Tablets replacing paper menus in restaurants – a long-term trend or too problematic?News / TechnologyBy Karthick Prabu | February 20, 2013Share This article was originally published on Traditionally, restaurants had their menus in paper/booklet form. In the early mobile revolution from 2004 to 2008, some restaurants gave waiters a mobile with a custom app loaded in it for taking orders from customers.Now, tablets are given to the customers for them to browse food menus and place their orders.This trend is in market from mid-2011 onwards (use-case discussions started as soon as the first iPad was released in 2010) and its gaining momentum now.A few companies that provide tablet-based menu services:--> POSLavu, TouchBistro, iPOS, SquareUp, eMenu, OwnPoint of Sale, Imenu, E Menu India, MenuPad, Deploid.Customers will be able to browse the food menu and place their order which eventually gets posted in the kitchen display console. That’s the core functionality. But there are other extended features: Customize: Monteko of Stacked Restaurants says that 95% of diners customize their orders.Visualize: Pictures and detailed descriptions of the food item can be shown. How many times have you read a food item (say 'Death By Chocolate', a dessert dish) and wondered "how does this dish look?"Engage (and Earn): Restaurants can engage the customers by offering a lot of innovative features in the tablet, such as social media connections. Examples: Allow the guest to play a multi-player game with guests at other table in the restaurant.Offer 5% discount off bill if guests reach Level 15 in Angry Birds game, at a family-themed restaurant. Condition: Nominal fee charged for internet access. Other ancillary revenue opportunities?Ability for restaurants to do focused campaigns and cross-selling to customer by knowing the customer buying pattern, interests, wishlist. A few examples: The system understands that John drinks only a Strawberry Shake. Whenever there is a promotion running on Strawberry Shake in future, say a Strawberry Shake + Veg Pizza combo offer, the restaurant will let only John (and other interested customers) know about it, rather than spamming the entire customer base.Maria orders Chicken Steak, immediately there is a popup that says “Coke tastes best with Chicken Steak, add Coke for only $5″. Cross-sell to a customer by 'really' knowing what they would buy.The display order of menu (in tablet) itself can be automated based on who the customer is. In above example, when John views the tablet menu, under the “Drinks & Beverages” section, the first item will be “Strawberry Shake” followed by other drink items. By this, lot of customer's time can be saved.Near Field Communication (NFC) based payments. Customers no more have to flag the waiter for settling bills. Restaurants can increase their table turnaround time. Third party mobile payment players like Square come in handy.Ability for restaurant owners to do predictive analysis on the number of guests to expect and what food items (also quantity) they are likely to order. There are many other features that can be thought of and this space has significantly high scope for innovation. If Apple launches the API for its flagship voice assistant Siri, then tablet based menu market is again going to undergo massive change.All above points look sweet. But, there is other side to the coin, as always. Demerits of this trend cannot be ignored.Few demerits that we see:Credit card security. Until and unless the transactions (bill payments) are PCI-DSS complaint, customer’s credit / debit card data is at stake.Extensive use of technology everywhere. Many customers come to the restaurants to relax and be void of technology, they are going to frown when they are presented with a tablet menu.Breakage. A customer drops the tablet on the floor by mistake and the screen breaks. What next? Who fixes it?High capex. Until and unless the restaurant is adopting a cheaper priced Android-based tablet to implement tablet menu, the initial investment is going to be huge.Risk of replacing human with techno-machine. A customer orders Chicken soup in tablet and the order is sent to kitchen. Five minutes later, the customer wants to change it to Veg soup, how do you do in tablet? (technically, its still possible to implement this workflow, but practically very difficult).Theft of the tablet.The transactions and customer data (from tablet) should be integrated to the existing restaurant systems like POS, CRM, Analytics software etc which attracts additional cost and time. But, without these integrations the implementation will solve only a minimal objective.SummaryOverall, tablet-based menus are a good change in the restaurant industry. But, replacing the entire waiter crew with only tablets is going to haunt the restaurant. We predict that a mix of both is going to work in the restaurant industry.Customers shall be given tablets for them to browse and order food, and at the same time, there will be at least one waiter to handle exceptions.Not every restaurant will adopt this trend. Restaurants need to take a calculated (risky) call to adopt this trend by considering the ROI and all merits and demerits the technology attracts.