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Johnny Rockets to roll out tabletop tablets

Johnny Rockets to roll out tabletop tablets

Chain also explores mobile payment options

Johnny Rockets will debut tabletop touchscreen tablets at the end of October in an attempt to speed service.

The Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based operator said Wednesday it would roll out Presto tablets developed by E la Carte Inc. to its roughly 200 restaurants across the U.S. after testing the product for about three months at a location in Santa Monica, Calif. The technology will eventually be available across the chain’s 320-unit global system.

Though the technology may appear not to jive with Johnny Rockets’ retro Americana brand positioning, the move is an attempt to respond to a need for faster service, as casual-dining chains battle fast-casual competitors for market share.

Lacy Morris, vice president of information technology at Johnny Rockets, said the goal of using tablet technology was to decrease the amount of time needed for customers to pay before leaving the restaurant.

“We figured if you allow people to pay from the table without having to bring in the server for that extra step or two, it would reduce service times,” Morris said.

Guests will also be able to use the tablets to order their meals, though only limited ordering capability was tested initially.

Overall, use of the tablets in tests showed a reduction in service times by about two minutes, compared with the industry average of about eight minutes, Morris said.

The company also saw an 11-percent improvement in table-turn times during the pilot.

Morris said the tablet rollout will begin at the end of this month and will likely go nationwide within six to eight months.

The company is also looking into mobile payment platforms along the lines of Apple Pay, though Johnny Rockets hasn’t selected what system it might use yet, Morris said.

The move will allow servers to spend more time providing customized service for guests — making the signature ketchup smiley faces on plates, for example, or dancing.

Morris said the Presto tablets also offer an opportunity to collect immediate feedback from guests before they’ve even left the restaurant, rather than seeing a guest’s impressions on Yelp hours after the meal.

“The analytics are much more relevant,” he said.

The tablets will also serve as Johnny Rockets’ signature jukebox, with an expanded collection of songs.

Rather than putting a nickel in the jukebox, guests can pay about 49 cents to add a song to the restaurant’s playlist. The song options will be much broader, including hits of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, using a range of options for which E la Carte has obtained the rights to play.

Customers can also use the tablets to put in a free vote to move a song higher in the play queue.

Morris said the retro 1950s-style jukeboxes on Johnny Rockets’ tables will remain in place for decoration, but they won’t be operational.

Guests will also be able to buy games to play on the tablets, for about 25 cents per game, Morris said.

“People really engage with those games,” he said. “We saw a lot of activity, especially on the weekends. Hundreds are played on a daily basis.”

Johnny Rockets joins a growing number of casual-dining chains using tabletop tablets for ordering and payment, including Applebee’s, Chili’s and Buffalo Wild Wings.

The chain also recently unveiled a new multiformat, Route 66-themed concept.

Johnny Rockets was acquired by an affiliate of private-equity firm Sun Capital Partners Inc. last year.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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