Ziosk could put waiters out of work, but not how you think

The food service industry and retailers have spent years trying to figure out how to use touchscreen devices to drive business. Restaurants have tried apps, tablets and all manner of tabletop devices but nothing has resonated with customers in a meaningful way.

At least not until now. A company called Ziosk seems to have cracked the code on how to marry technology and human customer service. The company recently scored a huge deal with Brinker International (EAT) that has already resulted in Ziosk devices put on the tables of every company-owned Chili’s in the U.S.

In the attached video Ziosk CEO Austen Mulinder explains the value proposition that allowed his company to succeed where others failed.

“To build the company is tens of millions of dollars," Mulinder says, "and I don't think any individual chain really has that kind of money to speculate with. And so the industry left it up to people like us to say 'OK can this be done?' and I'm delighted to say that it can.”

The Ziosk tablet allows customers to order food and drinks, pay their bills and even play games while they wait for their meal.
The Ziosk tablet allows customers to order food and drinks, pay their bills and even play games while they wait for their meal.

For Brinker the Ziosk units mean better service at no financial risk. Chili’s managers can track performance of their servers using objective data. If a waiter isn't performing well the restaurant know right away and can relegate them to less desirable shifts or replace them with a better server altogether.

Customer’s ability to order drinks, desserts and even pay their checks and get a receipt right from their Ziosk means the end of trying to catch the eye of overwhelmed wait staff during peak traffic hours. That means higher revenues per table and a better customer experience.

“Although the Ziosk has a great role to play in making...service even better there's zero intent that they're somehow gonna replace the waitstaff," Mulinder told Yahoo Finance. "What we find is the best waitstaff very quickly work out how to make the Ziosk an extension of themselves and as a result they deliver better customer service.”

A unique business model
The best part about Ziosk, at least for the restaurants is, rather than being another expenditure, it's potentially a new revenue stream. Ziosk charges a subscription fee for their service and handles all the overhead to get the system installed. In addition to the menu and payment options the tablet offers an array of games and activities for a premium fee of 99-cents. Mulinder says Chili's takes the money made from those fees to pay the monthly subscription. Whatever is left they split 50/50 with Ziosk.

So is Ziosk poised to dominate the market and redefine casual dining? Let’s just say they’ve got a nice lead and great business model. Mulinder is crafty about whether the next step for his Dallas-based company is an IPO or acquisition. Suffice it to say the marketplace has a strong appetite for companies with explosive growth, mass market tech solutions and established execution. Don’t be surprised if Brinker or some other operation starts sniffing around looking to either partner with Ziosk or acquire the company outright.

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