When I was in college I had an idea to open a restaurant with self-service beer taps at each table. My late friend Randy Pittman told me I was insane, and some 15 years later I found a bar in Washington, D.C., called Redline that had such table tap devices. Take that Randy!
Now let's switch from beer to one of my other vices -- pizza.
Today Pizza Hut threw down the digital gauntlet with the next evolution of in-store ordering, unveiling an interactive table that allows consumers to order pizza by building their pie from the crust to the toppings right from their tabletop. Developed in partnership with Chaotic Moon, the interactive table redefines the in-store ordering experience with step-by-step visuals guiding the selection process, making the ordering process both efficient and personalized.
It also enables table-side payment as well as gaming apps for people like me who have kids who don't want to speak with their parents -- ever -- as you sit and wait for a whopping seven to 10 minutes for your pizza to arrive.
More important, why is Pizza Hut doing this?
First, because it gives consumers a reason to rexplore the chain's roughly 4,000 eat-in restaurants in the U.S. -- that whiz-bang buzz that makes Joe in Topeka think, "Hey, let's take the kids to Pizza Hut tonight and check out this new video gaming ordering machine and maybe I can also play Ms. Pacman."
Second, business efficiencies, plain and simple. Fewer waiters will be needed to do the same volume of work.
Third, because they can. According to Global PR Director Doug Terfher, the digital department "is the largest at Pizza Hut and we have a special unit dedicated to identifying technology that we should be incorporating into our business, both for consumers and for our own speed and ease of use." And if you look at the brand's track record, it should not come as a suprise as it was the first to roll out online ordering at PizzaNet.net in 1994 as well as an early adopter in developing apps for Android, iPhone, iPad and Xbox 360.
Is Pizza Hut's new digital in-store ordering table the greatest thing since sliced bread? No. But in the hyper-competitive casual dining space, a unique differentiator can make a meaningful difference, drive sales, and give consumers another reason to spend their hard earned dollars on products.