By Mitch Lipka
Oct 29 Businessman Mitch Goldstone planned to
shell out about $40 at the Red Square restaurant in Las Vegas
before heading to a show, but he ended up spending four times
that amount because of the alluring pictures of food and drinks
on an electronic menu.
"I ordered extra appetizers and ... drinks, which look
better when you can see a photo, and the inviting descriptions
that supersede the words of even the best servers," says
Goldstone, 51, who is chief executive officer of
ScanMyPhotos.com in Irvine, California.
While Goldstone spent far more than what the sellers of
tablets and electronic kiosks pitch to restaurant owners, his
experience shows the promise of the technology. It is also a
warning that diners should watch their wallets as U.S. eateries
shift to interactive menus.
"The machine never forgets to upsell," says Linda Duke, CEO
of San Rafael, California-based restaurant consulting firm Duke
Unlike menus printed on paper, electronic ones provide the
opportunity for consumers to find out far more about the food
and drinks and to see persuasive pictures. Celebrity chef Gordon
Ramsay's establishments, for instance, have wine lists that
customers can search for food compatibility, taste, ratings,
location and recommendations.
Some electronic menus also allow diners to pay without
asking for the check. While this option that does not eliminate
waiters, it can save time.
In an industry known for small profit margins and that is
working its way through a difficult financial period, the
prospect of getting customers to order more is a big draw. The
various systems available to restaurants claim to boost sales by
10 percent to 15 percent.
The technology upgrade is particularly well-suited to
higher-end restaurants, Duke says, but the order-your-own
concept is also popping up in more-casual establishments.
More than half of restaurants in the casual, family and fine
dining categories are expected to spend more on digitized menus
this year than in the past, according to National Restaurant
Some chains, including Uno Chicago Grill and
Brinker International Inc's Chili's, already have these
menus in some locations. But the technology is only available at
less than 5 percent of the nation's full-service restaurants,
according to National Restaurant Association research.
Ziosk has its tabletop sets at a variety of chains and
expects its reach to quadruple to about 1,500 restaurants by the
middle of next year. That is due in large part to the
announcement last month that Chili's would be adding Ziosk
devices to its 823 company-owned locations.
With a rechargeable Ziosk terminal on a table at an Uno
restaurant in Massachusetts recently, diners could order the
old-fashioned way or cut out the middleman and send the food and
drink request straight to the bar or kitchen. Customers also
could use the terminal to pay, rather than waiting for a check.
Still, Ziosk says tipping increases an average of 15 percent
because of the technology.
At an adjacent table, a flashing dead battery signal showed
at least a minor pitfall: If the restaurant staff does not
recharge the portable devices, they will not work.
Security experts say there is no greater risk to swiping a
credit card in one of those devices than having the restaurant
do it for you.
The typical age of a restaurant's clientele may drive the
Hudson Riehle, the National Restaurant Association's senior
vice president of research, says older customers are less
interested in the technology. And, he warns, the business of
restaurants still requires satisfaction with the human element.
No matter how fancy its menu offerings, an eatery must satisfy
customers with their food and service, Riehle says.
On the other hand, the younger the customer, the greater the
expectation that an electronic option will be available.
The experience is already familiar to many outside the
restaurant setting. National Restaurant Association research
found that more than four in 10 consumers used a computer,
tablet or phone in the past month to read a restaurant menu,
make reservations or order food.
"Quick-service restaurants are also finding new, faster ways
to get guests in and out, especially at busy downtown lunch
locations," Duke says.
Technology can also retain more information than any human,
including whether food is gluten-free or has a lot of sodium.
Other benefits of these systems for restaurant operators include
deleting menu items and wines that are no longer available as
well as instantly changing anything from prices to featured
The combination can lead to satisfied customers, even if
they end up paying more.
Goldstone has no regrets about buying more than he planned.
Instead, he admires the marketing potential of the cyber
"Rather than a paper menu, these are interactive and tell a
story behind the food and wines," he says. "For me, it works."