Bringing Tablets to the Table
Apr/May 2013
Theresa Billy

Restaurants are poised to reinvigorate the dining experience. It all starts with enhancing guest engagement through the ability to create connections between guests and their food—as well as between their wallets and the tablet.

Restaurant fun has just begun as tablets take to the table, moving from backroom inventory and kitchen display to the associate’s apron and the guest’s fingertips. In all, mobile apps, the cloud, and virtual POS (point-of-sale) systems are on the menu for how tablets will be used in restaurants.

Tablet options in the restaurant business are being extended to include surveys for product development, gaming options, and even for search and brand activities, such as registering for loyalty programs and sharing check-ins, tips, and menu items on social media sites, aka location-based services.

Restaurants across the country are experimenting with tablets in a myriad ways, from using them to create interactive menus and virtual POS systems, to helping manage inventory, or even promoting DIY (do it yourself) ordering capabilities. In each case, it is all about the data and what information can be of most value to a restaurant. From the ability to expand marketing and customer service via realtime engagement, to creating new opportunities for improving product, operations, and businesses intelligence, powerful capabilities are certainly in store.

New apps, platforms, processes, and POS systems allow for faster service, remote management, and reporting, all around the idea of increasing satisfaction and profitability. Therefore it is no surprise restaurants are lining up to test them and get cooking.

Grab a Menu

Might you be interested in Menuvative? This cloud-based application is directed towards evolving the typical menu, creating a new interactive, green touchpoint and experience for the consumer, while providing realtime menu connectivity for the business. An Android app, Menuvative enhances the messaging capabilities of the menu. This includes promoting complementary products, such as PairingPro, which helps guests by displaying appropriate wine recommendations by price. Guests can see and review the menu and compare the ingredients, wines, and prices all from their seat via the tablet.

Even Windows-based apps are in on the game, with those like emenu by Azilen Technologies (which also works with Android devices) providing realtime electronic menus.

The idea of tablets at the table is being embraced by big names like MGM Resorts Intl. The hospitality giant is building out its menu approach using iPads. Think iTunes for wines, drinks, and desserts. MGM rolled out a pilot that is live at five Bellagio restaurants, focusing the tablet engagement on wine, specialty drinks, and dessert menu choices, all with great success. MGM expects to extend this service across five properties to include up to 35 restaurants by early 2013.

One of the significant benefits that tablets provide in this case, and in heavily trafficked tourist locations like Las Vegas, are multi-language capabilities. This functionality will be especially important to organizations in the future as the activities they deploy on the tablet grow to include integration with other business drivers and programs, like marketing, inventory, and POS. Furthermore, as they are coordinated with digital signage and other machines, tablets will provide targeted push marketing and research options.

Concerns don’t necessarily revolve around consumer adoption more so than they do around compliancy issues and infrastructure challenges. Such challenges include wireless connectivity, storage and security measures, battery charging functionality, and other processes. After all, you don’t want tablets that walk away or run out at an inopportune moment.

Check, Please

Some, like the Catalina Restaurant Group, which operates more than 170 restaurants through two family dining chains, Coco’s Bakery Restaurant and Carrows Restaurant, saw the potential in tablets and have designed full scale, staged solution rollouts. Catalina identified a need to solve some common industry inefficiencies, speed of guest service, and accuracy of orders. It started by replacing the traditional method of having servers use pen and notepad with Samsung Galaxy Tabs. This created an innovative tablet approach: realtime table-side ordering.

In this case, because wait staff would be handling the tablets for taking orders, they considered features like tablet and screen size, resolution and performance, as well as system integration. The project extended across all locations to include this innovative new solution, creating connections between applications and virtual POS terminals to provide improvements across operations and service. This includes the feedback for, and ability to change menu offerings based on guest preferences.

Other full-service systems like POSlavu, Presto, and ShopKeep exhibit these full-scale ordering and payment processing features and include tabletop and free standing kiosk tablets. In essence, this highlights the value of mobile and wireless technologies inrestaurant and other retail environments.

POSlavu, which recently teamed with Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares TV show, is a complete POS solution that connects the kitchen to mobile ordering and payment processing. It provides analytics, reports, and wireless printing and also expands to includetime-card functionality.

Presto tablets from Elacarte offer the same type of plug-and-play system, which allows users to review the menu and order and pay, dramatically reducing table turn time and allowing for increased sales. Likewise, New York City-based ShopKeep offers more payment options and a time-clock feature that lets managers enter andtrack employee hours on the iPad.

All the Ingredients

While all of these options vary, they have some common ingredients. They are open source, based on software, hardware, the cloud, and mobility. They rely on connectivity and interoperability. They allow management snapshots of integrated systems across geography. Businesses can upload and change their menus and messages in realtime as inventory, activity, or human capital dictate. They can process orders and payments and engage with their customersfrom anywhere.

Customers can review and order directly from tablets in and at the table. They can use a touchscreen and dropand- drag the ingredients or items and proceed to order and pay. They can search and play and share and post to other screens within the concept and connect with the business to provideinsights and create a relationship.

But all-in-all, the key ingredient will be satisfied customers. This is how you build a successful business with thesupport of tablets.

The Stacked approach is all about customization. It is a full-service restaurant based on an ordering approach that enables guests to customize their meal and control when and what they order and how they pay, even allowing dinersto split the tab from the table.

All of the ingredients and food items are listed individually so each customer builds their own meal. Like I said, it’s DIY ordering. And who knows how soon until the idea of BYOD (bring your own device) begins to further this trend. Envision the day when you pre-order your meal from your device and have it waiting for you as you swing by therestaurant on your way home from work.

Just wait until you see what happens when NFC (near-field communication) gets added. We are already getting a “taste” of this thanks to tablet enclosure specialist, Lilitab, which announced plans to unveil an iPad-based kiosk with NFC aimed at retailers and restaurants. According to the company, this will beavailable with or without a card swipe.

So, have I whetted your appetite yet? Surely this is merely the appetizer for what will become a full-course meal for restaurants looking to transform the business model using connected devices.The restaurant fun has just begun.

Theresa Billy is a true connector: a social business, mobile, and emerging media consultant and NFC evangelist with Near Field Connects, a founding member of thinaire, and a thought leader, speaker, and author in the social business and mobile engagement space. She can be reached at



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