Cheesecake Factory turns down in-restaurant tablets
As fast casual chains including Applebee’s and Chili’s are rolling out tablets to improve customer service and mobile ordering, Cheesecake Factory is one restaurant that will not be following suit.
David Gordon, president of Cheesecake Factory, Calabasas Hills, CA, made it clear during the company’s fourth-quarter 2013 earnings last week that the technology is unlikely to be used by the chain. Instead, the brand is eyeing some of the more basic mobile marketing services to lure consumers into restaurants, such as SMS.
“I doubt very much that we’re going to do tablets,” Mr. Gordon said during the call.
“I think that’s great for Chili’s in that level where people are coming in for one experience, but for us they’re coming in for a different experience,” he said.
“And I think they want to [be] waited on and [served]. So there might be some things out there, but a lot of the things that people are talking about right now, I don’t think will be right for our concept.”
Keeping it simple
In addition to Mr. Gordon’s comment on in-store tablets, David Overton, CEO and chairman of Cheesecake Factory said that the company has to be cautious when it comes to technology, meaning that utility trumps tacking on mobile as an add-on.
For example, Mr. Overton spoke about possibly eliminating pagers with mobile alerts that would notify consumers when their table was ready.
The executives’ comments during the call speak to how difficult it is for many chains to integrate mobile into the restaurant experience without sacrificing customer service.
Chili’s plans to roll out tabletop tablets to all company-owned restaurants in the first half of 2014. The tablets will let consumers play games and order food.
Similarly, Applebee’s is rolling out tablets that let consumers order and pay for their meals in-store.
The challenge in deploying these tabletop experiences though is that the technology cannot eliminate face-to-face interactions since customer service is a key part in the dining experience.
While paying for individual items or requesting a check from a tablet may improve the experience for diners, eliminating a waiter altogether is likely too much of a change for most restaurants.
“There’s a lot to enjoy in a tablet-powered restaurant, but that doesn’t mean that the model is for everyone,” said Conor O’Hollaren, lead strategist at Gin Lane Media, New York.
Mr. O’Hollaren is not affiliated with Cheesecake Factory. He spoke based on his expertise on the subject.
“Restauranteurs take great pride in sculpting their dining experiences, considering every aspect from the restaurants decor, lighting, down the plating of each item on a dish,” he said.
“Introducing tablets represents a fundamental change to that equation. In a sports-friendly bar and restaurant chain like Chili’s or Buffalo Wild Wings, tablets become one screen in a sea of many. Filling a smaller, more intimately-lit bistro with glowing rectangles is another matter entirely.”
Cheesecake Factory currently has an SMS and email database for consumers to receive news and special offers from the brand. This database also is leveraged for Cheesecake Factory to gather customer service.
Cheesecake Factory also has a section on its Web site that is optimized for mobile, but when consumers type the brand’s URL into a mobile browser, they are redirected to Cheesecake’s Web site.
The mobile version of content is hidden at http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/mobile. This includes a menu and a store locator feature that leverage a mobile device’s built-in location to find nearby restaurants.
Consumers can also find restaurants by sorting restaurants according to curbside, catering, banquet and patio locations.
The mobile landing page lets consumers buy gift cards that are sent either via email or through the mail.
Besides some of the brand recognition challenges, there are also several technical problems with tabletop tablets that Cheesecake Factory may not be ready to embrace.
“Some of the challenges facing fast casual restaurants that are implementing this technology is primarily from a training perspective, which is no small feat,” said Gennady Spirin, cofounder of Dash, New York.
“It completely changes the wait staff cycle, and they have to relearn a new way of operating as a result,” he said. “The key is to implement technology which seamlessly works with what they know already and slowly changing it from there.”
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York