It’s fair to say that I grew up with technology. I’m Generation X. I remember my first computer at 5 years old, using America Online (AOL for you young whippersnappers) at age 7, my family’s first VCR, scoffing at the “absurdity” of the DVD player, thinking that the Motorola Razr was the most amazing thing ever next to my very first Nokia cell phone, feeling hesitant about the smart phone revolution and eventually seeing full touch screen phones, tablets and “phablets” take over the world. It’s fair to say that my Generation pioneered these technologies and is the first to learn to use them. We grew up with the world at our fingertips.
With all of that said, what in the actual hell is going on with these new table side tablets I’m seeing popping up at restaurants!?
If you live in a smaller town, you may not have experienced these yet. To be fair, I live in Charleston, SC where things are progressive but very laid back at the same time, so we’re only recently getting around to this technology being commonplace. Forgive me if you’re just all “What is she even talking about? We’ve had these for like 5 years now…”
As you can see, this one at Applebee’s gives you the ability to order an appetizer and/or dessert, Call your waitress, play games and pay for your meal. At one point during our meal, it even prompted me and asked if I needed another drink.
My first thought in regards to these “new” table side tablets was “Okay, that’s kind of a novel idea” until I remembered an article I read regarding customer productivity at restaurants which claims cell phones (and related technologies) are to blame for it taking longer on average for diners to order, eat their meal and leave than it did 10 years ago. Why? Because after studying survellance videos, it was discovered that diners spent time fumbling with their phones, checking Facebook and texting and whatever else they were doing for several minutes before even glancing at their menus. It therefor took them longer to order because they weren’t ready the first time the waiter/waitress came by. Even once they had their drinks and food, they had to take pictures of their meal and post it on Instagram, Twitter, etc before they could even eat. It only got worse from there as the diners were found frequently checking their phones and having text conversations instead of actually eating.
I see the potential in the table side tablet. It means the waiter/waitress doesn’t have to come back several times to get your appetizer order in and at any point, you can order it yourself. This is especially handy if the restaurant is busy – you can send your order straight to the kitchen instead of waiting 5-10 minutes for someone to notice that you want something. This is pretty cool to someone like me who is again, technologically savvy. I think the feature asking me if I need another drink is kind of nice too for all of the same reasons. The dessert option is nice since no one knows my eating pace better than I do. If I know I am going to be done eating my entree’ in the next 5 minutes, why not spend a couple of minutes ordering dessert so it’s at the table a lot faster, right?
All of this sounds really great but at the end of the meal, it made me ask myself… Who exactly am I tipping and for what?
It could just be a fluke, but my waitress was kind of a fumbling, awkward little thing. Maybe she was just new and I won’t discount that possibility. But honestly, it came time to pay and I wasn’t sure why I was bothering to tip her our usual 15-20%. We’re normally good tippers because my boyfriend and I both understand what it’s like to work hard for our money. But was this “working hard”? The tablet did a lot of the work for us. She didn’t have to take my appetizer order. She didn’t even have to check on me. She wasn’t there to ask if I needed a refill. She wasn’t even present when we paid. Who am I tipping? – certainly not the tablet.
I won’t discount that she took my original drink order or that she took my entree’ order as well. I will acknowledge that she did check on us, but she also forgot the 2 plates we ordered with our appetizer, the straws she promised to bring us after dropping off our drink order without them and the coleslaw meant to go with Jeremy’s meal. She didn’t have to remember anything about us – the tablet did it for her. Why then did I have to ask for a straw? Why did a manager have to overhear Jeremy asking me if his food was supposed to have coleslaw? It shouldn’t have happened – tablet present or not.
Then there are the tablet games. Is this really neccesary? This cuts my productivity as a diner in half. Sure, I’m personally not going to pay the 99 cents it called for in order to play a game, but someone will. Frankly, if I want to play a game at the dinner table, I’ll do that on my phone. But GAMES AT THE TABLE!? What the hell? Back in my day (oh geez) my Mother would have slapped the phone out of my hand if I were playing Snake at the dinner table. My phone wasn’t even allowed at the table, much less for me to be playing games on it. What a strange world we’re in.
So all of the time shaved off my dining experience was just blown out of the water by the fact that you want me to spend time playing games on this tablet. I get it… you want me to stay glued to the tablet in hopes that something on it catches my eye and I decide to order it. But I can look at it while I eat (and I did). I saw a lot of promotional pictures of food that I would like to maybe try next time I’m there. Yes, I saw the new desserts but we don’t often eat dessert out anyways. I don’t need games to distract me from ordering and eating… and I don’t need your help finding things to stuff my face with.
The whole experience has me feeling sort of “meh” about Applebee’s. Unlike many of my friends, I actually like eating there because the one by my house in terms of food is generally rather good (on another note, the food sucked tonight – go figure). But after tonight, I think it’s going to be a little while before I go there again. What a shame.
How do you feel about these table side tablets? Have you had positive experience with them? Are they popular where you live?