I don’t know about you, but I avoid restaurants that have a little computer on the table and expect you to order from it. Or play games, for a fee, while you’re waiting for your cocktail. In fact, I’ve refused to eat at Chili’s and Olive Garden for this very reason.
But today, for expediency, I agreed to meet a friend at the local Chili’s. It was an eye-opening experience that involved our server, J, and the manager, D, whose name is on the door.
When we first sat down, I said, “Do you mind if I move this thing – prominently displayed at the front of the table – around and push it to the back.” My friend agreed. We spent a couple minutes whining about technology, even though both of us are fairly computer literate. We wanted a dining experience, not a technology one.
When the server came, we registered our dislike of the machine and said we’d prefer to give her our order. And our credit card. J said that she is encouraged by management at the local restaurant to encourage people to use the Ziosk, which is the name for this interactive machine.She also said if she doesn’t encourage customers to use it then management gets on her case. For me this was the first clue that something more intense is going on.
We had lunch, a delicious lunch except for the specter of our server being penalized because we wouldn’t use the Ziosk. Finally, we asked for more information. Boy, did we get it. The manager, D, came to our table and spent a generous amount of time and a generous attitude with us. Here is what we learned.
- It costs Chili’s half a million dollars per restaurant to outfit its tables with Ziosk. So there has to be a return on investment, funded by the customer. Ultimately, I suspect there will be fewer servers and more delivery persons who bring the food once Ziosk tells them.
- According to D, about 70 percent of his customers like the system. It enables them to order, pay, and get out of there in record time to return to the office. I suspect most of them are younger than fifty.
- D gets a report every day on what has transpired, because the Ziosk logs a ton of data about diners. To the point that a poor server is given fewer shifts. To the point that menu choices are determined by who ate what.
- It seems there is a customer survey on Ziosk, and that it counts for a lot. Personally l don’t like customer surveys, because when I’m unhappy the restaurant or the retail store or the car dealership will know it. I don’t need to fill out a form.
- D noted that “Corporate,” whoever that really is, loves data, to which I said, “You too are being watched.” He smiled. End of discussion.
I learned valuable information at lunch today. In the future, I’ll tell the hostess that seats us that I will not use the Ziosk and it is no reflection on the server. In addition, maybe I’ll write Chili’s corporate offices and suggest there be a Ziosk vs. non-Ziosk section in their restaurants.
Just like smoking and non-smoking.