The Hottest Opportunity in Tableside Dining

Business Solutions Magazine

Vantiv Ziosk

Since its founding in 2007, restaurant tablet solutions provider Ziosk has racked up an impressive portfolio of national tableside dining chains. The company has deployed more than 170,000 tablets at 3,000 locations in all 50 states, including in such venerable brands as Chili’s, Olive Garden, Red Robin, and Uno Pizzeria & Grill. Those wins have garnered the company more than 95 percent of the deployed tabletop tablet market, and they’ve fueled expansion that includes a doubling of its employee count over the course of the past 12 months. While the tablets Ziosk manufactures and sells offer a host of data-driven benefits to restaurateurs, Chief Strategy Officer John Regal says it’s the guest experience that’s driving his company’s wild success.

The Tabletop Tablet Experience

To understand the value Ziosk brings restaurants and their guests, it’s important to understand exactly what the company sells. In the beginning, Ziosk manufactured and sold table-based tablets designed to expedite the payment process in tableside dining environments. “We recognized that during busy weekday lunch hours and Friday nights, dining guests were dissatisfied by a payment process that could tack seven to 10 minutes onto the dining experience,” says Regal. “Diners were forced to wait while servers prepared checks at the POS, delivered them to the table, returned to collect payment, entered the payment at the POS, returned the check to the table, then finalized the transaction. Being late to return to work or get to a movie on time was negatively impacting far too many guest experiences,” he says. As the company matured, it realized other opportunities to drive engagement among restaurant guests throughout the dining experience. Today, Ziosk tablets provide gaming and entertainment, present customers with a digital menu, enable self-serve ordering, encourage and drive participation in loyalty programs, and expedite the payment experience by allowing guests to pay their checks at the table.

Ziosk restaurant partners sign a multiyear contract and then pay a monthly subscription fee to keep the restaurant customer’s initial costs low, and Regal says the pay-to-play entertainment offering on the devices typically covers the restaurant’s subscription costs and drives incremental revenue on top of that. “A simple $1.99 entertainment fee that allows guests to play all the games and entertainment they want during the course of their dining experience can easily generate the restaurant’s monthly subscription fee, and revenue generated by the participation of sponsors such as American Express — which is enabling AmEx card members to use Membership Rewards points for dine-in purchases at participating restaurants — is shared with our restaurant customers,” says Regal. Self-ordering can also boost restaurant revenue. When Ziosk customers enable their guests to selforder appetizers or desserts, the company says some 30 percent of those orders are placed via the Ziosk. Regal admits there’s not always a direct corollary to increased sales of those items, because sometimes the server simply enters the order using the Ziosk to save time. But giving guests and servers the convenience of sending orders directly to the kitchen from the table — and having those orders instantly added to the guest check — is a boon to efficiency, add-ons, and upsells.

Business Intelligence, Sales Benefits

Beyond providing a no-cost/low-cost means of improving the experience of the more than 50 million guests who use the tablets each month, the applications facilitated by Ziosk tablets are driving significant benefits for its restaurant customers. Restaurants have long suffered stagnation in loyalty program participation, but those where Ziosk tablets have been deployed have enjoyed a tenfold increase in weekly e-club enrollment figures versus those using traditional means of recruitment. Chili’s, for instance, reports that nearly four million guests are enrolled in its My Chili’s Rewards program, and that up to 18 percent of guests actively check in with the program via the Ziosk tablet. That sort of loyalty program engagement is virtually unheard of, and it drives volumes of deep customer data that helps the restaurant improve operations. Equally powerful is the ease with which customer surveys are executed on the Ziosk. Participating restaurants have seen survey participation increase by a factor of 50x and higher. “We can customize surveys based on the guest’s order,” says Regal. “When you get 50 to 80 people per restaurant, per day, to answer a few questions about their experience, it gives you enough information to transform the way you manage your business. Companies using the Ziosk survey data now have a significant competitive advantage over their competitors.” Creating that advantage is central to the Ziosk sales strategy.

The volume of data generated through loyalty program engagement and survey tools is only poised to grow, based on Ziosk data that shows nearly 80 percent of dining guests use the Ziosk tablet when it’s made available to them. Ziosk estimates that usage will equate to more than 750 million guests in 2016.

Server Empowerment, Not Replacement

Despite offering so much do-it-yourself functionality for guests, Regal says Ziosk tablets are decidedly not the server’s nemesis. On the contrary, they’re designed to empower servers to improve their performance, which is key to the Ziosk sales approach. “Initially, we seek to understand our restaurant customer’s needs, wants, concerns, and points of differentiation. Then we design a Ziosk solution that matches their needs, and use ongoing guest usage metrics to fine-tune the solution,” says Regal. Often, that effort focuses on reducing the complexity of the interaction between servers and guests. “The server is critical to the guest experience in the casual dining space, because the level of service provided is a differentiator. We position our technology as a means of driving, not replacing, server engagement.” Tabletop payment, for instance, frees up anywhere from five to seven minutes of time that a server traditionally spends away from the front of the house, where the customers are and where servers can add value through service. The increase in payment efficiency also improves table turns, and because suggested tip amounts are presented on the Ziosk tablet, more table turns inevitably provide a little extra lining in servers’ pockets.

Reporting Appeals To The C-Suite

Regal says that because of the efficiency gains created by guestfacing tabletop restaurant applications, it’s important to get the attention of restaurant operations professionals during the sales process. But, he says, the guest data collected by Ziosk devices inevitably piques the interest of CEOs, CMOs (chief marketing officers), and business intelligence professionals. “Ziosk tablets facilitate an incredible amount of guest experience data that was previously difficult to acquire, because guests love giving feedback, but they’re often uncomfortable sharing it face-toface,” he says. Even when guests do share verbal feedback, that abstract and unformatted data is easily lost. Guests at restaurants where Ziosk tablets are installed generally provide 50 to 80 times more feedback when given the opportunity to answer a few questions on the Ziosk, says Regal. “They divulge this information because they want to, not because they’re asked to or persuaded by a sweepstakes or reward,” he says, “and the information this provides restaurateurs is transformational.” Ziosk customers are using the data presented in the company’s reporting packages to improve loyalty offers, make menu item modifications, and shape brand messaging.

In an increasingly crowded market, Regal stresses that his company’s success isn’t a flash in the pan. “The company is growing because we have the right blend of technology expertise and restaurant business acumen in our DNA,” he says, “which allows us to apply the right technology to the business’ specific pain points.” Indeed, the company’s cofounder and chairman, Jack Baum, launched some 40 restaurants during an 18-year stint in the foodservice industry. CTO and cofounder Viren Balar was both an elite engineer at Texas Instruments and the operator of a retail franchise. VP of Restaurant Operations Tim Leslie played a lead role in the development of Chili’s Kitchen of the Future concept. Partner Dave Miller launched the JTECH pagers that transformed waitlist management in the 1990s. And that’s just a sampling of a management team that boasts lots of big-league experience from places such as Fujitsu, Microsoft, SAP, and Tyco.

The National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Industry 2020 forecast predicts electronic pay-at-table and mobile payments will be commonplace by 2020. If the success at Ziosk is any indication, that prediction looks to be spot on.

Tabletop Tablets Alleviate Restaurant Payment Security Woes

Tabletop tablet solutions provider Ziosk forecasts that the more than 170,000 devices it’s deployed to date will process more than $8 billion in tableside dining transactions this year. The company’s data shows that more than 75 percent of credit and debit cardholders use the devices to pay at the table in restaurants where they’re available. Bank of America analyst Joe Buckley recently underscored the momentum of guest-facing restaurant technology. He says, “As restaurants continue to work to differentiate themselves in such a highly competitive market, we believe chains will increasingly adopt technology integration. In our view, it will soon become standard practice and no longer exist as a differentiator, but rather as a prerequisite for competing effectively.”

John Regal, chief strategy officer
John Regal, chief strategy officer, Ziosk, says his tablets facilitate an incredible amount of guest experience data that was previously difficult to acquire in face-to-face interactions.

Photo By Dan Bryant

Convenience factor aside, tabletop tablet payment acceptance bodes well for increased payment security in the restaurant industry. “Restaurants are the last place on the planet where consumers are expected to entrust their credit and debit cards to the care of a stranger who takes the card out of sight for minutes at a time,” says John Regal, chief strategy officer at Ziosk. With the Ziosk, guests can pay on demand right at the table, so their card never leaves their hand. That’s a significant development, because payment security isn’t important just to businesses, it’s important to consumers as well.

In the interest of furthering the payment security cause, Ziosk engaged Vantiv as its payment gateway provider of record in 2015. “Before 2015, we didn’t work with a gateway provider. Our restaurant customers handled the payment infrastructure from their POS units,” explains Regal. “We wanted to enable P2PE (point-to-point encryption) to ensure security from the point a card is swiped on our device to the point the transaction is approved. We consider this our responsibility to ensure cardholder security and to reduce the scope of PCI compliance for our restaurant customers, and Vantiv gave us that functionality,” he says. When a guest swipes a credit card on the Ziosk tablet enabled with point-to-point encryption, the card numbers are instantly encrypted and transmitted to the Vantiv gateway. Authorization data is then tokenized before being sent back to the tablet. “There’s never any PII [personally identifiable information] in our system, which eliminates the risk of breach for our restaurant customers,” says Regal.

Secure pay-at-the-table functionality also gives Ziosk a leg up on the EMV front, which has been a particularly vexing challenge for restaurants. Because EMV is predicated on the cardholder’s control of the card and its security credentials, the traditional means of paying a restaurant check is a nonstarter for EMV adoption by restaurants. “We approach EMV very seriously, because it’s important to provide a quick, secure, and convenient payment experience for the guest and the restaurant,” says Regal. By the middle of 2016, Ziosk will release Apple Pay and Android Pay in addition to EMV solutions for new and existing Ziosk hardware. “We’re enabling our restaurant partners to take virtually any form of payment the guest desires, and our gateway partner plays the lead role in making that happen,” says Regal.

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