When the biggest chains in casual dining all dabble in similar technology, it’s worth taking note. Chili’s and Applebee’s both have put thousands of tabletop tablets in stores. Buffalo Wild Wings also tested tabletop tech, though it is holding off on a chainwide rollout for now.
Last year, Lubbock, Texas-based Abuelo’s tested a tabletop tablet that allows guests to order appetizers and desserts, reorder drinks, play games, join the rewards program, provide feedback and pay at the table. Following the trial, the Mexican chain added them in its 39 locations across 14 states. “We all swipe our cards at the gas pump or the grocery store,” says Kevin Carroll, vice president of training and operations. “It’s an appropriate piece of technology to introduce into the dining experience.”
But success with tablets goes beyond just having them. Abuelo’s doesn’t let its new tech take away from the personal service of operations. Instead, it has found ways to integrate the tablets into its service style.
Hosts set the stage
“[We] immediately interact with the guests, using technology as a complement to the employee,” says Carroll. While seating diners, the host presents the tablet, explains the positives of the system, tells the server’s name and reinforces the staff’s role of customizing the experience.
Servers as hero
On first contact, the Abuelo’s server delivers chips and salsa, recommends drinks and reinforces the tablet’s role as their sidekick. “We have never taken advantage of the opportunity to enlarge server section sizes,” says Carroll. Tablets also have a ‘Call Server’ button, so there’s always a way to grab the staff.
Stick to the script
The interactive screen of the tablet is used to showcase new items or LTOs. It’s easier to update than print menus, making tablets ideal for promotions. When Abuelo’s highlighted its Jalapeno Fritters through pictures on the tablet, sales went through the roof, says Carroll.
Let guests decide
According to Carroll, family response to the tablets is mixed. Some parents enjoy the opportunity to keep the kids busy, but other families do not want a device at the dinner table. If requested, the server will remove the tablet, bringing it back to settle the check at the end of the meal.
Expedited, not rushed, departures
If the guest is uncomfortable paying on the tablet, the server will walk them through the transaction tableside instead of taking cards to the back. Tables flip about seven minutes faster, keeping the restaurant full and allowing guests to leave and be seated more quickly.