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Olive Garden garnishes dining experiences via pay-at-the-table tablets

Olive Garden is the latest restaurant chain to employ tablets in its bricks-and-mortar locations, enabling customers to order and pay via the devices, suggesting that mobile has a strong role to play in streamlining the dining experience and increasing tip percentages for servers.

The brand previously integrated tabletop ordering platform Ziosk’s tablets into select locations last year, with results showing that those restaurants have seen faster dining times and higher tip percentages for servers, two aspects that greatly augment dining for both the staff and for customers. Olive Garden is now aiming to roll out the tablets at additional locations beginning next month as part of its goal to equip all of its United States-based restaurants with the mobile devices.

“Guests can set the pace of their meals by ordering drinks, appetizers and desserts as they want them and pay their checks with ease whenever they are ready,” said a spokeswoman for Olive Garden, Orlando, FL.

Added convenience
Olive Garden, which is owned by parent company Darden Restaurants Inc., is planning for the seven-inch tablets to become integrated into all of its U.S. restaurants before 2016 rolls around. The brand currently has more than 800 locations throughout the nation.

Time-strapped consumers will likely enjoy the ability to pay as soon as they finish their meals, without having to wait for a server to bring the bill, while customers wanting to spend more time at the restaurant may do so without feeling rushed.

“We’ve been seeing these tablets executed successfully in diners and coffee shops in recent years, so larger chains adopting an ordering model that consumers are already used to – consumers are ready for this change,” said Shawn Prez, founder of grassroots marketing agency Power Moves Inc., New York.

“I think just in terms of the speed, these tablets expedite the ordering process and overall experience. More times than not, customers are waiting, literally, for the wait staff – whether this is due to poor service or other contributing factors, these tablets remove some of the variables that can cause a poor dining experience.”

From a staff standpoint, the tablets will relieve servers of some of the stress that accompanies balancing several tables’ needs. Servers will still handle personally delivering customers’ orders.

Olive Garden has no plans to reduce the size of its serving staff because of the tablets.

Ziosk currently powers tablets that are used in Chili’s restaurants, with plans for launching the devices at Red Robin restaurants nationwide soon.

“The tablets also put consumers in the 21st century – all of the information is right there on our cell phones and this is just perpetuating the modern world that we live in,” Mr. Prez said. “When we need information, even just outside of ordering anything, we can always turn to our cell phones for a quick reference, so we are used to having information ready at our disposal.

“Having the tablets at the table is just an extension of what we’re used to in society.”

Keeping up with trends
Mobile ultimately offers many features that can aid in driving customer traffic to in-store locations and raise revenue. Several surveys have displayed that customers enjoy interacting with tablets or mobile devices while at the table.

When it comes to leaving a tip in a casual restaurant, 68 percent of customers would prefer to do so via an iPad, according to a report from Software Advice, a site helping operators choose restaurant POS systems (see story).

Eighty-six percent of surveyed individuals with preferences would opt to use iPads to input tips themselves, rather than having the server or cashier do it for them, which also suggests that Apple products have an advantage over other tablets.

“I think that this is the future,” Mr. Prez said. “I feel that as we continue to evolve technologically as a society, restaurants are going to continue to evolve as well.

“Chili’s also recently announced a massive rollout of 45,000 tableside tablets in 823 locations, accounting for shaving up to 7 minutes off the dining experience. Tablets cannot replace the human connection consumers experience when dining out, but there’s no going back,” he said.

“The future is now.”

Mobile devices also have the potential to show more photos of food and beverage options, suggest complementary menu items and offer children fun activities to interact with while at the table.

Fellow restaurant chain TGI Friday’s is also equipping servers with Microsoft tablets to help make the dining experience more streamlined and convenient (see story).

“The feedback from our guests has been positive,” Olive Garden’s spokeswoman said. “The restaurants are experiencing higher guest satisfaction scores.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York