Ziosk’s E-Waiter Device Brings Technology to Restaurant Dining Rooms

6/24/14Follow @angelashah

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pay attention to serving that guest,” he added.

From a manager’s point of view, Ziosk’s killer app, so to speak, is that automating the ordering process actually results in customers spending more money on menu items, Mulinder says. For example, when left to their own devices customers order 30 percent more desserts. (At Chili’s restaurants, Ziosk flashes high-definition photos of cinnamon molten cake or brownie sundae during the meal, which seems to be far more persuasive than a human waiter.)

Customers also are more willing to provide feedback when they have fewer interactions with other humans, Mulinder says. Whereas less than 1 percent of diners will respond to a paper or prompt for an online survey, he says about two-thirds of them will give feedback via a Ziosk.

With more than 200,000 casual dining restaurants in the United States, other tech companies also see restaurants as an attractive customer base. Chili’s competitor Applebee’s plans to install by year’s end 100,000 tablets made by E la Carte. The Palo Alto, CA company was founded in 2009 and last year raised a Series B round of $13.5 million from investors such as Romulus Capital in Cambridge, MA, and Intel Capital.

Mulinder would not disclose how much funding Ziosk has raised. He says investors in the company include founders like Jack Baum, himself, and angels.

Ziosk began as an assignment for company Baum’s MBA class at Dallas’ Southern Methodist University seven years ago. In fact, Baum liked the idea so much he joined the three students who had pitched it to found the company, then called Tabletop Media, to sell devices to restaurants that automated the ordering process. But when sales weren’t growing as they had expected, Baum brought in Mulinder, a Ziosk board member and a Microsoft veteran, to become CEO. It was Mulinder’s idea to use games as a revenue stream that helps restaurants pay for the device.

The Ziosk device “is a transformational opportunity for restaurant managers,” he says. “They’re on a learning journey right now. We see the potential to do something special and are now engaging with their service systems and the way they train staff.”

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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