ELDERSBURG After lunch at the Chili's restaurant in Eldersburg Sunday, Kim Polischeck got ready to pay the bill. Rather than wait for her server to run the credit card, however, she simply grabbed the Ziosk tablet on the table and swiped the card herself. Sometimes, it's more convenient to use the Ziosk, the Eldersburg resident said as she helped her children get ready to leave.
"There are times when you just have to go," Polischeck said. "Still, I like the human part of [the restaurant experience]."
Polischeck isn't the only one who likes both the convenience of a new technology and the human touch of a restaurant server, as evidenced by an informal canvass Sunday of the Chili's in Eldersburg.
Chili's began rolling out the devices at the chain's restaurants in January and, by the year's midpoint, all Chili's restaurants across the country had the tablets. Employees were generally receptive to the idea, said Ashley Johnson, public relations manager at Brinker International, which owns Chili's.
"Ziosk has been embraced as a tool to help our servers create an even better dining experience," Johnson wrote in an email. "It is like having an extra pair of hands at the table."
With the Ziosk tablets, guests can order drinks from the bar, appetizers and desserts, call for the server to visit the table, and pay the bill. They can also use the device for non-dining entertainment, such as video games and reading the news. On average, Johnson said, 80 percent of guests at a Ziosk-enabled establishment use the devices and more than 70 percent pay via the tablet.
Her friend, Matt Hawes, said he would probably use the payment system, but not much else.
Chris Dillman, of Mount Airy, said the device provides a number of conveniences, including video games to keep his 3-year-old daughter, Abby, occupied until their meals are delivered. Users can play unlimited video games for 99 cents. It doesn't take the place of a server though, he said.
His wife, Becky, said she uses the device because it has an allergy menu which lists which foods contain specific allergens.
Several other patrons agreed with Chris Dillman, and said the devices are a great way to entertain children. Unfortunately, the device's entertainment functions are realistically only usable by one person at a time, said Aaron Shelton, of Eldersburg.
Eldersburg residents' Kyle and Giuliana Eggleton said they prefer a combination of both server interaction and Ziosk conveniences.
Chili's is not the first or only restaurant in Carroll County to utilize such devices. Two years ago, Applebee's began testing the devices in stores throughout the country, said Kevin Mortesen, vice president of communications at Applebee's.
"We wanted to test the functionality of the equipment and make sure the employees were comfortable with the tool," Mortesen said.
Applebee's chose to go with E la Carte Presto tablets, a rival vendor to Ziosk. Initially, offering the devices was designed to provide just the pay-at-the-table feature, but the service has grown to be much more than that, Mortensen said. Now, they provide guests with a range of conveniences.
So far, 35 percent of Applebee's restaurants have devices in place, including the location in Westminster; however, when the devices were installed, an error occurred which has temporarily prevented guests from using the devices to pay their checks, Mortensen said.
As with all new technologies, the tablets at Applebee's in Westminster had glitches and kinks. When they are fixed, Mortensen said, the devices will give guests a more efficient and entertaining dining experience.