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Tablets Soon to Become Tabletop Mainstays at Chili's

Tablets Soon to Become Tabletop Mainstays at Chili's
Image credit: Brinker International

Want your burger with a side of tablet?

Chili's Grill & Bar has announced it will roll out tabletop Ziosk tablets to all 823 company-owned U.S. restaurants by the middle of 2014 in a move that could change the way the chain functions and brings in profits.

More than 200 Chili's restaurants and two franchise partners already have the 7-inch tablets, which allow guests to order certain menu items, play 99-cent games and pay for their meals. At this point, franchisees can choose to order tablets for their restaurants or wait for Chili's to share data collected as more company-owned restaurants implement the device.

In restaurants where it has been tested, the tablet is said to have resulted in increased customer spending. "People are buying more food and add-ons like desserts and drinks at the table," Edithann Ramey, Chili's vice president of marketing, said in an interview with trade publication Nation's Restaurant News (NRN). "We saw double-digit increases in dessert sales during test." Ziosk, the Dallas-based company that makes the tablets, claims on its website that restaurants using the device saw a 20 percent jump in appetizer sales, on average.

The tablets have also allowed customers to pay for their food without having to wait for their server to give them the check. About half of Chili's customers in restaurants with tablets are paying their bills from the device, Ramey told NRN.

Related: 4 Ways to Fit Your Mobile App Into Your Business Strategy

The ability for servers to manage more tables is a key feature of the Ziosk tablet, and one that could lead to the most revolutionary change in restaurants nationwide. As self-checkout options have given cashiers the ability to manage five times as many counters at once, tablets offer the opportunity to reduce the work of servers – and presumably the number of them employed.

Chili's says it has no plans to replace its employees. "Ziosk tablets are a tool to help team members create an even better guest dining experience – not replace them," says a spokesperson.

Right now, the company sees the tablets as a means of encouraging extra purchases, such as appetizers and desserts, and reducing the amount of time guests would have to wait for servers. Customers will continue to be seated by hosts or hostesses and have an available server to take the initial drink order as well as their appetizer and entrée orders.

The company also sees the tablet as a way of generating more customer feedback. "Embraced as a tool to help team members create an even better dining experience, we saw improvements in guest satisfaction and engagement from many different touch points within the restaurant, including Chili's guest feedback surveys and email club," Wyman Roberts, president of Chili's, said in a statement. Ziosk claims that the device results in 20 times greater participation in customer surveys. 

Related: 4 Mini-Tablets That Make A Big Impact

Kate Taylor is a staff writer for Entrepreneur.com.

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