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Automation arrives at restaurants (but don't blame rising minimum wages)

Patrick Thibodeau | Oct. 27, 2014
McDonald's has joined the list of food chains looking to put more machines to work.

Chili's has deployed some 45,000 tablets from Ziosk, which makes the system. Ziosk CEO Austen Mulinder says the tablets are used for ordering drinks, appetizers and desserts and for making payments, but they remain optional for customers. The waitstaff will take the first drink and entrée orders, which are often modified by people at the table.

Mulinder said there's no capital cost to installation, and the multi-year subscription price for the system is more than offset by increased revenues it generates.

The tablet also includes games and an opportunity for people to give feedback, and to join a loyalty program. That creates the potential for increased sales, because customers aren't necessarily waiting to catch an employee's attention to refill a drink. It also avoids the frustration of waiting for the check, said Mulinder.

"Restaurants want to speak the language of the millennials and the language of millennials is digital," said Mulinder.

Wyman Roberts, the CEO of Chili's parent company, Brinker International, spoke to financial analysts this week in a conference call about the new system. "We're excited about the potential this has to create a stronger connection and smarter interactivity between us and our guests," said Roberts, according to a transcript by Seeking Alpha.


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