Tablets replacing paper menus in restaurants – a long-term trend or too problematic?

Traditionally, restaurants had their menus in paper/booklet form. In the early mobile revolution from 2004 to 2008, some restaurants gave waiters a mobile with a custom app loaded in it for taking orders from customers.

Now, tablets are given to the customers for them to browse food menus and place their orders.

This trend is in market from mid-2011 onwards (use-case discussions started as soon as the first iPad was released in 2010) and its gaining momentum now.

A few companies that provide tablet-based menu services:

–> POSLavuTouchBistroiPOSSquareUpeMenuOwnPoint of SaleImenuE Menu IndiaMenuPadDeploid.

Tablet Based Menu In Restaurant

Customers will be able to browse the food menu and place their order which eventually gets posted in the kitchen display console. That’s the core functionality. But there are other extended features:

  1. Customize: Monteko of Stacked Restaurants says that 95% of diners customize their orders.
  2. Visualize: Pictures and detailed descriptions of the food item can be shown. How many times have you read a food item (say ‘Death By Chocolate’, a dessert dish) and wondered “how does this dish look?”
  3. Engage (and Earn): Restaurants can engage the customers by offering a lot of innovative features in the tablet, such as social media connections.


  • Allow the guest to play a multi-player game with guests at other table in the restaurant.
  • Offer 5% discount off bill if guests reach Level 15 in Angry Birds game, at a family-themed restaurant. Condition: Nominal fee charged for internet access. Other ancillary revenue opportunities?
  • Ability for restaurants to do focused campaigns and cross-selling to customer by knowing the customer buying pattern, interests, wishlist.

A few examples:

  • The system understands that John drinks only a Strawberry Shake. Whenever there is a promotion running on Strawberry Shake in future, say a Strawberry Shake + Veg Pizza combo offer, the restaurant will let only John  (and other interested customers) know about it, rather than spamming the entire customer base.
  • Maria orders Chicken Steak, immediately there is a popup that says “Coke tastes best with Chicken Steak, add Coke for only $5″. Cross-sell to a customer by ‘really’ knowing what they would buy.
  • The display order of menu (in tablet) itself can be automated based on who the customer is. In above example, when John views the tablet menu, under the “Drinks & Beverages” section, the first item will be “Strawberry Shake” followed by other drink items. By this, lot of customer’s time can be saved.
  • Near Field Communication (NFC) based payments. Customers no more have to flag the waiter for settling bills. Restaurants can increase their table turnaround time. Third party mobile payment players like Square come in handy.
  • Ability for restaurant owners to do predictive analysis on the number of guests to expect and what food items (also quantity) they are likely to order.

There are many other features that can be thought of and this space has significantly high scope for innovation. If Apple launches the API for its flagship voice assistant Siri, then tablet based menu market is again going to undergo massive change.

All above points look sweet. But, there is other side to the coin, as always. Demerits of this trend cannot be ignored.

Few demerits that we see:

  • Credit card security. Until and unless the transactions (bill payments) are PCI-DSS complaint, customer’s credit / debit card data is at stake.
  • Extensive use of technology everywhere. Many customers come to the restaurants to relax and be void of technology, they are going to frown when they are presented with a tablet menu.
  • Breakage. A customer drops the tablet on the floor by mistake and the screen breaks. What next? Who fixes it?
  • High capex. Until and unless the restaurant is adopting a cheaper priced Android-based tablet to implement tablet menu, the initial investment is going to be huge.
  • Risk of replacing human with techno-machine. A customer orders Chicken soup in tablet and the order is sent to kitchen. Five minutes later, the customer wants to change it to Veg soup, how do you do in tablet? (technically, its still possible to implement this workflow, but practically very difficult).
  • Theft of the tablet.
  • The transactions and customer data (from tablet) should be integrated to the existing restaurant systems like POS, CRM, Analytics software etc which attracts additional cost and time. But, without these integrations the implementation will solve only a minimal objective.


Overall, tablet-based menus are a good change in the restaurant industry. But, replacing the entire waiter crew with only tablets is going to haunt the restaurant. We predict that a mix of both is going to work in the restaurant industry.

Customers shall be given tablets for them to browse and order food, and at the same time, there will be at least one waiter to handle exceptions.

Not every restaurant will adopt this trend. Restaurants need to take a calculated (risky) call to adopt this trend by considering the ROI and all merits and demerits the technology attracts.

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Karthick Prabu

About the Writer :: Karthick Prabu

Karthick was general manager for Tnooz in Asia until September 2014.



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  1. ankit malvi

    Indeed, The tablet-based eMenu is serving very well. It’s actually increasing the customer satisfaction and customer delight. UrbanWand is a Gurgaon based company which is providing Tablet based eMenu and restaurant management solution. Their clients are highly satisfied and happy because their customer love to order via tablet and feel very comfortable. This technological solution increases customer satisfaction and saves their time.

  2. debasish

    It’s NOT a good idea to replace Traditional paper menu card to replace A “tablet menus”. Costumer always delights to order traditional paper menu card. Don’ts even think to change Traditional things it’s important to us. save this WORLD people …

  3. Eric Arsenault


    I find it interesting what people often refer to as “tablet menus”. Most of the technologies your refer to are NOT tablet menus. A menu’s job is to be a communication tool between the operator and the guest explaining what the establishment has to offer. Very few of the companies and products referenced in your article do this primary job effectively, in fact most of them are actually POS (Point Of Sale) platforms or built around POS platforms, not menu platforms. To prove this point, most establishments using these products still print and distribute a paper menu and the technology serves more as a novelty rather than a solution. Echoing exactly what others have stated about “hospitality”. My company released Menuvative in 2012 with a laser focus on making a better MENU platform – a menu that is more informative, cost effective, and efficient to edit. It takes nothing away from classical service because guests do not order from a MENU. There’s is no financial fraud risk because guests do not pay from a MENU. What guests can get from a good digital MENU is photos, better descriptions, wine and beer pairing suggestions, detailed nutritional and allergen information, and accuracy because real time updating allows a restaurant to be responsive to inventory and pricing fluctuations and more creative with daily features using local, fresh, ingredients.

    I notice your background is heavy in tech but appears devoid of restaurant experience. With twenty years of experience in both fields, I can confidently say you are making inaccurate assumptions about the limitations of a solution that is not integrated with every other restaurant system. The costs of Menuvative are often lower than the expense of printed menus over a 3-4 year period, which is less than the average shelf life of a tablet menu. One thing that is interesting is that many operators we speak with do not even know what the cost of their paper menus are – they just spend what they spend on what they think looks good because they historical have not had other options. A more detailed menu results in guests making more informed ordering decisions, increased sales, and can lower F&B costs. The ability to edit the menu in real time provides numerous financial benefits as well increased efficiency. So without all that integration, the risky ROI you mention is often more than 10 to 1 for these reasons.

  4. Sunil Menon

    Truly technology will enhance the dining experience, the app can pass on more information to the customers about the recipe, it’s ingredients, health facts etc.

    This is Sunil from Blyss Media Interactive. Our Mobile Development Division EVS (Evolving Studios) has developed an in-house IPad based dining menu, that has menus to choose from like starters, main course, each item has description, images, and ingredients and customization. Orders are emailed to a pre-defined email account.
    If there’s anybody interested we can team up to deliver a great customer experience in Dining. You can reach us if required.

    Sunil M

  5. Behzad Noferesti

    hi Karthick,
    first of all thanks for the good article about the issue.
    one of my friends and i are going to establish a company that provides this ipad based taking order service in Iran and i have to add there is no such company in the country just yet. in our country even taking orders with smartphones in the hand of waiters is very new, despite your point of view, we’re planing to provide this service for the most luxury restaurants and it might be very useful to have some statistics from other companies in other countries as well as some other articles about the issue like this one. so i was wondering if you could help me with some web sites or more details that i could use.
    thank you in advance.

  6. Ben Harrison

    In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I do work with an iPad POS company. I won’t even name the company just to keep this as unbiased as possible.

    Here are a few responses to consider:

    Theft – we have thousands of businesses using our system and have not heard of even 1 case of theft. It may have happened – probably has – but not on any scale that it has become an issue of note.

    Breakage: again, we do not hear of this at all but it could happen. The good news is with iPad POS you can pick up a new iPad at the Apple store and download the app within minutes. This is certainly not the case with legacy POS systems which can take much much longer to have new devices shipped and configured.

    Security of credit card transaction: Our system meets PCI standards and is secure. In fact, this may be more secure, especially in cases where you swipe and sign at the tableside. This removes any chance for fraud while you cannot see the server doing the transaction. I hate to say it, but this actually does happen.

    Speed: Some systems may be slower than handwritten techniques, but ours has very few screens and is very efficient. Plus – this removes the need to run tickets back to the kitchen which usually creates More time at the table. Plus you can show pictures of entres, specials, and desserts and improves up selling and the bottom line.

    Ordering from a robot: this sci-fi fear of robotic servers is silly. Whether they write on a table or hit a button is really no different. The human interaction remains in place and is in no way part of a conspiracy to replace people with machines.

    Additional cost: our system is up to 75% less than traditional POS systems. For those upgrading from cash registers and written formats, the cost usually gets absorbed and even turned to increased profits by the benefits of less waste, higher efficiency, and better connectivity with the restaurant’s customers in the form of loyalty programs and the like.

    one other thing: Multilingual … our system accepts any language.

    I hope this helps people considering an iPad POS

    • Karthick Prabu

      Karthick Prabu


      Thanks for the detailed explanation. Appreciate it.

    • Judy

      @ Ben Harrison. I’m interested and busy doing my homework on starting a company that provides tablet based taking order system, preferably integrating it with the POS system. It would be nice if you could please let us know where to enquire about your system or if anyone else here knows where we could get this or more info on it.

  7. Hiren Yadav

    There is a phenomenal growth in the adoption of tablets and smartphones. So having such system would definitely work. Need to take care of the demerits and its easy to tackle.

  8. richard stokes

    I think this is great, but two other significant benefits would be to have the menu in every language. In addition, anyone with poor eyesight can enlarge the menu to suit their eyesight

  9. Waiter

    I could see this working in say, Tokyo where you have these noodle “booths” to get in and out of quickly or at the treadmill joints Applied here in the U.S., not so much in any mid to high end restaurant.

    1. You’ll never be able to program in ALL the various variations that customers can come up with while maintaining any sense of simplicity within the tablet ordering system

    2. As a server, you’ll never have the speed that old school writing down an order or just mentally remembering it vs trying to wade through several screens of food options.

    3. I agree though, the tech has it’s place. For instance at the ordering stations or prep line to keep orders on track. Or a fast food joint.

    • Karthick Prabu

      Karthick Prabu

      Points 1 & 2: Already listed as a point-to-ponder in the article. Thanks for reflecting the thought.

      But, again, this is not something that will work only in fastfood joints.

  10. Tim Richards

    That scenario sounds truly awful, like ordering from a vending machine. It’s so wonder the examples you’ve used sound like they come from a low-end fast food joint. Dining is about hospitality, ie the illusion that you’re a guest of the restaurant, not a customer. This style of ordering would shatter that illusion IMO.

    • Karthick Prabu

      Karthick Prabu

      True that dining is about hospitality. But, things are changing. A year back when I went to a restaurant (not tier 3, tier 2 in this case), I was given a tablet to choose the food.


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