The standard restaurant experience involves our short-term relationship with our table server. This relationship begins as soon as the host or hostess has seated us at our table and our waiter or waitress arrives to take our order. During this first meeting, there will be a basic exchange of information that will include what we want to eat and how we would prefer it to be prepared. After that, we are generally left to our own devices until the same person, or in some cases someone else, delivers the meal to our table. Then, if we are lucky, the server will return to confirm that the meal meets our expectations, provide us with refills on our drinks, and present us with a bill. At nicer restaurants, the server will allow you enough time to finish your meal and then return to accept your payment in the form of cash, credit, debit card, gift card, or other form of payment. This may be your last contact with your table server, unless a signature is required that would cause the server to return to your table to present you with the form and then present you with some type of receipt.

Here are a few of the problems experienced by those of us who have ever needed service in a rush in order to catch a plane flight or make it to a scheduled meeting.

  • For a multitude of various reasons, we need to make contact with the server responsible for our table and we can’t find them, forcing us to flag down another server or manager for assistance.
  • The order we placed seems to take forever to arrive at our table. (This recently happened to my wife and me at the Atlanta airport when we found ourselves with just enough layover time to grab a quick bite. We chose a restaurant that looked like it was serving patrons quickly but, once we placed our order, we waited as long as possible to receive our food and then had to give up and run to catch our flight.)
  • What you ordered is not what you are served. (This also happened to me — this time in Boston — but luckily it was wonderful, so I couldn’t complain.)
  • Once you have finished eating, your server seems to have been abducted by aliens and is nowhere to be found.

For those of you who are food servers, please don’t take offense; I know that dealing with the public can be quite unpleasant.

However, technology is making strides to help both sides find a possible remedy that could both decrease the stress of the table servers and increase the level of service the patron receives. This help may come in the form of a tablet computer that is already being beta tested in some areas. Here are a few examples of how some select restaurants have employed this new technology and how they believe they have improved customer satisfaction by changing how we order our food, drinks, and deserts.

  • Improved menu selection with digital photographs of the food we wish to eat.
  • Better descriptions of the food items available, including those that are dieter friendly or gluten free.
  • On the tablet, the establishment can immediately update price changes, thus protecting them from revenue loss due to escalating costs.
  • In most cases the server is protected from abuse about taking too long to place a patron’s order or it being wrong, since it is the patron who is responsible for entering what they wish to order on the tablet.
  • Payment is also quicker as the patron doesn’t have to wait for the server to remember them. They can simply use the tablet to pay for their meal. This also means that there is less chance of a credit card being used fraudulently.

So how well does this new technology work?

My only experience in using a tablet for ordering from a menu occurred in September, 2011, at a Chicago Chili’s. At that time, the restaurant was experimenting with the tablet menu system, so it was limited to the ordering of drinks and desserts. I ordered our drinks on the tablet, and I was surprised at how quickly they arrived — especially since the restaurant was jam-packed with diners. The quickness with which we received our drinks demonstrated how well this system could work. Given that experience, I can see how the tablet could benefit both restaurant employees and customers by improving the speed of service and the time it takes to turn around a table. For the patron, there is no difficulty in using the tablet application, so it shouldn’t pose a problem for the elderly or those with handicaps.

Restaurant News reports that Chili’s is now using the tablet menu for ordering its entire menu — from appetizers through dessert.

One restaurant in Myrtle Beach, called Capriz Italian Feast, is using the Apple iPad to display its wine list. An article in the Myrtle Beach Restaurant News states that the wine list on the Apple iPad displays what wines are being offered, the vintage of the wine, and the vineyards where they were made.

During my search on the Internet, I found not only several chain restaurants that have embraced the new technology, but also a smattering of smaller mom and pop restaurants. All of these restaurants, big or small, are using tablet computers to improve their service and the customer experience for everyone who visits. I would make a prediction that some type of a tablet computer will become the norm in the restaurant industry as we continue to seek ways to increase speed, efficiency, and profit margins. The unfortunate side effects of this new technology are that the number of servers needed at your favorite eatery will dwindle, placing yet another hardship on our already struggling economy with its high unemployment rate.

Comments welcome.