Applebee's robot waiter

Applebee’s Hires Robot Waiters

How does automating your customer service sound? How about having servers whose main role is to deliver food/drink and not engage with you? How about a nice combination of both?

If you haven’t heard, Applebee’s is starting a new tabletop tablet program where customers will do all their own ordering and billing though a software provider called “E La Carte“. You can get up to speed in a recent Techcrunch article. In a nutshell, by the end of 2014, Applebee restaurants will have implemented 100,000 of these suckers with benefits such as…

  • 10 percent sales boosts,
  • 7 minute faster table turns,
  • 9X increases in loyalty program sign-ups
  • increase the size of the tip, “as leaving a decently sized tip is now easier than having to change the options on the screen to leave a smaller one” (courtesy of Techcrunch article)

Whoa, whoa, whoa. I can get the increase in restaurant “turn and burn” (server lingo for getting tables in and out quickly so they can make more money) as this turns the restaurant experience more into an assembly line, but increased tips? I’d like to hear that from a server that’s actually had the tablet in their store. This sounds more like the first steps before Skynet takes over (yes, Terminator geek).

Here’s the video, promoting this new program. WARNING: 1) you may want to mute the sound. The song is pretty painful. 2) the blatant “spin” is bad. The comparison on the left is basically telling you that you should never have a waiter/server (was this Applebee’s before the tablet?) while the couple on the right actually “high five”. Yep, high five…

Never mind how painful that was to watch, but let’s look at what the tablet is taking away from customer service, rather than adding:

1) Your server is now just an expediter and busser. How is this any different than a pretty cafeteria?

2) Your experience. We live in a world where people use their smartphones rather than interacting with people, removing that personal element. How is this a better experience? Hell, the tablet even provides games for you to play.

3) Brand relationship. How does pushing of buttons on a keypad entice you to want to come back? As a customer, you might be impressed by the speed your order is taken…but even fast food restaurants let you speak to a human being.

Maybe this is right for Applebee’s. I’ve never been a customer there and maybe the tablet isn’t really hurting things because the brand didn’t really promote customer service, just “turn and burn”.

I guess we’ll have to see how this turns out…unless the Terminators get us first.


  • This is crazy indeed. Do we really need encouragement to interact with a tablet? Already people spend way too much time on smartphones and iPads and are losing their social skills. Not to mention that nobody will tip the poor people who have to serve and bus tables. I wouldn’t go back to an Applebee’s that does this. They’re just eliminating more jobs when this country needs to ADD jobs!

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lisa. I really don’t know why Applebee’s thinks this is a good idea. Is reducing the human component the answer to their problems? Which raises the question, what are they trying to address with this approach. I guess it’s a “to be continued” as stores start implementing waiter-automation and we see if guests like it.

      • Frankly it’s discouraging to hear that a big business like Applebee’s would rather spend money on tablets than servers because of all the jobs that have been lost since the big crash in ’08. While most people think servers’ jobs are unimportant, plenty of college students and entry-level high school grads depend on those jobs. They also make great summer employment. It’d be nice if big business would get together with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and figure out more ways to help our citizens, not hurt them. Most of us want to work!

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