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Tablets go back

Back-of-house uses for tablets are poised to grow.

Much of the public buzz around tablets refers to front-of-house applications, whether in the hands of a server taking orders or atop a table, loaded with games and self-ordering capabilities for guests. From an operator standpoint, though, the reach of tablets goes far beyond ordering and entertainment.

“There’s only so much productivity you can gain from FOH uses,” says Dave Matthews, executive vice president and general counsel at the National Restaurant Association. “There are actually more back-of-house uses that have an impact on productivity and profitability,” he says.

That includes a host of back-of-house applications, some proprietary, that aid unit-level efficiency and consistency.

San Diego-based Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., for example, uses tablets to automate HAACP compliance at its 128 company-owned Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes stores. Instead of committing data to paper ledgers at individual stores, tablet systems automate and store details such as freezer temperatures and bathroom-cleaning schedules; they can also send real-time alerts when an unexpected variance is detected.

Others are using tablets as managerial tools in place of back-office computers to organize calendars, emails and special events. The tablet serves as a sharable system that can communicate with peers, regional managers and the home office, making them an interactive decision-support tool.

Training systems on tablets also bring employees out of the back office. Sam Worobec, training manager, new brands/international at Chipotle Mexican Grill told members of the FSTec audience in New Orleans in September that the Denver-based chain recently launched a tablet-based training system in 50 stores. It replaces paper binders and digital e-learning components that suck up a lot of bandwidth and aren’t easy to keep current.

Chipotle declined our request for an interview to provide more details, but as Worobec told the crowd from the stage, the reaction has been positive thus far. Employees have individual logins, he explained, and training content is tailored to their specific positions and responsibilities. Users can navigate their own pages through search functions as well as annotate their materials on the device, and managers can send messages—to anyone from the facilities-maintenance staff to corporate—and share information with their team.

Moreover, tablets help the brand connect to its employees. “With restaurant companies, most users are 18 to 25. They’re used to seeing things on a smartphone, on a tablet, being mobile. Sitting them down at a computer just doesn’t make sense; they’re not used to that,” said Worobec. And handing them a binder? “It’s like handing them a vinyl record when they’ve got an iPod,” he said.

While Chipotle hasn’t ruled out individual smartphone systems, especially for field leaders who bounce between restaurants, it opted for tablets to continue its “shoulder-to-shoulder” training methods. “[It’s a] unified experience to set the standard, but you still have a person there with you, that human connection,” Worobec said.

For now, Chipotle’s tablets are only used for training, but there’s room for other apps in the future, Worobec said. And who knows, with the recent rollout of the revamped iPad that includes Apply Pay Touch ID fingerprint sensors, more functions may be possible soon. But for now, Chipotle is satisfied. “Operationally, it makes us more efficient. We’re not sitting in that office in the back side anymore,” said Worobec. “For the people culture, it’s really empowering the team. It’s giving them the tools and the access to the information.” 

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