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Tablet Menus Can Improve Restaurant Service and Even Boost Tips

Burgers and Bottles incorporates customized tablet menus from eTouchMenu into its service model.

At Burgers and Bottles in Eagan, owner Tony Donatell takes an on-trend approach to service. Instead of handing customers a flat paper menu listing the restaurant’s many gourmet burgers or 50-plus beers, servers direct their attention to something shinier, where with the swipe of a finger they can not just read a description of the Wisconsin Cheese Curd Burger but see the full-color, digital image in all its thick-cut bacon, white-cheddar-cheese-curds-sandwiched-between-two-grilled-patties glory.

“Having a picture of every item helps people explore the menu more,” says Donatell, who decided tablet menus were the way to go when Burgers and Bottles opened on Lone Oak Road in October 2014. “Especially with the drinks. We have a lot of craft beers and you can read about the breweries.”

Burger and Bottles’ service model is built around the tablets, with the technology meant to support servers in their role rather than lessen or eliminate that role. Guests are greeted and seated, and then given a brief intro to the iPads, which Donatell says are customized as an extension of his brand, intuitively designed and simple to use. 

Still, if a customer isn’t comfortable, the server will “certainly take the order the old-fashioned way.” “Our servers are trained on recognizing people’s reactions to using the iPads,” says Donatell, also acknowledging it took some trial and error in the hiring process to find employees who were on board with tablet-style service and understood why it made sense for the business. 

“We have a small space and we wanted to keep our labor down but still have a certain level of service,” explains Donatell. “And we wanted to do something unique. It fits with the style of our restaurant.”

Finding that fit is crucial, says Jodi Schoenaur, marketing and sales director for eTouchMenu, the Edina-based company that designed and developed the system used by Burgers and Bottles. For tablet menus to make sense for a hospitality business, says Schoenaur, they should: boost revenues, improve guest interaction, increase efficiency and provide better payment security. 

“Otherwise, what’s the point?” she asks.

The main fear for owners of full-service restaurants is losing that service component, but the goal for eTouchMenu is to provide “fuller service,” with servers able to optimize their time in front of the guest, says Schoenaur, while the tablet takes care of the transaction process.

At Burgers and Bottles, Donatell says the response has been mainly positive, and customers are excited about using the technology and want to share feedback.

“For parents especially, it can be a nightmare going out to eat,” says Donatell. “With the tablet they can time their ordering and enter it at their own pace. Maybe they want the kids’ food brought out first or someone’s about to have a meltdown and they want the check. Here they don’t have to flag down their server.” 

Plus, by not having to take and input orders, servers are able to handle more tables and earn more in tips, points out Schoenaur. And company data shows 85 percent of orders pass through the “default tip” of 20 percent, though customers can adjust that.

Digital ordering also sets the stage for low-pressure upselling, as customers are inclined toward impulsive purchases such as appetizers or desserts and don’t feel as though a server is trying to push them toward more expensive items.

“It doesn’t judge what you eat,” Schoenaur says, smiling.

The average ticket at his restaurant is much higher than his initial projections suggested, Donatell says, although he also attributes that to a strong menu and quality concept. 

The flexibility of a tablet makes it easy for restaurants to change their menus, to ‘86’ items in real time and give guests accurate choices and pricing through automated day-parting. eTouchMenu integrates with virtually any POS and data is collected so owners can see how guests navigate the menu.

Because of eTouchMenu’s many capabilities, Schoenaur says pricing varies, but a recent proposal for a stand-alone location put the cost at $2 to $3 per-day, per-device. The company also works with clients in airport foodservice, campus dining, casinos and family entertainment venues. 

With a recent National Restaurant Association report showing 79 percent of consumers think technology in restaurants increases convenience and 70 percent say it improves service and accuracy, operators would be wise to embrace it to maintain relevance and build customer loyalty.

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