Tablets Take Dining Experiences to New Places

By Ken Kaplan, iQ Managing Editor @kenekaplan February 21, 2014

Who ever said that in order for a restaurant to be mobile, it had to be on wheels?

Yes, food trucks have proven to be more than just a passing fad — in fact, there are over 3 million food trucks operating across the country. We’ve seen these meals-on-wheels operations popping up in cities across the nation, and they are becoming increasingly high-tech. From kitchens in Airstream trailers to instant ordering and payment methods with apps such as LevelUp and Square, today’s food carts are a prime space to test new technologies.

And now restaurant chains are following suit to find their own method of mobility. While they’re helping take restaurants to new places, tablets are helping move experiences inside local establishments that are bringing smiles to customers and managers alike.

By the end of 2014, Applebee’s plans to install 100,000 Intel-backed E la Carte Presto tablets on tabletops and bars in more than 1,800 locations across the country. According to USA Today, this “will rank among the largest-ever rollout of tablet technology in the private sector.”

“The device puts control of the restaurant experience in the hands of our guests,” said Applebee’s President, Mike Archer, in an interview with Forbes. “Speed of payment is the first thing that guests will notice.”

Beyond ordering food, customers can use the tablets to pay their bill or even play video games at the table. Archer told USA Today that they have seen boosts in appetizer and dessert sales in the 50 Applebee’s restaurants that are experimenting with the devices.

Applebee’s isn’t the only restaurant chain testing the technology waters. The Habit Burger Grill has integrated tablet devices across their 85+ locations.


“IT plays a really big role in the restaurants and with a lot of our success,” said Mike Repetti, The Habit Burger Grill’s VP of Information Technology.

“We decided to go to a mobile device because our restaurants are typically 1,600 to 2,400 square feet, so we didn’t have the footprint to be able to attach a full keyboard, mouse, monitor on a wall, or at a desk.”

The Habit Burger Grill integrated their Point of Sale (PoS) system into Intel-powered Dell Latitude tablets, so their servers could take orders on the go and managers could use them for inventory.

“Once we had the PoS working on the touch screen, we got it into our [food] truck, and then from there the possibilities opened up,” said Repetti. “We had great success with [the tablets in] our food truck, which then in turn went to our Drive Thru locations… It allows me to create a mobile work force.”

With the help of the mobile devices, The Habit Burger Grill has managed to reduce customer wait times by over 25 percent, he said.

“It’s great to be a part of an organization, especially in the restaurant space, that views technology as strategic and we’re not just keeping the lights on here,” he said. “We’re pushing the envelope.”

Hudson Riehle, SVP of research at the National Restaurant Association, told USA Today that one of the key reasons for tablet integration in restaurants is largely to attract a larger millennial customer base. But, don’t think that the tabletop technology will disappear anytime soon.

“Looking out over the next decade, it will become fairly routine for consumers in table service restaurants to use tablets to view menus, place orders, and pay bills,” explained Riehle.

As mobile technology infiltrates the restaurant industry, it may redefine the way we think about food on the go. Welcome to the age of smart dining.