Like many other mid-level restaurants these days, Chili’s is attempting to redefine itself to avoid becoming almost irrelevant–just witness what has happened to Olive Garden and Red Lobster in the last year. With remodeled restaurants, plenty of fresh new menu items, aggressive couponing and promotions, and now touchscreen tabletop kiosks, Chili’s is looking to engage tech-savvy customers and enhance sales.
The tabletop kiosks are actually tablets that are enclosed in a sturdy stand that also includes a credit card reader and receipt printer. The concept is pretty cool–you can do everything from order drinks from the bar, see the featured menu items, play games or read USA Today, or even pay your bill when you’re ready to go. The basic features work well; ordering dessert was as easy as tapping the screen a couple of times, and it appeared when I was ready for it, just as I was finishing up my dinner–I didn’t have to wait for my server to appear.
However, there are still a few improvements that could turn these new tablet kiosks into must-haves rather than novelties. One of the most obvious would be a way to page/summon your waiter if there’s a problem or to get refills for non-alcoholic beverages. Right now, the system is only able to take new drink orders from the bar–an obvious choice if you’re trying to increase your sales. It would also be nice to get more information on all menu items, instead of just the featured selections. This is especially important for those who are on a restricted diet or are allergic to certain ingredients. Why not highlight gluten-free options, for highlight selections that can easily be modified for vegetarians, low-fat or low salt diets, etc.?
The last suggestion for improvement is allowing customers to enter coupon codes, so that if you have taken advantage of a promotion that offers a free appetizer or desert with an entree purchase, you can finalize your bill and pay at the table without having to involve the restaurant manager. If the restaurant is busy, that can cause a lengthy wait that isn’t truly necessary.
All in all, the new tablet kiosks at Chili’s have the potential to be a great improvement, and as technology continues to innovate the way we do just about everything, we’re likely to see them popping up at more and more restaurants across the country. For now, they’re only at selected Chili’s locations–I’ve seen and used one in Dallas, but they haven’t popped up everywhere yet.
Chili’s Tablet Gallery