Chili’s plans to install digital tablets which allow diners to order menu items or pay their entire bill without having to flag down a waiter at the majority of its 1,266 U.S. restaurants by the first half of 2014.

The company spent six months testing the tablets, and has found that they reliably increase the size of the average check. The tablets are made by a Dallas company called Ziosk, and the senior director of marketing at Chili’s, Nicole Cochran, insists that they are not an effort to replace wait staff with machines and cut down on labor costs. Cochran says the tablets are just there to give the Chili’s dining experience a modern flare (and, we’re guessing, earn the restaurant chain a boatload of money.)

Bloomberg Businessweek looks at the psychology behind why the shiny digital tablets cause customers to spend more. Here’s a summary of their findings:

  • Customers ended up tipping about 15 percent more on average, because the default suggestion on the tablet at Chili’s is set at 20 percent.
  • By eliminating the wait for a menu, the tablet can increase impulse orders at the start of the meal (causing appetizer sales to go up.)
  • Tablets tempt diners with pictures of desserts like the molten chocolate cake above.
  • Chili’s offers unlimited games on the tablets for $0.99—perfect for keeping the kids entertained.
  • Ziosk tablets cause the diner to get out faster, because there is no waiting for the bill or asking for change.

This all makes a lot of sense. You give consumers shiny digital tablets, drool-inducing images, and easy access to menu items which stream across the screen, and they will purchase, purchase, and purchase some more. Chili’s is ahead of the game, and we expect to see many more mega-chains, as well as smaller operators, rolling out tablets in the near future.

[via Grub Street, Bloomberg]