Tabletop tablets are becoming a common sight at casual dining restaurants, but do they contribute to happier customers and higher spending?

Recent research by Cornell University has shown that the introduction of tabletop tech at “full-service casual dining chains” increases average spend by £2.60 per person with some companies reporting a 20% increase in both starter and dessert sales. Furthermore, 79% of customers agree that restaurants technology improves their experiences as guest.

Faster lines and checkouts
Tablets can help increase order efficiency, reduce waiting times and increase sales. McDonalds experienced a 5% lift in sales after the addition of kiosks. Smaller companies are also beginning to reap the benefits. Japanese Tea Garden, a San Francisco tea shop, saw a 30-50% reduction in waiting time after adopting a tablet point of sale system.

Enhancing experience
Consumers are becoming more interested in how rather than what they buy. Experience versus quality is becoming increasingly relevant in restaurants. Bones Atlanta, a trendy steakhouse in New York City, uses tablets for ordering and it allows customers to search the 1,350 wines on offer by name, region and price, making the experience more entertaining and educational. Inamo, an Asian cuisine restaurant in London, has taken it a step further: by incorporating tablets into their tables, customers can not only order their food but also set the mood, discover the local neighbourhood and entertain themselves by playing games.

Dine and dash
Time-strapped consumers will likely enjoy the ability to pay as soon as they finish their meals, without having to wait for a server to bring the bill. Research has shown that when tablets are used to pay, dining time is reduced by 31%. Reduced turnaround times provides opportunities to get more customers through the door.

Vita Mojo, a salad bar opened in 2016 in London, isn’t far off being fully automated. Choosing, ordering and paying is all completed via an app or tablet within store. Human interaction is only incorporated when the food is collected. The combination of technology and healthy eating has certainly been a hit as Vita Mojo has recently been valued at £23m.

However, these tablets are not cheap. They range from £400 – £1000 to install with an added £50 – £100 per month per tablet for the software. Whilst this is considerably less than the cost of staff to fulfil the same role, the loss of human interaction may be unpalatable for restaurants who consider personal service as a differentiator.

However, whether waiting staff will be completely replaced is unlikely. The dining-out experience has always been closely tied with the social experience of being served, especially in high-end restaurants. Take away the servers, and you turn “dining” into simply “eating”. This suits the casual dining mentality, but with high-end restaurants the waiting staff are key to the experience.

We will continue to track the evolving role of technology in the consumer dining experience with interest.

Roisin Monaghan