Tabletop tablet computers in full-service restaurants for information lookup, ordering, payment and entertainment are a radical idea, but they are almost certainly the wave of the future in traditional casual dining now that Applebee’s, Chili’s and Buffalo Wild Wings have all begun to roll out their own versions of the new technology.

Not quite four out of 10 consumers say they’ve heard about this new dining-room tech. Of these, three out of 10 have actually visited a restaurant where tabletop tablets were installed. And of this group, more than eight out of 10 tested out the tablet.

More than half report that they used the tablet to order their meal, and almost half settled their bill on the tablet. In addition, a quarter looked up menu information via the tabletop tablet, and some used it to play games. One-sixth of the diners ignored the tablet.


Three-quarters of those who have used a tabletop ordering and payment tablet in a restaurant appreciated the convenience and speed. Not quite half said they were gratified that they could check to ensure accuracy of their order or their bill, and about four out of 10 said they liked the easy access to information and the security of payment. And four out of 10 simply got a kick out of using the latest technology.
 


 

Enthusiasm for tabletop tablet utilization going forward is widespread but hardly universal. Of those who have used a tablet, more than nine out of 10 say they would be at least somewhat likely to use it again (but only six out of 10 assert that they would be extremely likely to employ the tablet on another visit, implying at least a bit of doubt among the rest). Of consumers who haven’t yet had a chance to try out a tabletop tablet in a restaurant, two-thirds are at least somewhat interested in doing so (but fewer than three out of 10 say they would be extremely likely to use the tablet, again suggesting some ambivalence).


 

TABLETS AND TIPS

One of the big questions about the advent of tabletop tablets—perhaps the key question—is what it will do to waitstaff. The big chains that are rolling out tablets say they don’t plan to reduce the number of servers, but rather reassign them to spend more time taking care of customers, such as refilling water glasses promptly. Of course, when servers have different duties, this may affect their customers’ perception of what constitutes a proper tip.

We asked all respondents (rather than just those who have encountered tabletop tablets) how they thought they should tip the server if they used the tablet rather than the server for ordering and/or payment for their meal. Seven out of 10 say they would tip the same amount they usually do. Not quite a tenth say they’re not sure. Only 13% are sure that they would reduce their tip, and 9% would actually tip the server more under the new system. Women, who generally show up in surveys as more cost-conscious than men, are slightly more likely to say they would reduce the tip.
 


PAYMENT POSSIBILITIES

We also asked consumers about a restaurant technology that’s literally in their own hands: payment of their bill by mobile phone. Although consumers have begun using cell phones and other mobile devices to order their restaurant meals, mobile payment (either in advance or in the restaurant) is a newer idea.

The curve of consumer familiarization and adoption of this new convenience is somewhat ahead of that for tabletop tablets. Almost half of consumers say they’ve heard about the mobile payment option. Of this group, a third report that they have patronized a restaurant that gave customers the chance to pay the bill on their cell phone. But of those who’ve had the chance to use mobile payment, only 44% have actually done so—well under half.

Bottom line: New technology for ordering and payment of restaurant meals—whether by tablet at the table or by mobile phone in the restaurant or elsewhere—is clearly the wave of the future, with large numbers of consumers interested in making the switch to new ways of handling their restaurant transactions. But a significant group is reluctant, preferring human-to-human interaction.

Through MarketBriefing, American Express provides restaurants with research-based analysis of key industry developments.

Data is collected and analyzed by Technomic, Inc. To subscribe or find past issues of MarketBriefing go to: www.technomic.com/MB.

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