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Applebee's to install 100,000 tableside tablets by the end of 2014

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It's interesting to watch today's dating scene, as many daters sit across the tablet from each other, texting or surfing away. These can be couples who are quite happy with each other, not blind dates that found the other person boring. Thus, it's hardly surprising to see a restaurant chain -- Applebee's -- on Tuesday announce (via TechCrunch) a deal with restaurant tablet hardware and software provider E la Carte, which will see the chain introducing 100,000 tableside tablets to all its locations beginning next year.

Applebee's, which is the United States' largest casual dining chain, said the rollout willo be completed by the end of 2014.

To be clear, and to withdraw our tongues from our cheeks, E la Carte's tablets aren't standard issue Android tablets or iPads amd placed tableside to entertain customers. Instead, the Presto tablets sport custom software, which the company says "help restaurants achieve 10 percent sales boosts, seven-minute faster table turns, and 9X increases in loyalty program sign-ups."

The agreement comes after a two-year pilot program at 30 Applebee's locations. According to the company, guests who were surveyed about the tablets reported a better overall dining experience. In addition, having tablets available tableside allowed Applebee's to reduce the overall table turn time and transaction time for their customers.

E la Carte CEO Rajat Suri said the following of the agreement with DineEquity, which operates Applebee's as well as IHOP:

Tablets are going to be in front of a lot more consumers at restaurants than they were before.

He isn't referring to customers bringing in their own devices, which is a burgeoning thing, as well.

There are 1,860 domestic Applebee's restaurants. Over 99 percent of them are franchised. Franchisees have freedom with vendor choice in some areas, but the introduction of E la Carte tablets is not one of them; the addition of the tablets is mandatory.

Customers will not be completely waiterless, though: The tablets will only offer appetizer, drink and dessert menus. The main course will still require personal interaction. However, the change will allow restaurants to reduce their print requirements, reducing costs.

A move to do the same with the main menu might come in the future, though.

Is this the type of move we want to make, though? It's a further advancement down the path of impersonality. As one commenter, inventur_es, said at TechCrunch:

Words truly cannot describe what this says about our society

Still, Mike Archer, president of Applebee's, said that the idea was not to save on labor costs.

Very clearly, our intention is not to replace servers, who provide a personal connection that is invaluable in our restaurants and to our "See You Tomorrow" experience. This is about building on to the experience for the guest, not saving on labor.

Time, and perhaps Labor Dept. statistics, will tell.

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