Upon walking into Chili’s in Skokie, IL today, I actually got excited when I saw that every table in the bar area had what appeared to be a touch screen on them.  Little did I know that I was in for a mixed experience…and would get to see the start of what I believe will be a revolution in the bar/restaurant industry.At first I thought it was an interactive game device similar to what Buffalo Wild Wings has.  At Buffalo Wild Wings, you can use a wireless controller to play trivia and card games, taking on other patrons, but the one at Chili’s was nothing like it.  Sporting a vibrant 7-inch touchscreen, the Ziosk by Table Top Media provides information about specials, allowed us to order a desert, and pay at the table.  Patrons could also get news, sports new/scores, and weather information.  We could also purchase movie tickets and play any one of three games.

Throughout our meal I used it to check on the Green Bay Packers/Buffalo Bills game, explored news stories, and used it to figure out what desert my wife and I would order.  My enthusiasm waned slightly as I experienced a couple of flaws.  First, the device, which operates on Windows CE Embedded, seemed to be slow or stall, even when I finally realized that there was a stylus on the back.  When I tapped the button for games, the device paused for three or four seconds before bringing up the games list.  Similar things happened when tapping on buttons to get specials or see the desert list.  Scrolling through new stories or scores wasn’t intuitive.  Like the iPad, you put the stylus on the screen and move it up to scroll items downwards, but there’s a progress bar indicator to show where you are in the list, so I tried to tab/hold that bar to scroll, which did not work.  The device would also open an article, even though I held the stylus down and move it to scroll.  Finally, I noticed that the sports scores were grossly behind.  The Chicago Bears/Dallas Cowboys game was at least a touchdown behind, as was the Green Bay Packers/Buffalo Bills game. Scores would not update, even after returning to the main menu and going back into the sports scores section again.  Paying at the table was great though.  You could see a detailed receipt, split the bill among guests, and pay with your credit card, right at the table!  During the checkout process the device automatically calculates at 20% tip and provides a slider so that you can adjust it.  You are also given the option to print a receipt, or if you are eco-friendly, have one e-mailed to you or skip getting one all together.

Despite my mixed experience, I’m excited about this technology and believe that we are seeing the start of a new revolution in the bar and restaurant business.  Besides being able to provide promotions and ordering at the table, these devices could allow you to see full nutrition information and, if there is a wait for seating, allow you to order appetizers/drinks while you wait, allow you to select your table from those that are being cleaned up, or queue up your dinner order so that it goes in automatically when you’re finally seated.  The devices could provide up to the minute entertainment, news, or sports information (ala SportsTap: iPone/iPad/iPod Touch and Android) or show video highlights….the possibilities are endless.  Watch for it at a bar/restaurant near you!