How tablets are changing the dining experience

By Dr. Gary Edwards

Chief customer officer, Empathica

Tablet use is becoming a common sight across all restaurant segments. From fine dining to fast casual, establishments are leveraging tablet technology to innovate with a new level of integration between physical and digital channels.

If you think tablets are just another fad that will fade away, you might be in for a surprise. Tablets are here to stay and they're having a transformational effect on customers' dining experiences.

The rise of tablets in restaurants

Consumers are relying on tablets for an increasingly broad range of behaviors and shopping activities. In the retail space, brands are reporting a 10-percent bump in sales and a nine-fold increase in loyalty program sign-ups via tablets, forcing retailers to either embrace consumers' use of tablet devices or risk becoming irrelevant in today's marketplace.

The familiarity and convenience of tablets among consumers is driving similar trends in the foodservice industry. Tableside tablet developers recently reported a month-to-month growth rate of 35 percent in tablet adoption by restaurants, with retail sales and loyalty program gains mirroring those numbers as well.

Although the ways that restaurants are using tablets vary, the overriding message is that tablets enable restaurants to enhance the convenience and level of interaction they provide to guests, ensuring that customers can create a closer connection with the brand by using technology that is already part of their everyday lives.

How tablets are changing customer experience at restaurants

Tablets are a driving force behind innovations in the frontend restaurant customer experience. As more establishments embrace tablet technology, there are several ways they are revolutionizing the restaurant experience for brands and consumers:

1. Seamless dining experiences

Inspired by the ease of exceptional online buying events, guests value restaurants that provide seamless, hassle-free experiences from the moment they are seated through to the moment they pay their checks. In many cases, restaurants are using tablets to offer tableside check payment or other activities that streamline and improve the dining experience.

2. Enhanced interaction

Restaurants on the frontline of tablet deployments have installed tablets at tables, allowing guests to interact with menus, place orders, pay bills and perform a range of other self-serve functions. Similarly, restaurants are exploring the use of promotional content or pay-as-you-go games that provide entertainment or customer engagement opportunities while guests wait for their food to arrive. These kinds of activities drive bottom line improvements by leveraging customer experiences to increase loyalty.

3. "On the Fly" data insights

Tablets offer a non-threatening resource that restaurants can use to capture customer insights. While many guests are hesitant to provide personal information when they pay their checks or at the request of their servers, they are less resistant to provide data on their own terms, especially if the submission of data is tied to a discount or contest. Multi-site restaurants can leverage tablets to capture data insights at the local level, helping them tailor the customer experience to the preferences of local consumers.

4. Guest reviews

A great time to capture guest reviews is before they leave the restaurant, while the experience is top of mind. Willingness to provide feedback is also much greater with this immediacy, since even the most satisfied guests often don't feel compelled to rate their experience later. In the restaurant industry, reviews are a key element in customer acquisition, and tableside tablets offer a ready-made resource for encouraging guests to share feedback about service, cuisine or other details. Reviews captured via tablets can then be used to build brand reputation and modify the customer experience based on guests' suggestions.

5. Multi-channel feedback

Consumers use many different touchpoints to connect with the restaurant brands that are important to them. Surveys and other tools delivered on tablet devices create feedback that can be shared across all available channels, increasing the impact of brand advocacy and positive mentions. In particular, restaurants need to prioritize the use of tablets to capture feedback that can be distributed via social channels.

6. Enhanced employee engagement

One of the largest challenges with customer feedback is how to utilize the results when they arrive. Much of the customer experience management industry has been obsessed with which vendor has the "prettiest" reports. But when you examine "use cases" from an IT perspective, it quickly becomes apparent that no matter what the data visualization, a backroom computer that frontline staffers do not have access to — and don't use in their day-to-day jobs — has little impact on how the staff behaves. Reporting challenges are actually communication challenges. Tablets can help to reshape this challenge by bringing results to life in a meaningful way. Data visualization capabilities on tablets are extensive, but the challenge again becomes how to present guest feedback in a way that meaningfully motivates frontline staff.

The real innovation in the use of tablet technology is that it enables restaurant brands to forge meaningful, direct connections among, guests, restaurant managers and staff members. The deployment of tableside tablets gives guests more options, inviting them to participate in activities that strengthen their relationship with the brand.

But just as importantly, tablets can significantly improve the restaurant's ability to capture feedback and provide local guest insights — determining factors in the brand's ability to create and deliver enhanced customer experiences.

Gary Edwards is chief customer officer at Empathica, a  provider of Customer Experience Management solutions.

Read more about technology.

Photo provided by Flickr user ToGa Wanderings.

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