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Dining out goes digital

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Photo: Video by tmj4.com

Dining out goes digital

By Stephanie Graham, Todd Hicks. CREATED Apr 7, 2014

MILWAUKEE - Ryan Moore is a fan of places that put technology to work, and when he eats out, he loves the convenience that comes with being able to place his order on a tablet.

"I want to make things faster and easier for me," Moore says.

Now, digital dining goes way beyond tablets at the table.  Brian Westbrook is a digital consultant.  He explains, "A lot of us are finding now that we're being invited more and more to download apps onto our own smartphones to check our table wait times, to settle up our check or even in some cases to order."

Apps do everything from give you reward points or discounts for being a repeat customer, to allowing you to pay without ever getting a paper check or swiping your credit card, and to alerting you when your table is ready.

"You get an idea of how long it's going to be. Is it going to be 20 minutes? Is it going to be 30 minutes?  And then it will notify you, it will say, 'Hey your table is available," Westbrook says.

Restaurant consultant Brandon Hull says diners may love the convenience, and adds, "If I don't have to wave down a server or a waiter to come over and take my credit card, that's a much faster experience and a better customer experience for me."

Hull says owners use technology for marketing and research, and gathering information about you--like details on your favorite food, your favorite drink, the frequency that you're coming by.

Not everyone is biting when it comes to this new technology.  Gathering information on customers doesn't always sit well with diners who prefer privacy.  But Westbrook warns, "Sometimes there can be too much digital interaction.  You can be buried in your smartphone at a restaurant. It's not a bad idea just to turn that phone off and enjoy the company you're with, enjoy the fine meal."

Moore believes, though, that one shared tablet could actually enhance the social experience of dining.   "With a big group it could be fun.  You know, people talking about what they're going to order and, and communicating."

What about payment errors, or the security of your credit card information when it's stored in an app?  Some argue the technology is an improvement.

"It's much safer than handing a person your credit card and watching them walk off in the distance," Hull points out.

Ultimately, Hull says digital dining is expected to improve the customer experience and will become much more prevalent in 2014.  "That's the future, that's where we're going with this and they need to embrace that."

Experts suggest you stick with apps recommended by a trusted restaurant.  It's also recommended you keep an eye on your credit card statements if you use dining apps that store your payment information--to be sure the amount you are charged by the restaurant matches what you actually ordered.