Who Needs a Waitress? Order by Tablet at Chili’s

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The restaurant chain plans to have dozens of tablets available at every location next year for ordering, paying, and playing video games.

You may be able to order a meal and pay for it without speaking to waitstaff at a national restaurant chain next year.

Chili’s, which has tested tabletop tablets at a handful of restaurants for five months, will roll them out at all company-owned restaurants by mid-2014, Nation’s Restaurant News says. Franchisees will have the option of using them, too. There will be about 50 devices per restaurant.

The idea isn’t to get rid of waitstaff (or make smartphone culture even more ubiquitous and annoying) but to highlight certain menu items and provide convenience, executives told NRN.

“[Customers] can control their own destiny,” Chili’s marketing vice president Edithann Ramey told NRN. “The whole experience improves if they can pay at the table as quickly as possible and order as they wanted to.” About half of tables paid by tablet when it was available, and drink and dessert sales were up.

The first alcoholic beverage can’t be ordered by tablet — since someone still has to make sure you’re old enough — but additional drinks can be, Ramey says. The tablets also let consumers play video games at the table for 99 cents, and about 10 percent of tables played them. (NRN didn’t ask how often Chili’s cleans the tablets, but one certainly wonders.)

Not to be outdone, McDonald’s is also testing mobile ordering to speed up the drive-through, Digital Trends says. Burger King is testing a delivery service in some cities.

What do you make of ordering by touchscreen? Is it a good idea or a bad one? Let us know on Facebook.

Stacy Johnson

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