Several chain restaurants are replacing paper menus with Android tablets



We live in a digital age. Everything around is slowly being converted and upgraded. Nothing is off-limits. Even something as simple as a menu at a chain restaurant is not safe. Chili’s (I want my baby back baby back) has announced that it has finished installing tablets at 823 locations in the U.S. These tablets are mounted at tables as a replacement for menus.

These tablets run Android and are made by Ziosk especially for restaurants. They run custom software and are ruggedized to withstand food spills. Customers can order food, drinks, and even pay their bill with the machine. No more waiting around for slow wait staff. Of course, this is both a good and bad thing. These tablets are making the ordering process easier, but also eliminating jobs.

Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings are also making the change to tablets at their respective restaurants. What do you think about these tablets? Are you concerned with companies cutting costs by eliminating employees and replacing them with technology? Do you just want to get your food faster? Have you seen these tablets at any restaurants yet?

[via Gigaom]

Joe Fedewa
Ever since I flipped open my first phone I've been obsessed with the devices. I've dabbled in other platforms, but Android is where I feel most at home.

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  1. I’m old fashioned in that I like to see a server wait on me. However, some of these places are just understaffed anyway. I can see this a hybrid type of system if it helps with staffing issues. Got to have my baby back baby back ..Chillis.. Baby Back Ribs.. ;)

    1. I trust you were singing that in a Fat Bastard voice;)

      1. Get in my belly! Great movie!

  2. There are all you can eat sushi restaurants here in Canada that use ipads for ordering everything on the menu. I haven’t seen android tablets being used though. It’s just a natural progression. I don’t see it as taking jobs away from people. Those people are still needed to serve food. If anything, it lets them use their time more on delivering orders correctly instead of taking orders incorrectly.

    1. How do you not see this as costing jobs? Think about the time it takes to take orders. Now subtract that from the total time the server needs for all tasks. Now that time can be used to do those other tasks at more tables, which means servers for those tables aren’t needed.

      1. that’s a pretty narrow view of how the market works… you don’t have to work at Chilli’s. They can now find jobs in the new market of “tablets for tables.” They can be a sales associate marketing the product to other restaurants. Develop the restaurant specific apps. Manage shipping and receiving. All of these jobs will pay them better than a waiter’s income. Technology does not eliminate jobs, it transfers them. Maybe you’d rather be working as the out house cleaner and not have the technological advancement of indoor plumbing?

        1. You’re assuming someone who waits tables can just shift over to that field. Do you think a company that sells that hardware will hire a former waiter/waitress? No, they’ll most likely hire a salesman or someone with a technical degree. Just because you know about something doesn’t mean you can sell it or handle the technical aspects of it.

          1. Then they can go clean the office or drive the delivery truck for the new tablet company. Or they could go help in the kitchen since this tech will have the restaurant processing more orders, meaning they’ll need more people to prep the ingredients and wash dishes. If we’d always operated under the assumption that tech eliminates jobs, we still be riding in covered wagons.

          2. And I’m sure you’ll be singing the same tune when/if your job becomes irrelevant right? All these ideas you have isn’t necessarily doable. Cleaning an office doesn’t net you as much as a server position, and if the restaunter is paying his staff to do so, why not contract a cleaning crew? Driving a truck to deliver the tablets will most likely require a CDL, and just because they serve food doesn’t mean they’ll be any good at prepping it.

            With a jobless rate as high as it is, if we want to reduce it, the sad fact is we need more jobs that don’t require special training. It may not be their dream job, but at least it can get them by until they get a better fit. And yes tech does unemployment some, but why not try and eliminate jobs that no one wants to do.

          3. Are you reading what you are writing? “why not contract a cleaning crew?” the could be on the cleaning crew. “Driving a truck to deliver the tablets will most likely require a CDL.” The waiter most likely had to get a liquor license. “and just because they serve food doesn’t mean they’ll be any good at prepping it.” So every person every where will have to be satisfied with what they have, never try to better themselves, and earn the same money for the rest of their life? Then you say ” the sad fact is we need more jobs that don’t require special training.” exactly how little training do you want? If they can’t prep food, i don’t know what else they could do besides clean an office… Then the kicker, “but why not try and eliminate jobs that no one wants to do.” WAITING TABLES IS MY DREAM JOB!

          4. It may not be your dream job, there are MANY jobs that are much worse than waiting tables. What I don’t understand is why the hell are you so adamant that this needs to happen? You said before you only care about the food at the restaurant. That seems Painfully obvious. All they have to do is go find another job, with record unemployment in our country? And if some of these people can’t find that job and lose their living space, big deal! Now I’m gonna be able to press a button and get a meal!

          5. And by the way, a liquor license is not a requirement to be a waiter/waitress. They need only be of legal age, 21 or older. The restaurant itself has to have a liquor license to serve alcohol, not the individual servers.

          6. In Louisiana, each individual waiter has to have a permit to serve alcohol. My girlfriend used to wait tables. I was wrong in calling it a liquor license, that’s just what I’ve heard her and her friends calling it.


          7. That may be Louisiana, but in any of the states around here, you only need be 21 or older. Does that apply to any one who serves alcohol (grocery store, liquor store, convenience store)? Because that should be no different.

            Either way, you seem to be ignoring the rest of the reply. Sure they may be able to get another job, but that’s not a certainty that they will find one before they run out of funds. I know because I have nieces and nephews trying to find work and it’s not that easy. One of my brothers was downsized (last hired first fired) and it took 2 months to find work, with 3 kids to support. And he is HVAC, fire safety & suppression certified, and has worked in those fields along with apartment management, factory work, tool making, paintless dent removal, auto body and painting, and it still took him that long to find work. Even jobs like being a sales clerk didn’t pan out because there were so many applying for the job. So before you make it seem so easy, try to remember that with a significant number of people out of work, finding a job is not as easy as you make it seem.

          8. That is not a technology problem. That is a government/welfare/regulation/taxation/spending/”meddling in things they shouldn’t be in” problem which I am not willing to get into.

          9. Regardless of the cause, the job market sucks and sending more people into unemployment is only going to make the problem worse.

          10. Those ditches aren’t going to dig themselves. The world needs ditch diggers too.

      2. There are jobs that can be automated and some that cannot. A tablet can display interactive menus, take orders and payments, and process mundane tasks like book keeping. They are excellent at that. What they can’t do is present your food aesthetically when it comes, pick up your dishes when you’re done, give you a smile and a nice personal “how is your meal?”. Jobs are still there. It’s being shifted into tasks more suitable for human hands to do.

        Automated tasks make them more accurate and as a result, orders are fulfilled quickly and precisely. It speeds up customer turnaround and brings in more business, naturally meaning more tasks for the humans to do.

  3. This should have happened years ago. At this point tablets should be replacing the servers…

    1. You’d need a robot to fully replace one, unless you’re expecting the tablet to walk your food over when it’s ready.

  4. They have to do something to cut down on human error from servers who can’t get your order right, even after writing it down. My family has very few restaurants we go to now because of so many bad experiences. Even after giving them second and third chances, they still screw it up. Under cooked food, cold food, wrong order, slow service.

    I don’t see the tablets as cutting down on jobs because you’re only taking away from a server the order taking & bill payment steps. They still have to greet you and bring your food, bill, and clean up afterwards.

    1. Think about how much time a waiter/waitress just stands there while that one guy in the party who can’t decide what he wants, while everyone else has ordered. Since they don’t have to take orders, they’ll have more time to do the other things and can cover more tables. That would mean the need for fewer employees.

      1. Not exactly. Restaurants on the busiest nights will still rely on a full staff + a few extras to keep the flow going as fast as possible. I know this as, I worked in all aspects of the restaurant business, except management, for 5+ years.

  5. Reminds me of that Jimmy Neutron episode where the restaurant has a mind of its own and goes berserk.

    1. How old are you? LMAO.

      1. 15, if my math is correct.

        1. I’m in my 20s and even I would use that episode as a reference.
          So while I’m not saying your math is off, there is technically an age range.

    2. Thanks for a reminder of my childhood.

  6. I’ve used these for a couple of years at the area Chili’s restaurants (we must have been a test market). I don’t order food on them since the Waiter’s a generally pretty prompt and it’s just easier to have them write it down, but it’s really nice for paying. Instead of waiting for a check, waiting for it to be picked up, and waiting for it to come back to sign, you just swipe, add your tip, sign, and your done.

  7. So long as the iRobot company doesn’t enter into an agreement with Hooters and/or The Wing House, we’re good.

    1. So, add a boob app and you’re still good. You’re as likely to get lucky with either one ;-)

  8. Fewer servers and forced interactions will allow for better customer experiences. Servers can focus on getting the personable touches right and being attentive instead of “oh crap did they say no mayo,… i think so…”.

    1. Food errors are more usually the fault of the cook.

  9. Can’t help but think about Danny Devito’s “buggy whips” speech from “Other People’s Money”. Only real problem is they probably chose the wrong industry to make that speech about since copper wire is still going strong. However, the point is valid.

    I guess Mr. Pink has another argument in his anti-tipping stance.

  10. Sounds Awesome, easy way to get ingredients list, easy way to add an remove things
    I like it

  11. My friend works at Chili’s and I saw one of these right before they came out, pretty cool stuff I guess. Although it sucks to have to pay a dollar to play the games loaded on them.

    1. I don’T eat at fast-food restaurants, so excuse my ignorance.
      Wouldn’t it make sense for the restaurants to do that? It helps pay for the tablets, AND, it’s a good distraction for kids…

      1. Uh.. Chili’s isn’t a fast food restaurant. None of the places that use these are fast-food. These tablets are meant for tables in which you order as an aid to a waiter. Waiter = not fast food

        1. I apologize, I don’t eat out.
          But my question still stands.

          1. It’s probably a fee for the games. You pay $1 to play all the games on the tablet. All those games equal more than a $1.

    2. You pay a dollar to play all the games. I didn’t mind that at all.

  12. I thought Android tablets were cheap laggy pieces of crap. Why not iPads instead? *sarcasm*

  13. So… how are they protecting these things from people with BBQ sauce all over their fingers? Are the servers going to wipe them down as they bus the table?

    1. From the article:

      “They run custom software and are ruggedized to withstand food spills.”

      1. Dried BBQ sauce will be real fun to wipe off.

  14. Pretty great for indecisive people that take too long as well as accuracy. It could bring a more holistic approach in which efficiency is top notch and there’s no need to cut the jobs. I worry about dirty hands on the screen tho.

  15. the tablets aren’t eliminating any jobs, they are transferring them from sh*tty waiter job to computer tech who updates/manages menus at the location, manufacturing jobs to make more tablets for chilli’s, shipping jobs to get them to chilli’s, app developer for custom chilli’s apps. If technology eliminated jobs (and incomes, b/c that’s what you are really peeved about) then we’d all be broke and living in tents along the interstate. Maybe we should go back to the stone age, where we were all employed…

    1. What a magical world you live in.

      1. It’s great isn’t it? I’m glad we have people who advance this technology in spite of the nay-sayers. Hell, if these phones were never created, you’d probably be waiting tables at Chilli’s! See how it works bud?

    2. Yes, it creates jobs in other areas, but what about the waiter jobs that they are eliminating? Some people can’t handle jobs beyond waiting and McDonalds, so what of you propose for them?

      1. they’ll need more help in the kitchen keeping ingredients in stock and washing the dishes at a faster pace to keep up with the increase in orders. Or, the waiters who are putting themselves through college will develop contacts within the company and take the higher skilled job.

        1. So every town that has these restaurants are going to have a factory and shipping company for these tablets? More than likely there’ll be one plant, and the service staff that are out of work in that town may benefit, but what about the rest of them? And they could be dishwashers? I’m sure that pays much better than the tips left at the tables. I can only hope that you get put in the same position and then we’ll see how happy you are that you’re replaced by a machine.

          1. Exactly how many people is Chili’s going to fire? The entire wait staff? No. If anything, maybe 1-2 waitresses who have probably been the ones screwing up the most orders anyway. The economy is not a vacuum. There are many industries that support Chili’s. The money saved/generated with this tech (across all locations) will probably be used to open another store. Netting more jobs than before.

          2. But again the fact of the matter is people will lose their jobs. And now they will be competing with the record amount of already unemployed people for a new one. And depending on how long it takes they could end up with nothing and homeless. You seem to think like that isn’t a possibility, but we also have record homeless as well.

            As far as the factory these are going to be produced in, do you think that’ll be here in the US, or in Asia where they can cut costs. As I said in my reply to your other comment above, why are you so behind this? Is it that bad to have to interact with someone?

          3. I never said anything about a factory in the US, and made it a point not to mention factory jobs because they will be overseas due to laws and regulations set up by our government. To answer your question, I’m behind this because I am for innovation and choice. Convincing me that some tablets in a restaurant is going to make people go homeless is a tough sell.

            By your logic, you’d stop Henry Ford from building cars because the stable boy would lose his job cleaning up feces. Look at the industry that grew up around automobiles and the ensuing employment. So my question to you is, why do you want to stop innovation?(which is especially odd on a tech site)

          4. “manufacturing jobs to make more tablets for chilli’s”

            If you made a specific point not to mention factory jobs in the US, then how does the above statement of yours have any bearing on if wait staff lose their jobs? They’re obviously not going to move to Asia to help make tablets for Chilli’s, so what we’d be doing is giving more jobs to overseas countries, how does that help the guy here who just lost his job?

            How do you think some people end up homeless? I’ll bet losing their job is a big portion. You seem to think that loss of a job is no big deal, but the reason we’re in the state we’re in now has a lot to do with sending the work overseas. Sure they’ll be some people that write software for these tablets, but why would they need more than one or two? It’s not like they’d have to physically go to each restaurant and update them. More than likely they’ll have a small team at corporate that handles this. So they add a few jobs at HQ and fire let’s say 2 employees at each restaurant. That’s a huge gap.

            I see nothing wrong with innovation, but when it comes at the cost of someone’s livelihood then we need to weigh the pros vs the con’s. Back when Henry Ford brought out the car, the only ones really put out of work was livestock. And the jobs opened up by that industry were not mainly centrally located as they would be here. You had mechanics, gas stations, auto parts stores, etc. Aside from mechanics, none of those required employees to have any training or licensing. The automobile industry created more jobs then they took away, and all in the US. And we didn’t have the unemployment rate we do now back then either.

          5. As far as the jobs moving to tablets would create:
            Manufacturing – overseas
            Shipping – there’s not going to be a steady stream of tablets going to these restaurants, so shipping companies will not have to add extra people, it’ll be handled by their current staff.
            Programming/coding – a small team would handle that from their HQ.
            Maintenance – cheaper and easier to have a defective unit sent to the factory rather than having roving techs handle it.
            Training – if any is needed any restaurant chain will most likely have one person handle a regional area, 1 trainer for 10 restaurants and will only be needed when a new location opens or they make a big change to the functionality of the tablet.

            So let’s say there are 1000 locations across the US. Let’s be generous and say their coding team is 30 people, and there are 100 people to train staff (1 for every 10 locations). So they’ve added 130 jobs. Now let’s say they fire 2 people per location. That a loss of 500 jobs. That’s 130 added and 500 lost.

    3. It’s not really even transferring the jobs either, at least going by the one place I’ve been to that uses tablets at the table. The waiter/waitress still brings your food, and any refills, and the credit card receipt for you to sign, you just don’t have to wait on them to put in your order, request a refill or pay the bill.

      1. Well, the thought is that the waiter would be able to handle more tables, eliminating a waiter or two. Which is true, because the restaurant wouldn’t make the investment into the tablets unless it would save them money in the long run. They could also be thinking it would increase the customer experience, enticing more people to come. (but i show up for the food first and foremost)

        1. I was thinking it would help to get faster customer turnaround because it cuts down the time taken by waiting to put in an order, or to ask for a drink refill or pay the check.

          The wait staff wouldn’t be much less busy, because the faster the food orders go in, the more they would have to carry out to the tables, and if the customer can pay as soon as they’re ready, they also leave sooner and the table opens up for the next one.

          At a place like Chili’s where they can get big lunch and dinner rushes, this would help get more people in and out so that would give the restaurant more money coming in, if the wait time for an open table is reduced enough.

          But the only place I’ve seen this always had tablets, so we’ll have to wait and see how it affects a place like Chili’s that is just now switching over.

      2. Making it easier to use a stolen CC to pay for your meal. Keep the drinks coming!

        1. I don’t normally get asked to show my ID when I pay with a credit card at a restaurant that doesn’t have a tablet to use for payment, so I don’t see that making it any easier.

          1. Must be the embossed name on the front that makes mine suspicious


  16. Use and love them at Chilli’s instant tip added.

  17. Red Robin has had them for a couple years, but they can only be used to order appetizers, drinks and pay your bill, the server still takes the order for the main course

  18. I like the idea. Especially if it means not sitting around for 10 minutes waiting for a check….or hoping someone comes by and notices your drink has been sitting empty for the last 5 minutes.

    There should be two giant on screen buttons. “more drinks please” and “can we get some more ketchup please”.

  19. Just one more way of eliminating “customer service” for these restaurants. I don’t mind paying my bill on one. But why should I have to search a menu and place orders for everyone at my table on ONE tablet? This makes for a very poor customer experience and I’ll be avoiding these restaurants if they force me to use these to do all of their work for them.

    1. Not if they add a ‘Call a waiter’ option.

    2. …Do you not generally read the menu before you order, wouldnt that be like searching? And who said YOU had to place the order for everyone? Pretty sure I can order on my own. If you are out with friends do you not take turns ordering with the ONE waiter/ress?

  20. It doesn’t eliminate any jobs:
    Waiters still need to serve the food (no robots… YET)
    An attendant will still show you to your place
    Just ordering will be faster and quicker, and most importantly,
    Eliminate tips and encourage higher base payments

    1. Exactly! Except for the tips part, since the wait staff would still be bringing your orders over, the tip system isn’t going to change because of this.

      But people who get impatient waiting for the check or to ask for a refill might be less grouchy and tip more.

      1. Actually it very well could eliminate tips. Most of the time tips are figured by how correctly they took you order and how knowledgeable you were about the menu items, how available you were to handle their needs after the food was served, and finally how courteous you were throughout. Now what’s left of the serving staff will bring the food you ordered from the tablet, and anything else they ordered after the meal was served, from the tablet. Would it make sense to pay someone 15-20% of the bill only to bring your food to you? They could pay someone minimum wage alone to do that.

        The tipping system is there to ensure good service, in other words, if the server is inept and gets crap for tips, they won’t be able to survive on the money they make and will move to a different job. The ones who get good tips do so because the customer was pleased with the service, which means they did a good job. Now all they’ll have to do is being the food to your table, so what special skills are there that would merit a tip?

  21. A restaurant without hot waitresses aren’t worth my time or money.

    1. They’d still be there to bring your orders over, or help if the tablet’s not working. It would just reduce how much time you have to wait to put in your order or ask for a refill if the place is packed.

  22. There’s a restaurant in Torrance (could be a chain but I don’t know) called Stacked, that has iPads set up for placing orders. They still have wait staff (to bring those orders or help people who can’t work a tablet), busboys to clear tables, someone to show you to your seat, and the kitchen staff, so I don’t see jobs being lost over this being added to other restaurants.

    What is great is not having to wait forever for someone to bring your check when you’re done, or show up so you can ask for a refill. And even though you’re sliding your card on the attachment, it’s not out of your sight as it would be if you were handing it over, for anyone paranoid about that.

  23. Can you root these and install a custom ROM? Wouldn’t these be awesome?!

    1. While you were waiting for your food might not be much of a time window.

    2. Crap I didn’t read through all the comments and doubled yours lol

  24. Already have dirty iPads at McDonalds why we need more tablets in resturaunts?

    1. Because they work out much cheaper than paper over the long run.

      1. Correct. When menu items or prices change, they just have to update the database and images. They don’t have to print out a whole new set of menus, which can be costly since prices fluctuate by region.

  25. I’ve seen these at Chili’s. For 99 cents we were able to play games. These are pretty cool. You can pay your bills and have a receipt print out and everything.

    I welcome these.

  26. They are great, but they need better confirmation for the paid games. Our kids got hold of it and we later saw the 99 cent charge. We have four year old twins and a three your old, so it seems like they shouldn’t have been able to do that without our knowledge. Obviously 99 cents is nothing, and we’ll probably let them play with it again when we go back, but kids shouldn’t be able to activate the charge when parents aren’t even aware.

    1. Yeah this almost happened to me too, I saw a random trivia question pop up while it was idle and I answered it and it almost signed me up for the games.

      It’s a neat idea but doesn’t replace the server at all nor should it.

      Honestly I prefer paper menus but I guess I’m just old school lol.

  27. It’s cool but needs improvement. The menu is incomplete and I couldn’t even find a regular unsweetened iced tea on it or a glass of water as my wife usually orders. It also tries to trick you into buying the games. The interface seemed kinda disorganized and clunky too.

    Not bashing it, just saying it needs some work.

  28. When you don’t get the right food you order, it’s on you. It will also get the foreigners more familiar the English language

    1. Nope, they will have different language options.

  29. For over 20 years, my seventh-grade technology students have been preparing for this day. The very first night of class for every student, their homework has been to build the McDonald’s that has zero human employees. They realize that this day is coming, but it is no different than the elevator operators, telephone operators, automobile assembly-line workers, etc., who were forced to find a different career when technology replaced the task they were currently doing.

  30. New challenge… Root the chili’s tablet for free games!

    1. Rooting doesnt make apps free though

  31. Do the grease blobs and kiddie boogers smeared all over these germ tablets come free?

    1. Yep….same as traditional menus…

      1. Hahaha

    2. The ones I’ve seen at a few restaurants look wiped down because they didn’t even have grease streaks. That’s a lot better than the grease and crumb filled menus with frayed dirty edges.

  32. Can the thing refill my drink or ask how I’m doing or cheerfully banter with me or send the food back if it’s not good or send my comments to the chef PR manager? Do I really want it to do that?

  33. Can we call these things “tablelets”?

  34. Too bad Chili’s still actually gives you a traditional menu to order from. As it stands you can only order refills on drinks(alcohol) and certain food items like deserts. You can’t actually order an entire meal….yet.

    1. that’s been my experience as well.

  35. You forgot to mention, they are also equipped with games (for a dollar a piece) so you can have more kids playing video games at the table instead of teaching them how to behave themselves in public. Eating out should be a good chance for kids to learn and practice good social skills/behaviors. Not ignore everything except the tablet in front of them for the duration of the visit.

  36. Only one place over here that’s even close is a sushi joint which has touchscreen menus on the walls but probably not running android though.

  37. Coco’s in LA have been using Samsung 7″ tablets for a couple years, the waiters/waitresses carry them in their aprons and take orders at table with them.

  38. The Red Robbin near La Jolla, CA uses those tablets now too, but it feels incomplete. There is a waitress who takes orders and checks IDs for initial alcohol orders. You can use the tablet to re-order previously ordered drinks, order appetizers, call for assistance, and pay for your check. The check part was super convenient, but the rest was kind of annoying.

    There is a burger place in Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego, CA that uses iPads for all ordering. It’s amazing and awesome! Drinks, fully customize able food and appetizers, calling for assistance, checks, etc are all done on the tablet, so you don’t have to wait for a server. Instead you are seated, decide what you want, it all gets delivered, and you swipe a card to call a server for cash payment. I loved it. (Android could be made to do all the same things, so it’s not a reflection of the OS choice)

    It does have a negative impact on jobs :/ but all machinery and electronics that streamline industries have negative effects on low-skill labor.

    1. Burger place = Stacked. Good food.

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