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Tabletop tablets provide a better experience for diners and valuable data for restaurants

Next time you’re at Chili’s, don’t play with your food. But do play with the Ziosk tablet, if it’s on the table.

You don’t get to keep them, but while you’re waiting for your white spinach queso, baby back ribs, or grilled chicken fajitas, your kids can play games on it. Or you can browse news and entertainment.

These Android devices, powered by Azure, also give diners more info on the menu and the option to pay for their meals directly. At the beginning of 2015, diners could find the Ziosk tablets in 1,442 restaurants. A year earlier, it was only 436.

“For some guests, I think the biggest plus that Ziosk offers is Pay & Go , so they are in control of the timeliness of their check and when they get out,” says Jeanine Fisher, area director for Chili’s Grill & Bar.

For those used to the self-serve checkouts at the grocery store, it’s an easy adaptation.

“In a casual dining restaurant, you go through this dance where you have to find the server, then they have to go get the check, then you put your card in and wait for them to come back; it takes about 10 minutes on average,” adds Austen Mulinder, CEO of Ziosk. “ With Ziosk payment takes 60 seconds and the data remains secure as the card reader encrypts your card data at the moment of swipe.”

And even if you are compulsive about texting or checking in on Facebook on your own phone, the Ziosk could entice you away from it, at least for the course of a meal.

“If you put good, fresh entertainment on a device like this, where you can communally consume it, as opposed to buried away in your phone in another world, a very high percentage of tables will consume it that way,” Mulinder says. “We put a lot of stuff on there that’s communal. So you’ll see parents playing math games with their kids.”

A Chili’s server holds up the Ziosk tablet to show some of the games available on it.
A Chili’s server holds up the Ziosk tablet to show some of the games available on it.

Chili’s agrees with Mulinder on the content that’s capturing their guests.

“The games have been highly successful for us and really engaging the kids. Trivia has been a really big win for the next age group up. And then for parents and older patrons, it gives them the opportunity to view some of our menu items and see what’s out there if they haven’t been in a while,” says Fisher.

A close-up of the Ziosk tablet. (Source: Chili’s.)
A close-up of the Ziosk tablet. (Source: Chili’s.)

Besides what the tablets can do for guests to make their meal the most enjoyable outing it can be, it’s also a treasure trove of information for restaurants.

“The data that comes in is associated with a specific check, so we have all of the information we need as to the time the guest was there, as well as the individual team members that were involved in that experience,” Fisher says. “Having more data helps me be able to be more specific with the things that our team members are doing well, and the things that they need to continue to improve upon.”

Chili’s uses guest surveys to hone in on those things, such as faster drink refills and table cleaning, or being at the table more often to check in with guests.

“We’re capturing a wealth of information, as you can imagine,” says Kevin Mowry, Ziosk’s chief software architect. “We can see what the user viewed, what they clicked. We can see information about transactions that were performed – actual sales information. And we capture guest feedback through surveys as well. So we’re able to tie together what the user saw, what they did or purchased and what they felt about it afterwards. So this is hugely powerful, and this is really revolutionary in the industry.”

Using Power BI and Office 365, restaurants like Chili’s are able to make changes quickly based on trends and guest feedback gathered through them. To tap into the actions diners take on the devices – and the sequence they take them in – Ziosk and Microsoft partner Artis Consulting used Azure HDInsight, the Microsoft Hadoop in the cloud service. They built Power BI dashboards that restaurants can customize so that they can make the most of the data they’re gathering.

“Through the Ziosk platform, restaurants can get visibility into the guest’s feedback. They can use that to determine the effectiveness of their service, for example,” Mowry says. “So the normal guest feedback, answers to questions such as, ‘Was your food delivered on time? Was it hot? Was it to your liking? Did you enjoy your overall experience?’ can be tied to individual servers to see how a server’s performing, and managers can use that to help elevate the performance of their team. If they can do that, they end up delivering a better experience to the guests.”

“The Ziosk is the anchor that will allow us to create a kind of connectivity, in a very personalized way, to our guests,” says Wade Allen, vice president of digital innovation and customer engagement for Chili’s Grill & Bar. “Being able to get very actionable insights at an individual restaurant level is game changing. If you know specifically that a particular restaurant has a heat and speed problem, or what particular items are reported as cold, or which particular servers are slow or what’s causing the bottleneck, that’s game changing, and you’re getting it in real time.”

It’s that speediness that is so valuable with this technology.

“What happens today may be different in a week. It allows you to pivot and do the things you need to in order to solve those problems,” Allen says. “And that’s the kind of data we’re getting off the device today.”

“Before Ziosk came along, the flow of data was fairly limited,” adds Mowry. “There was information about the checks and the transactions that were occurring, but not all the other pieces that could be tied together in a timely manner. So being able to get that information into the hands of the restaurant operators faster allows them to make decisions faster, and therefore speeds the cycle of innovation.”

Guests enjoying a meal at Chili’s, with the Ziosk tablet on the table.