It used to be that people went to restaurants so they could disconnect from their smartphones. But increasingly, eateries are introducing table-top technology that lets you order, pay the check, play games, and scan news headlines.
Chevy's Fresh Mex restaurants, for example, have installed "Ziosks" at about a dozen locations. Ziosks are interactive computer screens where diners can see pictures of entrees, order items, and pay the bill, all sans waiter.
There is a gee-whiz factor about these gadgety dinner guests, but during a recent lunch rush at a San Francisco-based Chevy's, many customers were reluctant to use them, preferring instead to use the "old fashioned" method of ordering.
Some restaurants have chosen to use iPads to show menus or wine lists. But one major hurdle is that customers tend to spend more time deciding what to order...and that can spell disaster for any establishment trying to get customers in and out quickly. Another big problem: stolen iPads.
Charles Low of Lark Creek Steak had to nix his restaurant's pilot iPad program because too many of the devices were walking out the door. He said his staff had to play "menu police." And that distracted them from their main task: improving the customer experience.
At other dining establishments, the iPad isn't just a part of the experience, it's the business model. At Stacked, a build-your-own burger and pizza restaurant with locations in California, diners customize their meals by choosing various buns, toppings, and sauces -- all with the swipe of a finger.
Gimmicky or not, many patrons point to the convenience of tabletop tablets.
"This is just great, especially when you have kids," says Mekhala Inghelberecht, a San Francisco mom. "You can order right away. You can pay right away. You don't have to wait for your server," she says.