Restaurants as diverse as The Cheesecake Factory, Chevy’s, Appelbee’s, Bucca di Beppo, IHOP, California Pizza Kitchen and Pizza Hut fall into the “casual dining” or “fast causal” dining categories. The four recognized restaurant segments are: fine dining, casual dining, fast causal and QSR (fast food).
The fast-casual segment alone is approaching $40 billion in annual sales. Fast Food revenues are well over $150 billion annually (on a global basis).
Late last year Applebee’s followed Chili’s in deciding to put tablets (for ordering and paying) on tables in all its restaurants. The tablets and software are provided by E la Carte. They boost order value and are supposed to provide a better overall customer experience.
I recently discovered an interesting, more elaborate alternative to tablets on tables. The conceptual product video below shows an old Microsoft-Surface style interactive table in use at Pizza Hut. The entire table is a touch screen; diners drag and drop ingredients and in the end pay by laying their phones on the table. In a pizza context it looks like fun.
The E la Carte tablet however is much more likely to gain broad adoption than a fully interactive table as shown the the video. For one thing — perhaps the primary reason — it would be much less costly to install while still allowing similar interaction with menu options. Payment equally happens via the tablet or an app rather than through a human server.
Regardless of whether you have interactive tables or tablets on the table, touch screens and self-service are clearly the future of QSR and fast/casual dining. Mobile apps will also be available as a way to order and pay at many establishments. In the fine dining category, OpenTable is testing mobile payments with selected restaurants in San Francisco.
One result of all this is a probable loss of jobs, as these machines make humans less necessary in certain roles. Over the next decade it probably means the loss of many thousands of cashier and server jobs. Speaking hypothetically, these chains would only need one person where three might currently be required to serve the same number of customers.
Most restaurant-goers, unless it were to happen in the higher-end categories, probably wouldn’t notice the loss at all.