One Order Of Sanctity, Please…

rrgb-freckled-lemonadeI entered Red Robin at 4:06 p.m., a few minutes behind schedule to meet my friend Delila for happy hour. I was looking forward to an easy, relaxing conversation, a few cocktails, some grub. As I approached a table she was seated at, I noticed this iPad-looking device propped at the edge. I sat down, we exchanged hellos.

I tried to focus my attention on her since we hadn’t seen each other in a while, but the tablet seemed to be prodding me; from the corner of my eye, I could feel it’s technology tentacles reaching out. “What the hell is this?” I asked Delila.

“I have no idea,” she said.

As I scanned the area, I saw that every table had one. I immediately felt undeniably irritated. I brought the unit on our table closer to me. It’s called a “Ziosk.” They are tablets used to, among other things, place your order. More in a minute on what it’s used for and why I’ll never set foot in another Red Robin because of these.

When I’m making the decision to go to a restaurant, to spend my hard-earned money and precious time, I want to have this sacred hour away from the chaos of life, unplugged. I want to use this time to fully connect with the person sitting across from me—my kids, my friends, my husband. I want all electronics put away. With the dis-ease of being tethered to constant technology, an hour away from it all should not be too much to ask. Though this sentiment may place me in the minority of today’s techno zombie generation, I know I’m not alone.

After a few minutes the waitress came to our table. I asked her what the devices were for, and she said, “to take your order.” I replied, only half-joking because I was so put off by these, “Well, where does that leave you?” The 20-something girl probably working her way through college was visibly uncomfortable by my sarcasm. I don’t blame her, but I couldn’t help my reaction. I was angry at the presumptuousness of Red Robin for having one at every table. I was pissed off that right there in front of me was yet another example, another piece of human interaction erosion being introduced into my life, without my consent or willingness.

We already have to deal with voicemail robots every single time we make a phone call to do business with a bank or resolve issues with a utility company; we go to a grocery store and stare at a checker staring at a screen and in that two minutes, after staring at a screen ourselves and swiping a debit card, realizing that never once was it required to look them in the eyes during the transaction.

The waitress asked if she could get us something to drink and we ordered, through her, a couple of cocktails. I told Delila I was irritated. In defiance, to whom or what I have no idea, I picked up the good old fashioned printed menu. The feeling of holding something as mundane as a menu, knowing they could soon be considered obsolete, was disheartening.

With the Ziosk technology, you have the capacity to order your own food from the tablet’s interactive menu. The Ziosk website highlights, “Get your appetizer to the kitchen ASAP. Order another round as soon as your glass is empty. Order dessert when the craving stpatt3rikes.” Feasibly, based on the structure of this technology, (you can order all facets of your meal and pay your check through the attached card swiper) the only time you’d interact with a human being the entire time would be when they deliver the food to the table.

So, it’s established that you don’t have to connect or interact with the wait staff. The presence of this tablet also ensures that you’ll interact less with the people at your table. Why? Because your face, or the face of your children, husband or friend, will be buried in a screen. Sure, you could just order your freckled lemonade and move on, but who jumps onto a device for a sole purpose without taking a few detours? There are reasons why at 8am when people should be checking emails, cat videos are trending. 
Isn’t it a fair assumption that whomever is on the Ziosk ordering their onion rings will get curious about all the bells, whistles, features, pathways, upsale opportunities this form of technology has been designed for? Before everyone at the table knows it, faces are trapped. The zombie expression is aglow.

Some could question that because it’s on the table, does it mean you have to use it? Of course not. But I’m not sure what bothers me more. From a business standpoint, Red Robin is looking at increasing efficiency. From their own press release Red Robin states, “The Ziosk tablets are part of Red Robin’s ongoing effort to improve the customer experience and remove the ‘pain point’ of waiting for a check at the end of the meal.” This is bullsh&t. Why don’t they just call it as it is.

They aren’t ultimately interested in my customer experience. In my customer experience, when I go out to eat and spend at least $50 dollars or more, I like being served. I relish in knowing there’s no hurry to choke down a meal because I have dishes to do. There is no real ‘pain point’ for taking my time to enjoy a meal.

The truer subtext is saying that if people don’t have to wait for a human being to order dessert or get their check, the table turnover time increases. They can have a rotating spin cycle of customers. Why have authentic service and customer interaction be at the forefront,
when productivity is?

Red Robin is a business. They have a right to find ways to increase efficiencies and productivity. After all, more customers equal more money. The can spin this business direction any way they want but at the end of the day, it is what it is. Productivity over people.

The other problem I have with where this is headed, what Ziosk represents and Red Robin propagates, is the continued prominence we place on immediate satisfaction. As referenced above, Ziosk business model boasts the benefits of “Get your appetizer to the kitchen ASAP. Order another round as soon as your glass is empty. Ordermenuandordering dessert when the craving strikes.”

Lord forbid we have to waste another three minutes waiting for that “just in-quesadilla” or even worse, our glass of much needed chardonnay should ever be empty. Woe be the wandering soul whose craving struck for mile high mud pie, but then tragically, was lost, because the waitress was taking the order at a table next to ours.

From a consumer standpoint, saying this out loud, the messaging false sense of urgency seems ridiculous. Could vanishing impulses for mile high mud pie cost Red Robin hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost potential revenue? I’m sure it could but when does the constant build up of “I Need It NOW” expectation end?

If you pause to think about it, we get this want-need-must-have-it-now immediate gratification and fulfillment everywhere, everyday, in every aspect of our life. Between social media videos, posts and photos, online ordering, automated everything, nobody has to wait long for anything, anywhere, at any time. Merely a touch of a button delivers us to the promiseland of satiation salvation.

I’m sad and angry for all a system like this represents. Though it may seem completely harmless, incidental, or even inconsequential, technology’s intrusion is presumptuously on your table, whether you like it or not. The developers of Ziosk thought of everything in terms of business attributes.

I imagine many more restaurants will be on board in no time and eventually, lack of human interaction with wait staff, diminished connection to those you are supposedly enjoying a quiet meal with, sharing via social media that you got a hamburger! dangerously subtle collection of personal data through surveys, clubs and “rewards” programs that you join via the tablet (and why wouldn’t you because you’re bored waiting five minutes for your fries), will be the norm.

Our little corners of privacy, being unplugged and human interaction are slipping away. I don’t blame Red Robin for doing it’s job of trying to keep up with the times, technology or wanting to earn another buck. But I’m disappointed that they are sending a clear message that they’re turning a blind eye and choose bottom-line productivity over staying true to the reasons why customers go out to eat in the first place including conversation, connection to loved ones and being served. This technology invasion hijacks them away.

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