Dining goes digital

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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Dining experiences are going high tech, from the how you check in, to how you you place your order to how you pay.  Ryan Moore is a fan of places putting technology to work.  When he eats out, he loves the convenience that comes with being able to place his order on a tablet.

"I want to make things faster and easier for me," he said.

But now digital dining goes way beyond tablets at the table.

"You get an idea of how long it's going to be. Is it going to be 20 minutes? Is it going to be 30 minutes? And then it will notify you, it will say, 'Hey your table is available,'" explained digital consultant Brian Westbrook.

"If I don't have to wave down a server or a waiter to come over and take my credit card, that's a much faster experience and a better customer experience for me," said restaurant consultant Brandon Hull, with NextRestaurants.com.

Hull says owners use technology for marketing and research, gathering information about you.  

"They have details on your favorite food, your favorite drink, the frequency that you're coming by," he said.

But not everyone is biting when it comes to this new technology. Gathering information on customers doesn't always sit well with diners who prefer privacy.

"Sometimes there can be too much digital interaction," said Westbrook.  "You can be buried in your smartphone at a restaurant. It's not a bad idea just to turn that phone off and enjoy the company you're with, enjoy the fine meal." 

However, Moore believes that one shared tablet could actually enhance the social experience of dining.

"With a big group it could be fun.  You know, people talking about what they're going to order and, and communicating," he said.

And what about payment errors or the security of your credit card information when it's stored in an app?  Some argue the technology is an improvement.

"It's much safer than handing a person your credit card and watching them walk off in the distance," said Hull.

"Having a digital dining app used for ordering, or reserving a table, or dividing up the check adds more data to the equation so there's more opportunity to reconstruct what may have happened if there's any disputes or errors," added Westbrook.

Ultimately, Hull says digital dining is expected to improve the customer experience and will become much more prevalent in 2014.

"That's the future, that's where we're going with this and they need to embrace that," he said.

Westbrook suggests you stick with apps recommended by a trusted restaurant.  He also recommends you keep an eye on your credit card statements if you use dining apps that store your payment information to be sure the amount you are charged by the restaurant matches what you actually ordered.  

Digital Dining Apps:

Below is information on various digital dining apps for use at participating restaurants:

NO WAIT APP will notify you when your table is ready: nowaitapp.com

FRONT FLIP is a customer loyalty rewards app: frontflip.com/#howtofrontflip

IT'S ON ME allows gifting of food/drinks to others: itson.me

SEAMLESS allows customers to order food for delivery or so it is ready upon their arrival: seamless.com/mobile-apps

TABBED OUT lets diners pay for their order via their smartphone using this app: tabbedout.com/googlewallet

COVER ME is another option for paying using your phone: itunes.apple.com/us/app/cover-for-iphone/id671290905?ls=1&mt=8

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