Regular customers of Chili's in Naperville, Rosemont and other suburban locations likely have noticed a new, upgraded interactive menu on their table.
Instead of using a stylus, customers now can use a 7-inch Android touch screen Ziosk tablet to order some food or drinks, pay for the bill with its credit card reader, or even play games or watch pay-on-demand content for 99-cents per visit.
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"This has been designed to be a server's assistant," said Ziosk CEO Austen Mulinder. "And customers don't need to use it, but if they like more control over their experience, they can use it."
Dallas-based Ziosk is in about 1,200 restaurants nationwide. Ziosk and Chili's said in September that it would expand the use of the tablets to all of its 823 restaurants nationwide by early 2014 after a successful test run at select sites.
To date, the device is in about 160 Chili's restaurants, including Arlington Heights, South Elgin, Rosemont, Gurnee Mills, Kildeer, McHenry, Vernon Hills, Round Lake, Waukegan, Algonquin, Streamwood, Bloomingdale, West Dundee, St. Charles, South Elgin, Wheaton, Hoffman Estates, among others.
The device is Wi-Fi enabled and has about 22 hours of battery life, so it can be used throughout the serving day and then recharged at night, Mulinder said.
The idea for the interactive menu and payment device came about 7 years ago. Jack Baum, a teacher at Southern Methodist University, waited a long time to pay a check at a Dallas restaurant. The teacher brought up the situation to his MBA class, and three students jumped at the chance to develop a device to solve that problem.
A company called Tabletop Media LLC was formed in 2006 and their first device, Ziosk, was introduced a couple of years ago to the restaurant industry. The company was then renamed Ziosk in June 2012. Baum is now the chairman and co-founder of Ziosk.
The device started its test run in the suburbs at some Chili's about three years ago, and the upgraded version was recently introduced. A Chili's spokesman did not immediately respond for comment.
"This has been designed to all be easy for the guest to use," Mulinder said.
While the Ziosk shows some tantalizing photos of food, the device isn't likely to be tantalizing enough to steal from the restaurant, Mulinder said.
"If this is taken out the store, it won't do anything," Mulinder said. "And the battery will eventually run out and you need a special charger for it."
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