Over the last couple of years, various restaurants such as Chili’s and Red Robin have started integrating the Ziosk tablet into the their dining experience by placing them on every table. The tablet has quite a few features, including the ability to order drinks, desserts and appetizers, the option to instantly enroll in e-club programs and the ZLoyalty rewards program, the ability to pay your bill and leave a tip without having to wait for the return of your server, using the built-in camera to share photos and your dining experience on social media and the option to pay for unlimited games and apps.
These features are major steps in the right direction as far as technological innovation and enhancing the restaurant experience go, with the exception of the unlimited games and apps.
Many might argue that this feature is cheap and simple entertainment for rowdy children, it relieves the anticipation or boredom of waiting for your food to arrive or even that it could provide an escape from awkward conversations or tension between those at the table. To this, I would say: Stop being lazy and antisocial.
Coloring and completing the activities on kid’s menus with your children or talking about their day is even cheaper entertainment, and it also comes with relational and social benefits. Children need to learn how to engage with others in a wide array of settings, and that learning curve is hindered by constant exposure to and pacification with silent gaming and mobile entertainment. While a few family nights out to eat may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, children are highly impressionable and they learn quite a bit from observing and mimicking the behaviors of those they look up to.
As far as wanting something to do to distract you from waiting for your food, which sometimes feels like forever, this is your opportunity to get creative. Spark a debate, play an all-inclusive game that requires you to interact with those that are out with you, talk about something hilarious or interesting that happened that day or in recent weeks, look up difficult riddles or trivia questions that egg on friendly competition and don’t forget that coloring the kid’s menu has no age limit.
If things get awkward or uncomfortable, don’t take the easy way out and resort to interacting solely with the games and apps menu on the Ziosk tablet, or your smartphone, for that matter. During a couple visits to Red Robin over the past year, I have noticed people shutting out others at the table and focusing 100 percent on the games that the tablet has to offer, leaving those who accompanied them to sit in silence and prompting them to retreat to their phones in order to not feel so neglected. I think this only makes the awkwardness worse, and it starts a vicious cycle of “this person is technologically occupied, therefore socially unavailable, so I will occupy myself with technology, too, so I don’t have to feel uncomfortable.” One tip for avoiding a dead-end conversation is to ask open-ended questions that stir discussion versus asking questions that elicit a one-dimensional “yes” or “no.”
Having our smartphones consistently glued to our hands has already been marked as a detriment to the quality of face-to-face interactions, and I think that bringing this feature into the social dining experience only makes that worse. We must find a balance between making aspects of our lives easier with technology, and damaging our interpersonal skills and beneficial reliance on other people.
I’m sure that a significant amount of money is made from the unlimited games feature, but the tablet has produced a lot of other positive, impressive results, such as a 300 percent increase in e-club enrollment, higher tip rates, faster turnaround times with electronic bill pay and many others that are listed on the Ziosk website, and so I think they could do without it. Keep the Ziosks, nix the games feature.
Collegian Opinion Editor Haleigh McGill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @HaleighMcGill.