Technology is becoming increasingly important to restaurants and tabletop ordering devices only stand to multiply, according to Darren Tristano, executive vice president at the Chicago-based restaurant consulting firm Technomic.

"It's cool and trendy and kids love it," he explained. "It paves the way for other opportunities with applications."

Chicago-based restaurant Au Bon Pain uses iPads at six of its 220 locations, with plans to expand. Ed Frechette, the company's vice president of marketing in Boston, said diners usually fill out pieces of paper with their orders at the cafes, but iPads have simplified the process.

"One of our employees has an iPad with a menu loaded in it and they'll take your order," Frechette said. "You still see a menu board with all the information on it. We have handheld laminated menus for a reference, but all the paper pads are gone."

At 4Food in New York, where diners can build and name their own burgers, iPads are at eight kiosks with plans for as many as 30 devices, including Android and Blackberry platforms. Customers order and enter credit card information into the iPad to pay. Managing partner Adam Kidron said ordering food electronically will eventually be the norm.

"You've just got to imagine that this is something that won't just be considered to be a discretionary behavior," Kidron said. "It will be a necessary behavior."

Chief executive Patrick Eldon, whose orderTALK Inc. helps set up online ordering for restaurants, said the real value of using iPads is to develop customer relationships. Digital surveys, collecting customer e-mails and offering frequent diner programs are all possible with the tablets, he said.

"It's about getting to know your customer in a way that you can't get to know them from the waiter or waitress," Eldon said. "You now have incredibly valuable data about customers, how often they eat, what a particular customer likes to order."

The tablets are arriving on the travel circuit, too. OTG Management has installed more than 200 iPads loaded with menus at gates in New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, allowing travelers to order salads and sandwiches while they wait for flights. A waiter brings the food and diners can pay via the iPad or in cash to the server.

"I think eventually a significant number of restaurants will just use iPads for their menus," said OTG chief executive officer Rick Blatstein. "We're starting out using hundreds of them and I expect it to be thousands in the future."

Celebrity Cruises has 75 iPads loaded with restaurant menus aboard one of its ships.

Restaurants do face a few challenges. Tristano points out that restaurant owners must consider how to keep the tablets juiced up. At Chicago Cut, managing partner David Flom said the iPads are loaded with tracking software to prevent theft. And there are customers who won't want to use iPads.

Jay Clark, who headed the team at Shared Marketing Services Inc. that created Chicago Cut's iPad program, said while he sees unlimited uses for the digital devices in restaurants, paper menus need to be available, too.

"If people are very tactile and they're comfortable with a paper menu, they should be able to have it," he said. "Not all people are comfortable with technology."

據芝加哥餐飲顧問公司 Technomic 的副執行長達倫特里斯塔諾指出,科技對餐廳日益重要,而且掌上型點菜裝置只會倍增。

他解釋說:「這樣很酷、符合時尚潮流、而且小朋友愛死它們了,它們也為其他應用軟體的契機鋪路。」

芝加哥 Au Bon Pain 餐廳的兩百廿家分店中,有六家會使用 iPad 電腦,而且該餐廳計劃擴大 iPad 的使用範圍。該餐廳波士頓行銷部副執行長艾德弗雷謝特表示,客人通常會在咖啡店裡用紙張填寫他們想點的菜,不過 iPad 簡化了這項過程。

弗雷謝特表示:「我們會有一個員工操作內建菜單的 iPad電腦,這部電腦會接受客人點菜。大家會看到上面有所有資訊的菜單頁。我們還有手持薄片菜單可以當參考,不過所有的紙製點菜簿全都不見了。」

在紐約的 4Food 餐廳裡,老饕們可以製作並為自己的漢堡命名。該餐廳目前有八座土耳其式涼亭配備 iPad 電腦,並計劃擴增到包括使用 Android 與黑莓機平台在內的卅台。顧客點菜並將信用卡資料輸入 iPad 電腦來付賬。合夥經理人亞當基德隆表示,電子化點菜最終會演變為常態。

基德隆表示:「大家只要把這想像成一種不被視為自由裁量行為的事就行了,它將會成為必要的做法。」

協助餐廳建立線上點菜服務的 orderTALK Inc. 公司行政主管派屈克艾爾登表示,使用 iPad 的真正價值在於和客人建立關係。他表示有了掌上型電腦,進行數位調查、接收顧客的電子郵件、並經常提供飲食優惠方案都變得可能。

艾爾登表示:「這是你無法透過服務生來認識顧客的方式。你現在擁有關於顧客、他們多常來光顧、以及某特定顧客特別喜歡點什麼菜等十分寶貴的資料。」

掌上型電腦也來到了旅遊業。OTG 管理公司在紐約甘迺迪國際機場的登機門設置了逾兩百部內建菜單的掌上型電腦,讓旅客在等候班機的過程中點沙拉與三明治來吃。一名服務生會把食物拿來,顧客則可以透過 iPad 付錢或直接付現金給服務生。

OTG 管理公司行政主管員瑞克布拉斯坦表示:「我認為多數的餐廳只會以 iPad 當菜單。我們一開始會使用數百部,而我預期這個數目未來會變成上千部。」

Celebrity Cruises 郵輪公司的一艘郵輪上,有內建餐廳菜單的七十五部 iPad。

餐廳的確會面臨幾項挑戰。特里斯塔諾指出,餐廳老闆們必須考慮要如何避免掌上型電腦遭竊。在 Chicago Cut 牛排館,經理合夥人大衛佛洛姆表示,所有的 iPad 電腦裡都內建了防竊追蹤軟體,而且還是有顧客不肯使用 iPad。

在 Shared Marketing Services 公司主管研發 Chicago Cut牛排館 iPad 程式小組的傑克拉克表示,儘管他看到餐廳數位裝置的使用無限,但紙製菜單仍要能隨時提供。

他表示:「如果有人是憑觸覺行事,而且他們對使用紙製菜單感到自在的話,他們就應該拿到這樣的菜單,並不是所有的人都對科技感到自在。」

 

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