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Why replacing waiters with tablets is a good idea

Wed, 12/04/2013 - 2:51pm
Kasey Panetta, Managing Editor

This, friends, is a dining option for people who hate other people. Earlier this week, Applebee’s announced that they will replace waiters (to a degree) with tablets at the table. These tablets will be used to take orders and pay the bill--plus they’ll feature games that diners can play while they wait. The tablets, which are Intel-backed startup E la Carte Presto tablets, will total over 100,000 pieces of hardware.

Customers can’t order entrees through the device, but they can order drinks, appetizers and desserts. Most importantly, they can pay at any time, which is great if you’re pressed for time. Future plans for the device include video streaming—I have no idea what use that could have—and social media options. 

This makes sense, given that Applebee’s and Chili’s are essentially glorified fast food restaurants. Let’s be honest, you’re not expecting the greatest service when you go eat here. To that end, I doubt that higher end restaurants are going to be cutting down on the human interaction as superior service is one of the things that raises them to the next level.

On the business sides, companies have found the devices cut wait time and also cause customers to order more food than they normally would. The general draw is to attract more technology-saavy millennials into the restaurants.

Frankly, I think this is a great idea. It backs down the workload for harried servers and it means you won’t have to wait long periods of time for your server to take your drink order or bring you the bill. Plus, it’s just more efficient. It’s not something that would necessarily draw me into the restaurant—I generally avoid both of these like the plague—but it’s a cool perk.

The games are a little annoying, but honestly, given that these two restaurants are filled to the brim with television sets and considering most people have smart phones, that seems like kind of a moot point. Either people are going to be engaged in the conversation or they’re going to be distracted, one more game isn’t going to be the be-all-end-all of communication.

The obvious downside to this is that if tablets ever fully replace waiters that means a pretty sizable layoff is coming for the two companies. Considering Applebee’s has 1,860 restaurant (and Chili’s will be adding the tablets to 800 stores), the potential to affect people is very high.

Obviously, you’ll still have the kitchen workers, seating hostess, waitstaff to deliver food and some sort of cleanup crew and you’re obviously not getting rid of the bartending staff. Though both companies have said they won’t be laying people off, it's easy to become a little nervous. Hopefully before this completely eliminates waitstaff, companies will have a chance to reallocate the labor.

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