There's been some interesting moves recently to put tablet technologies to work in the chain restaurant business.
First, there was the announcement by Chili's Grill & Bar (better known as simply "Chili's") to put Ziosk tabletop screens in most of its 1,266 restaurants by early 2014.
Then, last week, Applebee's announced it planned to install a tablet at every table in its 1,860 restaurants across the US.
So are these intended to replace servers, or supplement them? And just what role, exactly, are the devices intended to play?
It seems in both cases, the devices will have wireless connections, and will take customer orders, accept credit card payments, and yes, in case you're really bored during your night out at Chili's -- which is entirely possible -- play videogames. Those games will only cost you a paltry $0.99!
To be sure, there are benefits to having a way to order some food sans humans. How many times have you waited patiently for a server to come around... and waited... and waited?
Better yet, you were ready to leave about 10 minutes ago, and you're still waiting for someone to bring you a check. If you have a credit card, this will certainly alleviate that particular predicament.
A recent Wall Street Journal article on the Chili's move seemed to suggest there was significant upselling opportunity through table tablets as well, citing that in tests, coffee and dessert sales increased 20%. And in terms of efficiency, some 50% paid their checks using the tablet.
But, goshdarnit, if you decide to order a drink as soon as you arrive, you'll just have to wait for that wacky human server to make their rounds, because they've decided that that first "human touch" is so critically important.
The Verge mentions in the Applebee's tablet scenario that I'll also be able to share what I'm eating there with my Facebook friends.
You know, every Friday night, when I'm trying to decide which two items on the "2 for $20" I'm gonna go for, I've been wondering to myself: Man, how cool it would be if I could have a tablet device to share my scrumptious order with all my high school friends hanging out on Facebook on a Friday night because they have nothing better to do, and me, I'm whoopin' it up at Applebee's!?
And if I was highminded enough to really rub it in, could someone explain to me why I wouldn't just pull out my own Android and Facebook away?
No, the really devastating impact of these moves is on the children's crayon book sets that restaurants give out to the kiddoes so they don't murder one another while waiting for their burgers. I went through many such sets when I was a wee lad.
But now they can play Candy Crush Saga at the table?! I think the long buy on this one may be King Games (developers of Candy Crush).
Look, I'm no Unabombing Luddite. I think being able to walk into a restaurant and pay my bill at the table without human intervention is a great thing. It's the American way, and time is money.
But don't expect me to believe for a second this doesn't ultimately lead to the Darwinian selecting out of food servers.
And once Jeff Bezos figures out how to get drones approved to fly through Applebee's??? ...well, let's just say the best thing for us humans to do in that situation would be to sit back and watch as the Tablets and the Drones duke it out for control of the Applebee's Cosmos.
But first, let me just quickly hit that button so I can sneak in one last beer order!