Computers

Ziosk e-menus: Improving the restaurant experience for owners, diners… AND waiters

Ziosk e-menus: Improving the r...
Ziosk e-menus: You don't need to wait for a free server to make your orders any more
Ziosk e-menus: You don't need to wait for a free server to make your orders any more
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Ziosk makes its money from monthly restaurant subscriptions and 'premium content' game and entertainment sales
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Ziosk makes its money from monthly restaurant subscriptions and 'premium content' game and entertainment sales
Paying at the table eliminates another useless waiter interaction
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Paying at the table eliminates another useless waiter interaction
Ziosk: A boost in dessert sales has been an unexpected discovery
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Ziosk: A boost in dessert sales has been an unexpected discovery
Ziosk e-menus: You don't need to wait for a free server to make your orders any more
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Ziosk e-menus: You don't need to wait for a free server to make your orders any more

At first glance, it's easy to come to the conclusion that the Ziosk tablet heralds the end of table service jobs. After all, these faceless waiters can take your food and drink orders at any time you like, they can offer you today's specials and upsell you, they can take your payment and tips – heck, they can even entertain your kids or post a group photo to Facebook for you. So what's left for your friendly, fleshy, human wait staff to do? More of what they're best at, as it turns out.

Dallas-based Ziosk has emerged as the runaway market leader in e-menu implementation in the United States. Claiming a 95% market share, Ziosk's tablets are now deployed in more than 1500 restaurants across America, including all Chilis and Olive Garden locations.

The concept is pretty simple – instead of waiting for your waiter to come by, you use a small 7-inch, networked Android tablet to order at your leisure. Feel like a drink? Put a supplementary drink order in at any time. Menus are always up to date with the latest items and photos, specials can be rolled out instantly across entire restaurant chains.

The tablets are also equipped with encrypted payment facilities, allowing customers to pay at the table whenever they like. As a diner, you don't need to catch your server's attention to order or pay any more.

The benefits for restaurant owners are huge – when people don't need to wait for busy staff to put their orders in, the wheels of commerce are greased considerably. Tables can get in and out up to five or ten minutes quicker than usual. When an extra round of drinks is just a touch away, people order more, boosting Per Person Average (PPA) takings, and many locations are reporting a big boost in dessert sales – whether it's because the sticky date pudding has been staring moistly at diners all through main course, or because people don't have to confess their sweet, treacly, shameful desires to a human waiter.

Ziosk: A boost in dessert sales has been an unexpected discovery
Ziosk: A boost in dessert sales has been an unexpected discovery

And it doesn't stop there. According to Ziosk, users are over 10 times more likely to sign up to loyalty programs and 30 times more likely fill out customer experience surveys. The tablets help promote the restaurant by taking group selfies and posting them to social media for you, complete with "check-ins." And the tablets keep restless kids (and adults) occupied with 99-cent "premium content" video games and trivia quizzes – many designed to involve everyone at the table and fire up conversations.

To make it even more of a no-brainer for restaurant chain owners, Ziosk operates on a deal that costs a restaurant owner less than nothing to implement. The company takes its monthly subscription fees out of premium content sales, and then works on a 50/50 cut for further premium content above and beyond that mark.

It appears to be working well, and the model is growing steadily across the US. But what's surprising is that waiting staff, whose jobs would ostensibly seem to be under threat here, are seeing the benefits of the technology as well. Freed from much of the lug work of writing and relaying orders, and ferrying cash or credit cards around, they're able to deal with more tables and spend more time chatting and building relationships with customers. There's fewer ordering mix-ups, and customers tend to be happier since they're much more in control of the timing.

So the average server is dealing with more tables full of happier people - and the payment system makes automatic tip suggestions. The result? Many servers are reporting a boost in tips. This may be a rare case of a win-win-win technology.

Or it may not. Chains will likely work out exactly how many extra tables their wait staff can handle with a Ziosk or similar system on board, and cut down on jobs in response. Not a big deal for a single restaurant, but something like Olive Garden represents more than 800 restaurants across America. A change in policy might affect thousands of jobs. This kind of thing is likely to gather steam as customers become better trained to do more of the work themselves, like they have with self-service supermarkets and petrol stations.

And it doesn't take much to imagine this kind of thing being rolled in with robot waiter technology sometime in the future, to the point where a restaurant could begin to operate on a skeleton human front-of-house staff. There will always be smaller restaurants offering a more human experience, but when big chains go automatic, there's a far greater chance to affect the employment landscape. Still, it's hard to argue Ziosk and its competitors aren't smoothing some sharp edges off the casual dining experience.

Now, for god's sake, let's start deploying this thing in bars and nightclubs so we can get a drink without having to fight for elbow room on some sticky counter.

More information: Ziosk

4 comments
Freyr Gunnar
> At first glance, it's easy to come to the conclusion that the Ziosk tablet heralds the end of table service jobs. After all, these faceless waiters can take your food and drink orders at any time you lik Someone still has to actually bring the food from the kitchen to the table, though. Or just eat in an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant to squeeze the middle man.
Rustgecko
This must be a first for selling a faceless machine over a friendly, smiling human-being (which is generally their disposition). Claiming 95% market share with 1500 of the 616,000 restaurants in the USA, is perhaps hyperbole, with a market penetration of less than one quarter of 1%. This may catch on at McDonalds and the like, but I suspect not elsewhere.
AnnBisley
Add to this that you tables video and audio are being transmitted to who knows where. Your employer will easily be able to track and see if you took a long lunch. No expectation of privacy as the ruling in the Planned Parenthood videos show. Your photo tied to whatever credit card you use, alcohol you drink, food you order with all info being sold to insurers, employers and who knows. Your last shot of privacy and we embrace it like lemmings. But by all means, order the appetizers
JerryTodd
"...whatever credit card you use, alcohol you drink, food you order with all info being sold to insurers, employers and who knows" I take it you always just pay with cash Rustgecko? Any for those that are truly paranoid about being spied on by your boss while stealing from...I mean taking an "extended lunch", and being recorded by Big Brother, I'd caution you to just save yourself the agony of modern day living and eat at home. Or you could just throw a napkin over the thing. Or better yet just set the thing somewhere else. You won't be forced to use it. They won't be getting rid of waitstaff before they invent robots to bring your meal. As far as it only catching on at McDonalds...time will tell. I think the appetizer ordering, and paying the bill at your convenience alone will catch on quite quickly.