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A Side Of Tech With Your Meal? Arizona Restaurants Serving Up More Tabletop Technology For Easy, Custom Ordering

Published: Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 8:55am
Updated: Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - 1:13pm
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(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
The Capital Grille has moved its list of more than 600 wines onto iPads.

Arizona restaurant sales are projected to increase 6.6 percent this year, totaling $11.5 billion and tableside technology is helping to capture more of that money. In recognition of Arizona Restaurant Week, we’ve been taking a closer look at the local service industry, including where we’re most likely to get a side of tech with our meals.

At Panera Bread in central Phoenix, customers have the option of skipping face-to-face ordering and using self-service kiosks.

"It’s a lot better for people who don’t know what they’re doing because they get to visually see what they’re getting," said assistant manager Salonda Serrano.

When the restaurant is busy, Serrano says the kiosks are too, especially with regular customers whose information can be saved in the system. The kiosks let guests customize their orders with pictures that illustrate what items and toppings they want added or removed.

After reviewing your order and swiping a credit card, it’s sent to the kitchen and then either delivered to your table or prepared for takeout.

“It’s almost a knee jerk reaction to be focused on efficiency and quickness," said Steve Chucri, president of the Arizona Restaurant Association.

He thinks more so-called 'fast casual’ restaurants like Panera will add self-ordering kiosks while other establishments labeled ‘casual’ will follow Chili’s and Applebees. Those restaurants have rolled out tableside tablets where customers can order and pay.

“Where I see it heading is where it’s fun and it's sexy, if you will, and it complements what the restaurant is doing," Chucri said. "People used to go to restaurants to eat. They now go to restaurants of course to eat, but theyr'e also going for the astethics. What's the ambiance? What makes it different from the next?”

While many love the convenience of this new technology, it's left a bad taste among some diners. They’ve complained about entertainment fees added to their bills, which cover the games that can be played on the tablets while you wate. While these fees may boost a restaurant’s bottom line, Chucri doesn’t expect they’ll last.

“Because I don’t think people will want to pay for it," he said, "and I think guests and folks will think that’s something they should experience as part of the guest experience and not have to be charged for it.”

One place you won’t find an entertainment fee on the bill is the Capital Grille. Instead, white tablecloths, mahogany paneling and commissioned oil paintings set the mood at this fine dining restaurant.

Managing Partner Brian Schwartztrauber describes it as "kind of your classic American steakhouse."

But, sometimes even a classic gets an upgrade. Capital Grille has transfered its hard cover wine list onto iPads presented in a leather bound cover. Schwartztrauber says guests can sort the list of more than 600 wines by the glass, price, flavor, region and ratings.

“If we select one of the wines you get tasting notes on the wine, a little bit of description of the wine and down here you can also email yourself the notes," he said.

While the traditional wine list is still available for those who prefer to hold a book, Schwartztrauber says some customers who initially resisted the iPads have started embracing the technology. But adding another side of tech, such as tabletop ordering, isn’t likely to happen here.

“There’s still a great need and desire for that personalized service and that’s really what we pride ourselves on delivering," he said.

For now, customers craving convenience and quickness will be better served at more casual spots.

More About Arizona Restaurant Week

PART I: Where Have All The Servers Gone? Hospitality Turnover Sky-High As Arizona Leads US In Restaurant Jobs

PART II: Arizona Sees Big Increase In Women, Minority-Owned Restaurants

PART III: Arizona Restaurants Respond To Diner Demands For Diversity

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