'Hi, My Name Is iWaiter, and I'll Be Taking Your Order': Tablets Invade Two Big Chain Restaurants

So, how much do you tip a touch screen?
Dec 5, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In a move likely to delight toddlers everywhere and frustrate the hell out of their grandparents, Applebee’s has announced that it will install tablets tableside at every one of its 1,860 restaurants nationwide.

Apparently nothing says “Welcome to the neighborhood” like the pallid glow of a computer screen.

While rival Chili’s unveiled a similar plan three months ago, Applebee’s appears to be taking the whole tablet-to-table thing a little further. At Chili’s, customers will be able to order drink refills and desserts only (while also paying to play a selection of online games). It appears Applebee’s will allow diners to order everything from appetizers to dessert (while also paying to play a selection of online games).

Despite that most everyone around the table probably already has a smartphone with email to check, Facebook statuses to be updated, and Instagram photos of Orange Dream Martinis to upload, it seems the companies contracted to supply the tablets to Applebee’s and Chili’s think those online games are going to be the big cash cow for them. “The device is supposed to really make money when groups, especially families, pay $0.99 to play games like trivia on the device while they sit,” reports Forbes. Which is exactly why tabletop Galaga consoles still line pizzerias across the country, pulling in riches a quarter at a time.

Never underestimate the average American family’s desire not to talk to one another.

As for what’s in it for the restaurants, they say that in test markets, customers who used tablets tended to order extras such as dessert and coffee, which bumped up the total for the average ticket. Also, they were able to pay and get out the door faster, which means quicker turnaround of tables.

So to recap, the winners here: the restaurant chains, the tablet makers, people waiting for a table—and my iPad-loving nephew. The losers: Grandma and Grandpa, anyone who doesn’t really need the ability to order a Triple Chocolate Meltdown via WiFi, and, most likely, the wait staff.

Yep, in an era of ever-rising tuition costs, these tablets might very well spell doom to yet another way to work your way through college.

Not that Applebee’s or Chili’s is saying that. They’ve taken pains to emphasize that they have no plans to cut staffing levels at their restaurants and that customers who use tablets tend to leave larger tips. But as Slate puts it: “Of course these businesses are saying they won’t use the tablets to replace employees. Announcing layoffs along with the tablet move would be begging for a backlash. The fact is, if the tablets work, they’ll make the ordering process more efficient and cut the amount of human labor that these restaurants require. At that point, do you suppose they’ll keep the extra waiters around out of charity?”