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Chili’s franchisee rolls out wireless tabletop terminals

ERJ Dining LLC, a 122-unit Chili’s Grill & Bar franchisee, has deployed wireless, on-table touch-screen technology at 30 of its restaurants in advance of a full rollout by the company later this summer.

The new technology will support limited guest self-ordering, check settlement, customer surveys and promotional activities, ERJ said Wednesday.

The initial deployment of Ziosk devices and services from TableTop Media LLC of Dallas by Louisville, Ky.-based ERJ followed a successful 90-day test at four units in the Chicago area, according to a statement from ERJ and the vendor.

By leveraging the wireless terminals, ERJ has shaved an average of three minutes off its table-turn times, seen unspecified higher per-person check averages and experienced a significant increase in its loyalty club enrollment, the companies said.

“Having the Ziosk on our tables has been a win for the guests and a win for us,” said Mike Bova, ERJ’s executive vice president of operations. “Guests love to be able to pay their checks when they are ready and have entertainment on the table during their visit.

“And beyond the improvement in guest satisfaction, we’ve been able to see benefits of increased sales of promoted items while reducing costs associated with labor and operations,” Bova said.

ERJ’s Ziosk rollout appears to be the largest deployment to date of such technology by a national casual-dining chain or a franchisee. It follows a handful of tests or smaller deployments of on-table technology over the past four years, which were noted positively by ERJ officials and Keybanc Capital Markets Inc. financial analyst Brad Ludington.

Ludington said on-table devices — and the Ziosk in particular, which was then in test at a handful of California Pizza Kitchen restaurants — may help improve the guest experience and business metrics within the challenging casual-dining segment.

“We believe that the potential cost savings, positive impact on customer satisfaction, improved reads on new menu items and improved market research capabilities could not only help CPK, but could be a trend seen across multiple casual-dining brands in the coming years,” Ludington said in September.

ERJ officials were unavailable for comment at press time.

Take an interactive tour of the Ziosk device

The 30 restaurants outfitted with the tabletop terminals are located in St. Louis, Chicago and Central Illinois, and the companies said the rollout will continue in August, with the completion expected by the end of the third quarter.

TableTop Media, led by chief executive and former casual-dining restaurant concept creator and operator Jack Baum, provides to users its proprietary Ziosk hardware and content creation and management services for installation charges and ongoing per-restaurant monthly subscription fees.

Under its program, a Ziosk device — which includes a seven-inch touchscreen, credit-card reader and receipt printer — resides on each dining room and bar table, permitting guests to see promotions, play games, watch movie trailers, sign up for e-loyalty programs, order desserts, take surveys and pay on demand when they are ready to leave.

Although guests have the option of e-mailing their receipt to themselves, 65 percent of Ziosk users choose to print out their transaction details, Baum said.

The Ziosk system is fully integrated with ERJ’s point-of-sale system and compliant with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards, company officials said. While the software powering the devices and the data generated by every consumer touch-and-click are remotely hosted by TableTop Media, each user restaurant is supplied with a local content server for buffering multimedia-rich content and speeding screen loads and playback.

“This doesn't replace the server,” Baum said. “We want to make servers more efficient so they can spend more time with guests. That leads to higher guest satisfaction, and that leads to higher [visit] frequency.”

Baum, whose restaurant experience included founding the Canyon Cafe Restaurant Group, added: “Something like 71 percent of bricks-and-mortar [restaurant business] credit-card fraud starts with the server. Guests really appreciate that [with pay-at-table technology] their card never leaves their hands.”

Having tableside technology that can elicit guest feedback through limited or full surveys is proving beneficial to users, he indicated.

According to Baum, some industry research suggests that most restaurants get about 1.5 percent of their guests to provide visit-experience feedback, such as through the use of paper survey cards. But by using Ziosk, he said, ERJ has seen more than 90 percent of the device’s users reply to at least the initial survey question posed while their credit card payment is being processed — often something along the lines of, “Would you recommend this restaurant to a friend?”

He added that when it comes to a lengthier, multi-question post-dining survey, ERJ is seeing more than 30 percent of its Ziosk-using guests take part.

As for the limiting guest self-ordering to desserts or other add-ons, such as appetizers or drinks, the technology vendor said: “We don’t see this [technology] replacing the menu. We see casual dining differently than quick service. Guests want to be waited on [in casual-dining restaurants], but when it comes to something functional, like completing their payment, they want to get on with it and get out.”

Ziosk devices have been in test in casual-dining restaurants since 2007, and are now in the fourth-generation of development, the company said, but the field of on-table devices is expanding.

E la Carte Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., has its on-table touch-screen devices for full-menu ordering and check settlement by guests — as well as for marketing and surveying purposes — installed at five of 20-plus-signed locations, including the FireHouse Grill and Brewery in Sunnyvale, Calif., Umami Burger in Los Angeles and Calafia Café in Palo Alto.

eTab of St. Louis, Mo., since January, has had its new eTab wireless tabletop terminals for guest self-ordering and payment and marketing functions live in the 133-seat The Post bar and grill in St. Louis.

And representatives of HubWorks Interactive LLC of Coeur d' Alene, Idaho, said the company’s Apple iPad-based at-table ordering and marketing terminals are in use at more than one hospitality business, including the Pterodactyl Group's bar and club, The Social, in Seatlle.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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