SPECIAL REPORT: Digital Dining

SPECIAL REPORT: Digital Dining
When it comes to dining out in 2014, you might be interacting more with your smart phone than with your server.
When it comes to dining out in 2014, you might be interacting more with your smart phone than with your server.

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - When it comes to dining out in 2014, you might be interacting more with your smart phone than with your server.

The entire dining experience is going high tech; from how you check in, place your order and even pay.

Ryan Moore is a fan of places that put technology to work, and when he eats out and 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," says Moore.

But now, digital dining goes way beyond tablets at the table.

Apps do everything from giving you reward points for being a repeat customer, to allowing you to pay without ever getting a paper check, 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," says Moore.

Technology is also being used at the popcorn establishment De La Pop located in The Landings. Their iPad controls everything from the lights and music to the register and inventory. They're also working on a new app that allows you to order online and pick up at the store, or have popcorn shipped to anywhere in the country.

Some diners love the convenience.

"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," says restaurant consultant Brandon Hull.

At Planet Pops, an all-natural ice pop store in downtown Columbus, owner Randy Hitz says going digital helps him to be paperless.

"We use an iPad for our register and we're able to email or text receipts to customers," says Hitz.

Hull says owners also use technology for marketing and research, which lets them gathering information about you.

"They have details on your favorite food, your favorite drink, the frequency that you're coming by," explains Hull.

But 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 and intimacy.

"Sometimes there can be too much digital interaction. You can be buried in your smart phone 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," says Moore.

He 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 communicating."

And what about payment errors or the security of your credit card information when it's stored in an app?

Digital consultant Brian Westbrook suggests you stick with apps recommended by a trusted restaurant. He also recommends you keep an eye on your credit card statements if using dining apps that store your payment information. Be sure the amount you are charged by the restaurant matches what you actually ordered.

Still, some argue the technology is an improvement.

Westbrook adds, "Having a digital dining app used for ordering, or reserving a table, or dividing up the check adds more data to the equation so there's more opportunity to reconstruct what may have happened if there's any disputes or errors."

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

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."

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