Tampa’s Chris Sullivan founded Outback Steakhouse in 1988 and later OSI Restaurant Partners, which owns or operates national chains like Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Bonefish Grill and Roy’s. Sullivan knows the casual-dining market, and he’s using iPads at his new restaurant concept, Carmel Café & Wine Bar. Diners view the entire menu and order using this tableside tablet. They can see photos of every item, explore wine-pairing guides and even play a game of Angry Birds or stream sports games. Carmel Café’s third location just opened in Sarasota.
Why the iPad?
The consumer is getting more adventuresome with what they eat and the wine they drink, and using technology makes the concept engaging and interactive. You want something that has variety and an atmosphere that is inviting and stimulating.
Were iPads always a part of the Carmel Café concept?
From day one we wanted to figure out how to take this new technology and give the consumer more information. Our MenuPad software gives the consumer more control. That’s what business is all about—how you stay relevant, exceed people’s expectations and enhance the experience.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Getting integrated with the point of sale system. Our objective was for the MenuPads to handle ordering better and give customers more information than they could get anywhere else in the restaurant. The only thing it doesn’t do is serve product and solve problems.
There was some trepidation at first with our service staff, but it allows them to be more in the hospitality business instead of just the order-taking and delivery business. The traditional model of restaurants is once you order, your menus are gone. You could be in the middle of a meal and realize you haven’t thought about wine, or maybe you want something else. With MenuPad, you can quickly order a glass of wine or another appetizer and the check grows. Plus, our wait staff can take on larger station sizes, which allows them to make more money.
A lot of people look to restaurants as a place to escape our daily gadgets. Are you worried about technology fatigue?
I was one of those people who were anti-pictures on menus. Our first two Carmel Cafés served as laboratories. I can tell you 90-plus percent of the customers loved it. They would have never ordered a certain item if they hadn’t seen it. Plus, you eliminate the problem where people order something and it’s not what they expect.
Are tableside iPads a trend we’ll see at high-end restaurants?
I believe it will become very much accepted in the restaurant hospitality world. I liken this to when we started pumping our own gas. It took a long time for some people to start. What we’re seeing [with the MenuPad] is it’s not taking any time for people to say, “Yeah, I get this, and this is how I like to dine.”