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iPads in Restaurants

Restaurants have been utilizing the power of the touch screen for quite some time now, and they’re now reaping the fruits of their investments.

A regular customer at Carmel Café in Florida walks in, goes to the bar, and starts to order her lunch from a tablet. She places one hand on her purse while the other hand swipes the face of the iPad that is propped up on a pedestal. Touch, view, consider, decide, select. Order done and relayed to the kitchen, she goes back to her table to wait for her meal.

When Carmel Café opened in the last quarter of 2010, management bought forty units of iPads for its dining room, allotting one tablet for every table. Electrical chargers and a syncing post are concealed in a console table near the hostess’ area.

Loaded up in the iPads are menu choices for lunch and dinner that show the prices, detailed descriptions and appetizing photos of each food item. There’s one application that assists diners in selecting wines that go best with their favorite dishes. Or, if the customer has a preferred wine, the application suggests the finest meal pairings. Even children get to amuse themselves with the tablet; instead of the usual coloring books and crayons, they can have fun with Angry Birds while waiting for food to come.

Tableside technology is already a part of the latest fad in the industry, with restaurants and bars using technology to establish a more ingenious, personalized and fresh experience for the customer. Analysts expect that the “fad” is here to stay in the upcoming years, as restaurant operators realize that such systems allows them to generate real time inventory and sales data.

Jamie Hill went to Stacked, a pizza and create-your-own-burger restaurant in Torrance, California, and had fun ordering food on an iPad, building her own food. “My daughter was the one who prodded me to come here. She showed me how to carry it out on the iPad,” she said.

“The general idea is to allow our customers to have more direct hold of their dining experience, and to allow our servers to spend more time to cater to what our customers need,” said Terry Ryan, president of the Carmel Café.

The Lark Creek Steak in San Francisco uses the tablets to show off its steaks. Instead of just describing it as a “15-ounce steak,” they get to add many other helpful information for the customers, like where the beef comes from, and pictures, which matter a lot.

“A common challenge in a steakhouse is that the diner’s idea of medium rare could be different from ours, which often happens with paper menus on restaurant menu covers. But with iPads and photos, the diners and our chefs are on the same page,” said Lark’s senior vice president, Quinn McKenna.

Touch Orlando, a lounge bar in Orlando, Florida allows their guests to order their drinks using tablets, play some games and send out flirty messages to other tables in the bar. The diners’ orders go directly to the cocktail servers who are also provided with the gadgets. Customers who are in a hurry to get their drink can also use one of the restaurant’s smart phone applications to buy their drinks electronically even before they turn up in the club.

The same goes for Naples Tomato, located in Naples, Florida—customers can view, choose and order from a wine list using wine specialist Wine Spectator’s rating scales. Diners can also send the wine details to their own personal email addresses.

These restaurants say the investment has paid off, so far. “We have had as much as 27% increase in wine sales,” said Jack Serfass, CEO of Hospitality Social, the company which designed Naples Tomato’s application. “The app paid for itself through the wine sales and the restaurant’s overall revenue. People became more confident in buying more expensive bottles, or bottles that they normally do not buy.”

But paper menus are still here to stay. Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant analyst at market research company NPD Group, said, “Older customers won’t have anything to do with the iPad. The rise of tablets in the restaurant industry just happened to come at a very opportune time.”

The use of iPads has lifted up traffic by capitalizing on the consumers’ inherent curiosity to try new things and love for modern gadgets. “But paper menus on quality restaurant menu covers are still way less expensive for restaurant operators, and they aren’t going away anytime soon,” Riggs said.