Ziosk’s E-Waiter Device Brings Technology to Restaurant Dining Rooms

Bringing technology into a restaurant’s dining area is a matter of child’s play.

Or, at least the child in all of us. Turns out that $1 tries at games like “7 Little Words,” “Field Runners” or “Operation Math” can add up to enough dough for a restaurant to pay for the installation of “pay-at-the-table” tablets from Dallas-based Ziosk, which makes and sells the eponymous devices. “It more than covers the subscription costs,” says Austen Mulinder, Ziosk’s CEO.

That realization didn’t come to company executives until about four years after Ziosk was founded. Sharing gaming revenues with restaurants—and thereby helping their customers find a funding stream that would pay for the devices—proved to be a strategy that helped propel the installation of 55,000 ziosks into 1,000 restaurants nationwide. The company recently installed more than 45,000 tablets in 823 Chili’s Grill & Bar restaurants owned by parent company Brinker International.

“They have fairly tough margins and a lot of rising costs. It was proving too hard for restaurants to find cash to buy the devices,” Mulinder says. “Customers paying for the games went to fund the deployment of the network.”

Essentially, it works like this: The restaurant uses revenues from the games to pay for the subscription. The remainder of the revenue is split between the restaurant and Ziosk. Mulinder says there is always more than enough revenue from the games to both pay for the subscription and have money left over. “It doesn’t cost them anything,” he says. “Also they have a new revenue stream.”

Ziosk’s devices are 7-inch Android flatscreen tablets that sit on tables at casual dining restaurants, enabling customers to place food and drink orders— and to pay for it all when they’re finished—without the need for a waiter to come by, introduce himself, and mumble through the day’s specials. Orders are relayed back to the kitchen through a Wi-Fi connection.

Mulinder stresses that the devices are not there to replace workers. After all, restaurants still need staff to bring food to the table and to accommodate requests like extra ketchup for your fries. “Because the guest is now managing some part of the process, servers have more time to … Next Page »

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