Restaurant TabletChilis, Applebees and Chevys, among others, are testing table computer screens to take orders, pay the bill, and play games.  You can watch movie trailers, news tidbits, whatever your preference. A Wall Street Journal article revealed that dinner out is now going to be like dinner at home – Everyone will be interacting with a screen with little or no family conversation.

These restaurant owners are making an interesting effort to be relevant to today’s world. Imagine the young couple on a date at such a restaurant.  They can text each other, or share a videogame.  They won’t ever have to talk to a waiter or for that matter, each other.  Ah, the sign of the times.  The Chuck E. Cheese generation is growing up, with their high need to be entertained.

So far the study revealed that 52% of diners would use an electronic payment system at their table (heck, we already do that in taxis around the country); and 31% are likely to use the games or internet access while dining.  Isn’t that what the iPhone is for?

In the test so far 7 out of 10 diners elected to use the device.  In some cases diners are charged a buck.

The restaurant can prompt the table, “Want another drink or dessert”?  Dessert purchases are up 30%.  Tips are above average when payments are made using the device as well.  So this appears to be a win/win.  The establishment is clearly meeting the relevant needs of the customer and winning while doing so.  (I wonder why we are willing to buy more dessert from a video screen than a human.  Our guilt is not visible to the plasma?)

If the nationwide test continues to prove that this particular competitive advantage is relevant to the customers, diners will chose to eat at the restaurants that offer table tablets and leave their iPhones in their pockets.

USA Today reported that one restaurateur invested a million dollars to set up his establishment and only $30,000 spent on the iPads, a small percentage to provide a strong competitive advantage.  Another owner says theft has not been a problem and they haven’t lost or broken one iPad.  The Lark Creek Steak restaurant in San Francisco loves the advantage.  The President Quinn McKenna says it allows them to show a customer what rare, medium and well done actually looks like to ensure it matches that of the diner’s expectation.  Older customers still want the paper menus.  To be relevant to that target market, both versions must be offered.

Few businesses take the time to test, through trial and error, like these restaurant chains, or using some disciplined form of market research.  The Return on Investment for validating customer’s values and their respective level of importance is tremendous.  I can’t help but wonder why less than ten percent of small, medium sized businesses invest in collecting the Voice of their Customers.

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