By Samantha Noble, Marketing Manager
Wait a minute, I thought it was 2010? Nope, I lied…2011 was the year of the tablet! Oh man, now I am just confused. Because I am a retail-news junkie, I have seen this headline one too many times. Rather than allowing myself to be lured in by these captivating statements, I decided to take matters into my own hands. When was the true “year of the tablet?”
The Apple iPad was released in 2010, but most people do not realize this was not the first tablet. The first tablet could only be released one time, and that was in 1996. InkWriter, later purchased by Microsoft, was the first tablet PC (pen-enhanced) introduced to the market. Unlike the iPad, it didn’t catch on with consumers or retailers. At the time, buyers liked their keyboards, and couldn’t imagine a world without their compact and easy-to-use laptops. Ok, now fast-forward 16 years… laptops are old news. Touch technology is at the forefront. Tablets are a revolution!
2012 is NOT the year
Sorry to disappoint, but I repeat, 2012 is NOT the year of the tablet. More appropriately, I think we can call 2012, “the year the touchscreen tablet, as a sales tool, penetrates into the retail, hospitality, and grocery segments… maybe.” By now, I think we all know retailers who have demos or implemented tablets at their point of sale, as a tool for signage, upselling, etc. While only a few retailers, like Apple Stores, have fully replaced their point of sale with strictly tablets and/or smartphones, other retailers have implemented mobile technology for use in their stores.
Tablets for restaurants
Slowly seeping into the restaurant landscape, tablets are beginning to make a splash. In fact, Buffalo Wild Wings proves that the restaurant industry is beginning to dabble in tablets at the tables. For BWW, these iPad tablets will give consumers the power to order a drink, call your waitress, check into Facebook, play games, and function as a point of sale, all at their own convenience. While this technology sounds pretty awesome, I’m not sold (pun intended).
1. Is this technology facilitating a world where cyber-communication is more important than interpersonal communication?
Limited human interaction, less conversation at our tables…. I don’t know about you, but if my friend, whom I had not seen for a while, wanted to sit at our table and check their status updates on Facebook, I would probably just get up and leave. What is the point in having dinner together, if you aren’t really “there?” I will be one of the first to admit, I am glued to my phone, but I am not obsessed to the point that I need Facebook with me at my dinner table. Maybe I am one of the few? If so, my faith in humanity will be lost forever.
2. Doesn’t this take away from the waitress/waiter job? They weren’t hired to be a food runner.
This question was answered in a recent LinkedIn discussion with a touchscreen company wanting to showcase their solution to restaurant operators. He noted that while servers have mixed feelings after first seeing the tables complete with tablets, they found that the tablets are more enjoyable for the guests. On average, gratuity was seen to be increased by 8% (in my opinion, this increase is not very significant for the cost of this technology). By incentivizing the guests to fill out a survey at their table, they learned that customers appreciate having the detailed nutritional information on the tablets. Also, the ability to order at their own pace was viewed by the patrons as a plus to this new technology.
To me, this answer still does not satisfy my original question about the waiters and waitresses. It seems obvious that the capabilities of the tablets are equipped to take over the job of the server. This may turn people away from a job or career in the food industry.
3. How does a hospitality chain like BWW justify the costs of putting a tablet on each table?
In an attempt to do math…let’s propose a hypothetical situation. For this example, let’s say each tablet costs around $600 (which would include both the hardware and software). If an average size restaurant holds around 30 tables, the restaurant is looking at $18,000 for this little project. While Buffalo Wild Wings may be rolling in the green, this is not the case for all restaurants. Even so, how do you defend this expense? I would assume that most hospitality operators would have a hard time justifying this cost in their heads. Ultimately, it comes down to the question – what is the ROI by providing this technology to our consumers? Because tablets at the tables are in their infancy, it is still hard to predict.
There you have it. We determined that 2012 is NOT the year of the tablet, rather, the year the tablet will give retailers and hospitality chains a run for their money (literally). What is your opinion on this phenomenon? Do you agree with my questions, or have answers to provide? Please, don’t hold back! We are all looking for answers.