By Erik Ploof

According to research from NRA’s 2019 State of the Industry report, 33% of family dining and 28% of fine dining restaurants plan to devote more resources on customer-facing technology devices for tableside ordering and payments.  One flavor of the new tablets being promoted to the restaurant industry is a dual function hand-held tablet that combines tableside ordering and payments.  However, when you look at restaurants which have already experimented with this option, you’ll uncover some downsides that you’ll seldom read about publicly.

Here are just two ways this selection can negatively impact your restaurant.

Are you sure you’re not a QSR?

Most, if not all, of the table-service restaurateurs we speak to have put countless hours and sweat equity into creating a unique and friendly dining experience. Unless your concept is fast casual or quick service, you probably want your guests to have a memorable dining experience that lingers long after they leave the table.  Unfortunately, restaurants are now being lured into adopting a combined ordering and payment tablet with the promise that it will turn tables quicker and expedite the order request from the table to the kitchen.  However, at what costs?

Armed with a hand-held tablet and with little understanding of how tablet-based workflows can potentially disrupt the dining experience, if you’re not careful, you may negatively impact the restaurant operations and most importantly guest satisfaction.  By attempting to shave a few seconds off of each order, it’s all too easy for your guest’s comfort to be tossed aside and your restaurant to take on the feeling of a QSR.

If there aren’t enough tablets for each staff member, things can get worse. Taking orders and collecting payments will happen on the wait staff’s timeline (usually when a tablet becomes free) as opposed to when the customer is ready.  In short, you must be aware of how easy it is for tablets to turn your concept into a QSR, regardless of whether that’s your goal.

Finally, when a guest goes to an upscale restaurant, they expect to be taken care of and appreciate the personal interaction between the server and the guest.  Ordering is the starting point for establishing the personal connection.  Introducing automated technology into the first point of contact distances rather than engages the customer, even if it’s just minimizing eye contact.

Relying on a tablet for ordering and payments is easy, right?

Logic would dictate that if your staff can use a standard POS terminal, using a hand-held tablet that replicates the POS should be just as easy.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.  Often, menus, modifiers, and other functionality are resized and crammed-in to fit the smaller tablet screen making it challenging to locate desired items.  The smaller screen requires cryptic notes to capture guest modifications on meal preparation.  Basically, the ordering process becomes more complicated rather than easier, as initially promised.

When a single tablet is used for tableside ordering and payments, the checkout process can become awkward.  Often the server will attempt to rush the payment process to free up the tablet so it can be used to take another guest’s order.  Imagine how things would worsen when the customer doesn’t know how to use the tablet requiring a mini-tutorial by the server, or hits the wrong button and inadvertently gets into the ordering system.

The above are just two examples of unintended consequences of using tablets in your restaurant.  Restaurants have to be careful and find the right balance between technology and maintaining the guest experience.  So, if you’re considering using a tablet that combines tableside ordering and payments, do so only after careful deliberation and evaluating changes in business processes, additional staff training and possible disruption to the guest experience.

Also, consider keeping payments separate from ordering by turning to a mobile platform that was purposely built to streamline the payment process without disrupting the guest experience - www.tablesafe.com