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Applebee’s plans to install 7-inch tablets at every table

Detailed by Forbes earlier today, national restaurant chain Applebee’s has just cut a deal to install 100,000 tablets at dining room tables within at least 1,800 locations. While Chili’s announced a similar move three months ago, this is one of the largest, public tablet deployments within a U.S. company. Applebee’s plans to complete the roll out at all U.S. locations by the end of 2014 and Applebee’s parent company DineEquity is considering launching similar tablets at IHOP locations as well. The tablets will have 7-inch screens, basically the same size as a Google Nexus 7 or Amazon Kindle Fire HDX tablet, and operate on a custom version of Android. 

During initial testing, Applebee’s management discovered that the tablets encourage more orders of appetizers and deserts during a typical meal. The tablets also allow customers to pay for their meal at any time, ideal for anyone in a rush at lunch or perhaps trying to catch a movie after dinner. For families, the tablets will include a variety of video games that can be accessed through a modest fee. A trivia game, for instance, would likely cost $1 to play, fairly identical to microtransactions on consumer owned smartphones and tablets. Conceptually, Mom and Dad can keep the kids entertained with the tablet while waiting for their meals to arrive.

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Speaking to USA Today about the addition of tablets at Applebee’s locations, National Restaurant Association senior vice president Hudson Riehle said “Looking out over the next decade, it will become fairly routine for consumers in table service restaurants to use tablets to view menus, place orders and pay bills.” He also mentioned that this transition is targeted directly at attracting more Millennials into Applebee’s, the majority of which expect restaurants to offer advanced forms of technology to customers.

When it comes to durability, there could be concerns about the cleanliness of the tablets, especially if the previous party at the table had small children. It’s likely that servers will have to remove food from the tablets on a regular basis as well as wipe off smudges and fingerprints from the touchscreen display.

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Regarding theft of the tablets, company representatives don’t believe it will be an issue since the tablets are useless if removed from the restaurant. The tablets also won’t replace the traditional menu that guests typically receive when sitting down at the table, but it’s likely that the tablet’s software will include more information about dishes prepared at the restaurant.

When it comes to the existing staff, Applebee’s management claims that staff levels won’t be altered after the tablets are installed. However, it’s likely that waiters and waitresses will have less work to do since customers can order drinks, deserts and appetizers through the tablets. Interestingly, the tablet software will also include a”Call Server” button similar to call buttons on planes for flight attendants. Assuming good service is provided, the tablets could also work in favor of the waitstaff and result in higher tips, mostly since customers will be able to leave promptly at the end of the meal rather than having to wait around for a check.

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