains. Now—would you care to see the dessert menu?

Overview by Raymond Pucci, Associate Director, Research Services at Mercator Advisory Group

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