Transcript of Food & Restaurant Podcast – Episode: Are You A True Digital Restaurant Brand?

Transcript of Food & Restaurant Marketing Podcast – Episode: Are You A True Digital Restaurant Brand?

[00:00:05] Adam Pierno: All right, welcome back to another episode of Food and Restaurant Marketing, I am Adam Pierno, your humble servant and host, and with me today is?

[00:00:14] Daniel Santy: Your arrogant servant and host Dan Santy.

[00:00:17] Adam: [laughs] We are back, we have a great topic today. We wrote an article about this a couple of weeks ago but this is something we’re talking about basically non-stop.

[00:00:28] Dan: Pretty much, yes.

[00:00:29] Adam: Pretty much. I don’t think it’s fad. Today’s topic, Is your brand really digital? Is the way you should pronounce that when you read it.

[00:00:39] Dan: Yes.

[00:00:39] Adam: What we want to know, today everything’s online, everything’s mobile, I have the power of a supercomputer in my pocket in the form of my phone. I can pretty much accomplish anything I want. Brands all think that they are on the leading age or doing ‘digital’ but are you really digital? Are you really understanding the principles of digital that make results happen, make things change and capitalize on behaviors that consumers are leaving every day.

[00:01:12] Dan: Yes, I think many many brands are way behind the curve in this area and I don’t know if they think they’re ahead of the curve, I don’t know if they think they are current or what the case may be, but the vast majority of brands really are behind the curve when it comes to the digital space, and part of that is, and that’s me being a jerk, part of that is the landscape, the ecosystem as I like to call it is in constant flux. So it becomes very difficult to really say, ” Hey, we’re ahead of the curve”.

A good friend of mine is a digital director at an agency, he’s hyper-critical of his shop, and that shop’s doing some pretty advanced things for their clients. It’s interesting to say people are behind the curve, I think I want to be careful when I say that, but I just want people to know that you should be changing with the ecosystem. That’s if you going to dive into digital, make sure you understand you’re going to have to change with the system.

[00:02:18] Adam: Yes, let’s just talk about something that you said is the curve. What do we think is the middle of the curve? What’s table stakes? What do you have to have to be considered even a current brand? We’ve been really digging into this topic across categories, beyond restaurants too but in other retail categories to understand this, but we see, there is are kind of a menu that should exist.

[00:02:44] Dan: Yes, I agree. Email marketing, I mean it sounds so mundane, but really if you think about it, those are some of your best customers because they’ve given you their data and said, “Yes, it’s okay to message me.” Staying current with your email marketing and make sure it’s tight, don’t over send, don’t send things that are ridiculous just to stay in front of the audience, again be relevant, we talk about that all the time. All these things you have to be very relevant.

[00:03:19] Adam: Right, so email is a great example. Having emails kind of table stakes, but having a great email program is being ahead of the curve, so having automated sense, having relevant personalized information that is thought out in catalogue and sent at the right time. That moves that email program, or even have an email program to sign up, put your card in a fish bowl to– ahead of the curve.

If you are doing it right and you have the right inputs in there and you can customize my message and say “You like this dish, here is a deal on that dish today, because we know you coming on Thursdays.”

[00:03:57] Dan: Right. Yes, and one last point on email marketing and that is, look at the analytics, see how they’re performing. When you pay attention to that, you can get rid of the under performing messaging and you can capitalize on the things that perform well. Now all of a sudden you’re again fine-tuning that messaging going forward and so your customers are going to appreciate that.

[00:04:25] Adam: Yes, look at the analytics is step one, do something with that is step two. We don’t have anything to say when people say, “Well we’ve got 50,000 subscribers,” and it’s like what did you do about knowing that? How big are you when you start segmenting and creating subgroups, and it’s not just our customers but this is our chicken customer, this is our beef customer, this is our dinner customer, this is our breakfast customer. Another thing that I think is kind of tables stakes, social media.

[00:04:53] Dan: Yes, unfortunately, no I’m just kidding. [laughter] It is, I mean there just billions and billions of interactions in social every day. You just need to capitalize on that, and we talked about it in a different podcast. The idea of putting up relevant content and then supporting it with paid social. It’s so critical for those of you who understand how the algorithms work, your organics reach is very low these days.

[00:05:29] Adam: It’s lowest, 2%, if you’re a brand, it’s over 500,000 followers.

[00:05:35] Dan: Yes. It’s a pay-to-play model, but it’s not terribly expensive and you can control it and once again measure it and test and optimize.

[00:05:45] Adam: But just being there, it’s expected value. As a consumer we know from our studies and reading other research studies that consumers expect whatever platform they use, they expect brands to be there and when they want to complain or ask a question or if they’re on kick and they want to ask a question on the brand, they expect you to be there, and when you’re not, they feel like there’s something missing about the brand.

That doesn’t mean you have to be there, but it means you should be thoughtful about where you are and how you reaching the majority of your customers and not just people in general where you can get Facebook.

[00:06:17] Dan: Exactly. The final one I guess for table stakes is your site, your website, and please please understand that it needs to be mobile optimized, it’s just so critical. Go to a restaurant brand, maybe I’m just trying to find the nearest location, or I want to see a menu, whatever, make sure I can look at it on my smartphone really easily and visibly.

[00:06:51] Adam: Yes, and on the phone I mean you should, this point site should be built for the phone first. We’re all retail, we want to drive customers, we want to drive traffic. Location should be the first thing that’s popping up, and it’s saying there’s one a quarter mile away from you, would you like directions? Here’s the menu to that store.

[00:07:09] Dan: Right, absolutely.

[00:07:09] Adam: Right? Not just a generic PDF, please no more PDF menus. Give me a menu that I can scroll, that customers can copy out an item out of it, share it and send it to somebody and say, “This is what you wanted me to order.” I mean make it easy for people to shop you with one thumb.

[00:07:26] Dan: Ask yourself, “what sites do you use on your mobile device and enjoy so much?” Then say, “what is it about those sites that make it a better user experience? Make it a simple user experience.” Make sure you’re thinking about that for your own site, or if you have someone building your site, which most people do obviously, or designing it, make sure they understand these fundamentals as well.

[00:07:52] Adam: Yes, it’s really funny that when we’re here talking on the Food & Restaurant Marketing Podcast, you don’t have to draw inspiration just from that category. Go look and see what other brands are doing. When we talk about social media, go look and see who is really doing a great job engaging customers or creating content or whatever you want to do, and borrow freely, don’t steal. Be inspired by those, then apply it to your own brand.

I think when you look at people that are doing really well in this space, Denny’s has taken it to a next level of really being on top of it, great community management for a brand that you wouldn’t think even have a community.

[00:08:36] Dan: Right. Indeed you bring up a community management that is so critical. If customers are contacting you or tweeting or posting on Facebook, whatever the case may be, make sure you’re responding. Even if you just private message them or whatever the case may be, that’s all they want, they want attention, they want somebody that say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry you had that bad experience,” and vice versa, they might be tweeting, “Just had a great meal at Quiznos.” I don’t think I’ve seen that tweet in a while–[laughter] but reward that person too and thank them.

[00:09:16] Adam: Yes, and I think what gets ahead of the curve and community management is the voice, the tone. The speed of the reply is important but really, again going back to Denny’s, the way they have been winning customers is just through a consistency of wit and demonstrating that they’re connected to the internet and knowing what’s happening almost all the time. In fact setting trends. Let’s be honest 10 years ago for Denny’s, it was not a relevant brand.

[00:09:45] Dan: Absolutely.

[00:09:45] Adam: They’re forcing themselves to be relevant through conversations that are happening and getting picked up, and copied and pasted and tweeted and reposted across the internet. That’s a huge win for probably the three entry level people that are responding to tweets all day.

[00:10:02] Dan: Yes. Another pet peeve of mine is when the brand is trying to get you to tweet about me. Tweet about me and I’ll do something for you. I think that kind of tends to be disingenuous. This is off category but I made a hotel reservation just the other day and a like box came up after the reservation said, “Hey, like us on Facebook” or in one of the social– they made it very easy for me to do it– should I do it?
Have not stayed at this property, so I’m not going to tweet about something I haven’t stayed at yet. I thought it was a little too aggressive and then they emailed me that same message. Now that was a bit irritating.

[00:10:42] Adam: Over the line?

[00:10:43] Dan: Yes, I gave you my email address so you could send me my confirmation not so you could continue to market to me. I think we have to be wise about how you communicate with your customers and what you’re asking them to do. Like us on Facebook, well give me a reason why.

[00:11:00] Adam: Absolutely, another thing when we think about brands that really are digital. That really get it. Domino’s is a great example. They just keep innovating. They keep on going further, further and further with finding new ways to get people to order, engage with the brand in digital space. That’s great in and of itself. I can order with an emoji. That’s cool and it’s fun and I’m never going to do it. What’s even better is that it’s an idea that gets PR.

[00:11:30] Dan: Exactly, the holy grail of a great marketing campaign is when it does get publicity because it carries itself so much further. People are going to see the story, go look it up online. All of a sudden you’re getting eyeballs, you’re not getting from your traditional TV buyer or whatever you may be doing. That’s a great point. It’s not easy to do at all. We’re not naive about that, but think about that and think about the programs that you have and put them out to the press. Let the press decide if they’re newsworthy or not, but not doing it at all, it’s not going to get picked up.

[00:12:12] Adam: Yes, part of the thing is having a mind for that. If that’s your goal. Thinking about that as you’re looking at ideas and programs as they come up. It’s like, “Could we pitch this? Is this an idea that could get press or is it just an idea?” Ultimately revenue is more valuable, but if you can also get press, that’s great. I kind of suspect the order with an emoji is more of a PR play than the actual. I don’t think anyone thought, “Oh, this is going to increase sales by this percentage.” The shareholders did not give that a standing O with Q4 call.

[00:12:46] Dan: Indeed, I read a great– dovetailing just more of this digital advertising. Read a great Buzzfeed article just the other day. Essentially, I think it was the CEO had pen this particular column. He was talking about the ad industry and the fact that we’re taking linear advertising and putting it in the digital space and how flawed that truly is because the digital space is its own animal and taking what we’re doing in a print ad or television commercial or whatever to try and make it fit into the digital realm is backwards. I couldn’t agree with him more. You’re going to be in that space make sure you think about how those ads, those ad units, the native advertising, whatever you’re doing is going to live with those publishers so that you could put it there in a meaningful way.

[00:13:49] Adam: Absolutely, banner ads are mostly a waste of time and that’s the exact meaning of is your brand really digital. Well, we have a display program or we run pre-roll. At least pre-roll tells your story. Video is powerful but really plugging in and understanding how people use digital, how they use mobile and creating a message that connects that relationship and a consumer creating that beautiful triangular value. That’s what real digital brands are doing. Domino’s order with an emoji, pizza tracker and all those things it just keeps on piling on and making it stronger and stronger.

[00:14:30] Dan: Agreed. What’s your take on apps, Adam? I know you have a pretty strong opinion about the app world. Should every brand have an app?

[00:14:41] Adam: No. I was actually with comScore a couple years ago. It was the late ’14, might have been early ’15 released the stat that said that monthly average app downloads had gotten to zero. [Editor’s note: It was actually September 2016] That people were just downloading fewer and fewer apps per month.

[00:15:01] Dan: I remember you bringing this to me.

[00:15:03] Adam: At its peak, it was 11 a month or 16 a month or something. This was across a general age group so it wasn’t specific to any demos. I’m sure there’s tweens out there that’s still downloading.

[00:15:13] Dan: Plenty of apps.

[00:15:14] Adam: Yes, and since I read that, I really have been paying attention and picking up people’s phones and looking at their phones and seeing what apps they have, looking for ideas. I’m down to two pages and maybe generously, maybe I have 25 apps on my phone. I don’t want to join the conversation with your brand. I eat a lot of QSR, a lot of Fast Casuals. I eat a decent amount of Casual Dining still. I’m probably the last one.
I don’t need an app unless there’s a value to it and I don’t need a coupon. It’s like I have the Delta Airlines app on my phone because it serves a really good purpose and does it in a really good way when I travel.

[00:16:00] Dan: I think what you’re talking about there, Delta is a great example and that’s function. It’s an important function. You’re simplifying something for me [unintelligible 00:16:12] to your point that the app has enormous value. I would think really long and hard about an app but I think is better, that is what we were talking about earlier in creating a pristine mobile web experience for your brand of whatever that may mean for you.

That is probably money better spent than trying to invest in an app because what people forget about the app. Now you’ve got to get people to download it so all of a sudden you got to spend marketing dollars promoting your app to get people to download it so hopefully, they’ll use it and now you’re not using those same. You’ve diluted your marketing budget when you could have been using that to be doing mobile advertising or SMS advertising whatever the case may be.

[00:17:02] Adam: That’s it, you nailed it. We talk about it when we were working with brands. We tell them if you’re committed to this you’re creating another product. Would you rather promote a day part or this app? Because now you have to pull people into this ecosystem to get the ROI out of it. Maybe, you might. I think you’re dead on, having a more powerful website is more important because then when it’s on my mind and I pull it up, I get the experience I want versus now the restaurant, your locations.

You’ve given up POP space to try to get people to download this app that they probably don’t want or they download it to get the coupon or whatever you’re incenting them with and then they delete it or they keep it and it’s on page nine of their phone and they never look at it again. Is that valuable? I don’t know. It’s debatable.

[00:17:53] Dan: It’s such a competitive space and I take your point, why do you have so few because so many don’t provide value. Why would I load up my screen with these things and never use them and I bet if you track your behavior of the apps, you do have it’s probably something like 80 20, 80% of your users have 20% of the apps you have on your phone.

[00:18:22] Adam: I’m sure. It’s probably Mail, Twitter and whatever game I’m playing. It’s those three things. You definitely hit the nail on the head. Delta as an example, I also have the Southwest app. Those make traveling easier. I can get the boarding pass. I don’t have to print anything if I’m on the road I just pull up that little QR code is the only place–

[00:18:46] Dan: Change my flight if I have to.

[00:18:48] Adam: Right, makes traveling easier, makes it simpler and so I keep those things on my phone. But does a restaurant app, how is that going to make my life easier if it’s for– is an Applebee’s app going to make my life easier?

[00:19:02] Dan: No.

[00:19:03] Adam: Is a Buffalo Wild Wings app? How will it improve the experience? I guess–

[00:19:08] Dan: No at all. [laughs] In our opinion.

[00:19:11] Adam: If I was a weekly customer and it gave me a coupon and let me order every week or predicted or did something. It reminded me, “Hey it’s time for your weekly–.” I don’t know. I don’t think I want that either, so why are we doing it. You’re paying for a location finder in most cases.

[00:19:26] Dan: Indeed. Well, here’s the next big subject that everybody’s talking about is data. Why is it crucial? Why is data so crucial and have the publishers in the world who are talking about data, ruin data by referring to it as big data which I think makes people go, “Oh man crap, what I’m I going to do with all this information,” because there is a lot of information available to us, but what information is really meaningful.

[00:20:01] Adam: You said it. Everybody’s talking about it but nobody is saying anything. It’s just like big data is really powerful. The brands that are truly digital brands know how to employ this data. They know what data they’re trying to collect. They have a precision about it. They’re smart and they have a plan for what they want to learn.

Start with a hypothesis. If you want to be a digital brand, figure out what you want to learn, and then say, “Okay. To do that, I need to capture this data.” We work with brands a lot on this particular aspect of how do we better know your costumers? what data do we need to collect?

[00:20:37] Dan: Exactly, and make sure, Adam said this earlier in the podcast, analysis. Analysis. That’s the important thing. It’s one thing to collect the data and that’s its own infrastructure need, to make sure you can actually collect data on what your costumers’ behavior is. Second, is to analyze that. Then third, of course, is to make conclusions and recommendations on and how’re you going to act on that analysis.

I think we miss that piece of the puzzle all too often. With as much data as there is today, it still kills me when I hear a brand say things anecdotally. Well, that didn’t work. It’s like, “Can someone please give me the analytics on that?” What does that mean? Does that mean zero people did whatever it was we wanted them to do? 10% did, and we usually want a 50% of that activity rate, whatever. I get so frustrated because I know the data is there to– maybe there to validate that it didn’t work, but let’s define success, let’s define failure.

[00:21:47] Adam: Yes, amen. I know we’re on the same page about this one. I think when you’re talking about measuring success versus failure and there’s a lot on the line. If you’re a public company, there’s a lot on the line between shareholder value. But for private companies too, there’s jobs on the line, there’s locations on the line. This stuff really matters. If we’re talking about measuring the difference between success and failure, one thing we are obsessed with is attribution.

If we have a campaign that’s about- let’s make it about a day part, so everybody’s launching breakfast right now, that’s the craze. What I would love to look back at this in 18 months and see who still has breakfast. What is really driving breakfast traffic? Which piece of your digital campaign is really working and doing that? Knowing that and going from the top end, so we did this native video series with a breakfast chef, and now breakfast is up 10%. Well, what percentage of those people went deep in the funnel and clicked and did something that you know they used a coupon and they went to your store.

[00:22:48] Dan: Agree because usually in a situation like that where you’re adding a day part or a whole new menu and set of items that are not typical to your brand, your regular costumers are going to try it. Digital lose a lunch over a breakfast a trip, so I think you’re absolutely right, Adam. Attribution is king because, again, that’s the thing that’s going to tell you what’s working and what’s not.

[00:23:20] Adam: Yes, you have to be able to track back. The last bit of this is actually going inside the store. We talked about Domino’s that has great tech to get me to order, and they don’t have an in-store experience to speak of, but Panera has added kiosks on which customers can order, customize their order, choose your sandwich, choose your soup, whatever they’re doing, and they go sit down wait and someone brings it out. It’s essentially a swap out, one for one, with a clerk versus this kiosk.

McDonald is also been testing it with the ‘your way’ platform that they did away with, but they kept the kiosks. Those are digital innovations that make sense for the brand. The digital menu boards are not.

[00:24:09] Dan: [laughs]

[00:24:10] Adam: That does not make you a digital brand. The Ziosk-

[00:24:13] Dan: I love that analogy.

[00:24:15] Adam: the Ziosk table-side tablet that sits on the table at Chili’s, also does not make you a digital brand.

[00:24:25] Dan: Not at all. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that that example you’re giving, again, no different than the app that Panera kiosk is serving a really important customer experience, and that is speed of service. I don’t have just talk to somebody, I’m used to working in this environment, especially, all them- Forgive me for saying it, Millennials, Gen Z, who grown up with technology, they’re very comfortable with it. If you’re going to do that, though, make sure, again, that user experience is a stellar.

[00:25:00] Adam: That right there, the user experience, is what separates the digital brand from the not digital brands. The brands who are saying, “We’re digital. We have digital menu boards. We bought Ziosks for the table.” No, you put a TV on the table.

[00:25:13] Dan: [laughs] Right.

[00:25:15] Adam: Now you have distracted guests. You’ve actually broken the table experience when two kids fight over the Ziosk, or one person is consumed with a game and the other three people are eating. That doesn’t make the experience better, that’s what- I guess it took us a long time to get to this, and it’s not in our notes but- or the article, does your use of digital make your brand better? Does it make the experience better?

[00:25:42] Dan: Yes. I can give you another one that’s a pet peeve of mine, and this is at Fine Dining. Typically, I think some casual diners do this, but please don’t put your wine menu on an iPad.

[00:25:54] Adam: Oh God.

[00:25:55] Dan: I’ve got to scroll and scroll. I mean this is not the experience I want. I want to look at wine menus, I want to turn that page, that’s a bad experience in my opinion.

[00:26:08] Adam: There is something about–

[00:26:08] Dan: It serves no function except that you don’t have to print wine list anymore.

[00:26:13] Adam: But you could print a one-page wine list, it doesn’t have to be fancy. There’s something about the tactile flipping the page and it doesn’t have to be in a book, but- I agree. It’s especially weird on a Ziosk. I don’t want to pick my rosay from a computer screen and be like, “Oh, how about Rose number 91.”

[00:26:31] Dan: Yes, the waiter is standing over me and he’s just, “Would you like bold flavors or you like sweet.” And I’m like, “Go, please go away.” [laughs]

[00:26:40] Adam: That’s not making the experience better-

[00:26:41] Dan: No.

[00:26:42] Adam: -it’s making it awkward.

[00:26:43] Dan: Exactly.

[00:26:44] Adam: Super effing awkward.

[00:26:46] Dan: Well, I think we hit the digital realm here, that’s for sure. I love talking about digital because it is ever changing.

[00:26:55] Adam: Absolutely.

[00:26:56] Dan: That’s for sure. This won’t be the last time.

[00:26:58] Adam: Even by the time we record this, to the time we publish this podcast episode, a lot of things will change. Thank you for joining us. Because Dan and I are both extremely digital people, you can use the electronic mail to reach us. or adam@foodandrestaurantmarketing or you can hit us on the Twitter, @F&RM is our Twitter handle. Visit the website. Please subscribe to the podcast if you like what you heard, or if you hated what you heard, subscribe anyway. All right, thanks a lot.

[00:27:30] [END OF AUDIO]

Transcriptions by Go Transcript.

discounting, coupon, offer, FSI, LTO, daypart

Listen to the episode: Are You A True Digital Restaurant Brand?

Light users and the long-tail of your customer base

So much of a restaurant brands marketing energy is dedicated on the heaviest users. Obviously, focusing on the smaller percentage of customers that drives the majority of sales makes sense in a mass media environment.

Good news, bad news. The mass media environment no longer applies to most brands. Enter the long-tail. By the end of the dot com era it was clear that anyone with an interest in an obscure subject could find the content to satisfy them. Apple’s iTunes store offered people the chance to find and explore tons of music they would have never heard about on FM radio. And dozens of publications like Pitchfork sprung up to feed interest in lesser known artists.

Top 40 pop radio still reaches the broad majority of music listeners. The obscure tracks occupy the long-tail following that the majority. Starting in the early 2000’s, marketers developed long-tail strategies aimed at capturing attention from those interested in long-tail subjects.

For example, a customer who always orders veggie items should be offered pork sliders.

When mass media budgets aren’t viable for a restaurant brand, the long-tail strategy can be flipped to apply to light users of the brand. A typical long-tail strategy aims to align the brand to content that reaches fewer people who are more engaged and passionate about what they’re reading. Digital media targeting makes this simple to execute.

For restaurant brands, the light users are the long-tail. The lower their visit frequency, the further out on the tail they are. By NPD estimates, light users make up just under half of all restaurant occasions. Media targeting still applies, but restaurant brands can target them more directly. Anime, non-GMO farming, Lars Von Trier films. These are examples of interest groups that might appear in a long-tail brief. Media would be targeted towards digital publications and content focused on these topics. In the case of restaurant brands, the interest groups are around specific menu items, LTOs or price points that interest them. Brands have the data to know what items individuals love, and not just the most frequent customers.

Loyalty programs and apps are geared towards the reward for many visits or purchases. But to attract light users, create incentives that are smaller but more specific to the individual. Instead of starting the program with a known reward, create a reward based on the initial purchase. A customer orders an Italian sub, offer them a discount on their next Italian sub.

Beyond that example, brands should respect customers enough to offer something relevant. If exact preferences aren’t known, start broad but custom. For example, a customer who always orders veggie items should be offered pork sliders. A customer that frequently buys kid’s meals might not want an alcohol based offer. Extend the length of redemption based on that customers frequency.

A brand can also offer a win-back reward based on the length of time from registered visit. A reasonable time frame might be 1.5x the average duration between visits of all customers. If your average customer visits twice monthly, offer a light user a discount at three weeks. Offer a richer reward at six weeks.

Simple technology can be used to quickly assess and create custom rewards based on a pre-set group of qualifiers. The user specific (but not personal) data consumers provide can be used to make them happier – and more frequent – customers.

Is the Ziosk digital experience killing your experience?

Ziosk is in every casual dining restaurant in America. On every table. Or at least that’s how it feels. Omni present. It creates a digital experience layer on top of the dining experience guests came in to receive. Intended to create magic moments and ease friction, two things we preach, the devices are a bit divisive. Literally. Concepts love them because they ease the load on servers and streamline orders and payment. But how do guests feel?

Because it’s on the table, it’s a constant presence. More than once I’ve watched people who were unsure if the Ziosk was meant to replace the menu or even the server. They stare at it for a while before scrolling through the slides. They pick up the menu and compare the items. They break down and ask the server what exactly the device is. I’ve heard some servers say “That’s my replacement,” creating an awkward moment for the guest. Are they correct? For one generation it will create confusion of when to use it versus server.

Because Ziosk is everywhere it is therefore not unique. It is not ownable by any particular concept or brand. Yes, the screen images are customizable, but the restaurant next door has a Ziosk too with a visual of its own entree and logo on the screen. Anything guests can do on the Ziosk at your table they can do at the restaurant next door. This is great for Ziosk; building familiarity with the product and user experience conventions. But is it great for your brand?

Is it authentic to your concept? For a concept like Olive Garden that strives to be presented as updated authentic Italian, the Kiosk on the table takes guests out of that mode. This is exacerbated by the fact that the Ziosk is also on the table at the traditional American burger joint (Red Robin) and the tex mex fun stop (Chili’s). It’s hard to reconcile this component common to all three of these restaurants. For better or worse, the Ziosk creates an element of each experience that is a unified convention of casual dining: using the Ziosk.

What is a memorable experience you’ve had at a restaurant? Stop reading and think about it. It is likely a great meal, a shared laugh, or a pleasant conversation with family. Some of these specific memories could have only happened around a table. There is something about a group of people, sitting facing each other and sharing food that relaxes us and deepens relationships. Isn’t this why most of us got into hospitality? The human side?

Now think about your most memorable experience playing a game on a mobile device. Or better yet, your most memorable experience of watching your kids play a game on a mobile device. Do you think meals where that behavior is taking place will make the memory banks of your guests? Certainly not.

You’re reducing your experience to commodity, like fast food did. Ziosk and technology are certainly seductive to casual dining. Brands believe they need to create new gimmicks to lure in guests and differentiate from fast casual. You are actually isolating your true advantage, the interaction between guests and servers.

True, servers are fallible. More so than a Ziosk. But a great server can make the meal. More so than a Ziosk. With fast casual and QSR brands adding kiosk ordering, this is actually going to end up with a convention the three categories share. Which sounds appealing to casual dining brands until average check is considered. Tipping the server is an added expense, sure. But an experience with a great, personable server and staff outweighs a good series of button pushes. And I can’t get that just anywhere.