Recently, restaurants like ThinkFoodGroup’s Jaleo added tablets to their tables, discarding traditional paper menus in hopes of leveraging flexibility offered by digital devices to improve guest experience and sales.
ThinkFoodGroup, which is testing iPad-based menus in two of its restaurants, including DC’s Jaleo, is smart to try this idea before investing significant capital. Cost is not limited to the $500 up-front investment per tablet; it also includes employee training, breakage, and theft (Jaleo has already reported four stolen tablets). Additionally, restaurants must ensure that guests are comfortable with the new experience and are not turned off by technology at the table.
Though restaurants need to account for the added costs, digital menus also have the potential for significant upside by enabling the following:
- Variable Pricing: As we’ve written about in the past, restaurants may be able to capture additional value by implementing differential daypart and day-of-week pricing. Tablet-based menus provide restaurants with the necessary flexibility to implement advanced pricing schemes
- Suggestive Upselling: Menus with real time capabilities can suggest dishes to guests based on historical purchasing trends and expertly pair appetizers and drinks with entrees
- Flexibility to Remove Items from the Menu: Digital menus enable restaurants to easily add or remove menu items based on available inventory
- Novelty: Since tablets are not yet broadly used in the restaurant industry, the unique experience could drive incremental guest visits
As Jaleo and other restaurants evaluate the value of digital menus, they will want to ask the following questions:
- Do digital menus affect the size of guest checks?
- Does the speed-of-service or staffing level need to change to adapt to the new technology?
- Are guests more (or less) likely to come back?
- Should we offer promotions on the menu? Can we intelligently tailor these promotions to drive larger checks?
Tablets have the ability to materially change the guest experience (for better or for worse) and carry a significant upfront investment. Restaurants need to scientifically test such changes in the real world to determine the true incremental profit outcome and decide whether broader rollout to warranted.
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