Good Disruption, Bad Disruption, Kiosks & Ziosks.

September 11, 2014 10:00 pm

The other day, I had a simple dinner date with my six year old.  After a whirlwind trip through the mall, we were ravenous, and we stopped at the local Chili’s.  I was looking forward to a little bonding with this marvelous little person… who seems to be growing before my eyes.  Unfortunately, everything changed the minute we sat down and noticed the ZIOSK on the table.

Ziosk builds itself as “the industry leader for tabletop menu, ordering, entertainment and payment with the largest deployed network in the U.S.”  Ziosk boasts service to 1 Million customers.  While I’d seen it before and had recently used it at a burger joint in Carmel, I can’t say I ever gave it a proper test-drive. You can find Ziosk at places like Chili’s, Applebees, Olive Garden and other restaurants in over 1,000 locations in the USA at the time of this writing.

Of course, as always, the CX/UX specialist in me is perpetually curious and normally something like this would have had me salivating.  My head was instantly full of questions with regard to how effective ZIOSK was for Chili’s.   In parallel, Mommy in me wasn’t so happy to find this digital intruder at our table.  Perhaps my exposure to all things digital seems to be turning me into a bit of luddite in my private time.  I really do try to tune out all screens when I’m at dinner or having drinks with friends and family… and instead just tune in to PEOPLE.

But there it was, front and center on our table. As I glanced at this interface, it brought me back to my pioneering days in eCommerce.

(Main Screen)

My first job just prior to graduating college in 1993 was working as a UX Specialist for a “virtual concierge” startup that developed localized, Mac-based kiosks that supported guests and visitors in local hotels. This was before the widespread use of IPTV/Interactive systems like Lodgenet (for whom I would later develop interfaces).  As a precursor to those services, our virtual concierge allowed users to check out of their rooms, find maps and directions to local addresses and attractions, print coupons, order food for delivery from local restaurants and even order flowers.

We had a quality idea and a quality product that was frankly, doomed from the start.  We were way ahead of our time.  It was an age before the world wide web went mainstream, an era where a 14.4 modem was considered fast, and a decade before Google Maps changed life as we know it.   In short, the company went bankrupt and never paid me. I managed to survive on Ramen noodles in a dark, basement apartment until I was hired, post-graduation, by 1-800-FLOWERS.  Ironically, I had recruited their participation in our Kiosk beta test, and they in turn, recruited me.

I would go on to build 16 interactive stores in two years for 1-800 FLOWERS.  I must say, building the interactive services division of 1-800-FLOWERS, was a terrific first job out of college — and as a bonus, they actually paid me!  Our team of three built interactive shopping applications on every major proprietary online service, the first PDA platforms, an array of interactive television pilots, kiosk startup, CDi/CDRom shopping hybrids and we were the first transactional florist on the Internet.  The rest is history.  I grabbed my portfolio and found a screen shot of one of the proprietary apps we worked on “back in the day”

(800 Flowers on (???) LodgeNet – circa 1996)

Compare it with ZIOSK and Deja Vu!  How much — and how little things have changed!

While this not by any means an exhaustive review, here’s what I learned looking at the Ziosk in this one central coast location….

In short, the system offered the ability for users to:

  • Review promotional menu items – not the whole menu
  • Read USA Today and other updates
  • Pay .99 cents for unlimited access proprietary or licensed apps and games (added to the bill)
  • Review your bill
  • Swipe your card and pay
  • Take a customer satisfaction survey at the end of bill payment

The interface was really simple.  I was a little surprised that, despite the mass adoption of small screen,  the designs were remarkably similar to interface design I was doing in the late 1990’s.  I took the time to drill through the menu. I also grilled our servers about the use of ZIOSK and found the feedback we received insightful.  Interestingly, I learned they don’t fully deploy ZIOSK at Chili’s because it has proven to be too disruptive.

  • You can look at featured menu items and even some nutritional information for some items on the menu, but the full menu is not available on ZIOSK.
  • You cannot order meals using ZIOSK – not at Chili’s, at least. This functionality (according to my server) left both customers and servers confused and resulted in total disruption at the restaurant.  (If I remember correctly, the server actually used the word “disaster”). According to the servers I spoke with, the Chili’s menu and its modifiers may have been too complex for the ZIOSK platform, making ordering using the system unusable.
  • You can order drink refills and “featured” deserts at Chili’s using ZIOSK.  This seems to merely cue the server by triggering a light on the top of the screen – and I believe it also sends a message to the POS system so they can see what is needed from “the back” if necessary.
  • You cannot use the ZIOSK to page your waiter if you need, say, some barbecue sauce.  You must do the traditional stalk from your seat, and wave madly.  (Missed opportunity)
  • The system offers limited news and doesn’t allow web browsing or email checking. 
  • The games I reviewed were not social or multiplayer… so while one person plays, the other stares blankly – typically at a more full-featured cell phone with internet access.
  • The unlimited games and entertainment are rather limited…  My son played a clear rip-off of Angry Birds — without the birds.  Regardless, they kept him engaged enough to ignore me and his food for the 45 minutes we sat there.
Here are a few system screen shots:
Main screen for games and entertainment


Checkout (my boy signed it!)


Exit Survey
When I asked why it wasn’t fully enabled our server(s) offered some really good feedback.
  • Before they disabled ordering capabilities, the system made it highly confusing and frustrating to order food — and that the resulting frustration relayed to wait staff and management resulting in rotten relationships, poor service and bad tips.
  • The tool didn’t map orders to place seating — making the server figure it out on delivery, further creating ill-will with the table.  

Perhaps the most important feedback I received from three different servers is that, while at times the system could be helpful, in general,  ZIOSK disrupted and frustrated service and the relationship between the server and the table, turning diners into anti-social zombies.  Without question, I can attest to this, as the presence of the ZIOSK not only frustrated me, but effectively zombified my son the entire time we were there.  That dynamic would have been better if I could have played games *with* him, instead of being relegated to the position of observer.  😛


So many years ahead from my kiosk building years, it’s interesting to see how far we’ve come — and how far we have to go.  Today, we talk a lot about “disruptive” technology — but we don’t always talk about bad disruptive vs. good disruptive.  In many cases, there’s a little of both going on… and getting from bad to good can be the hairy, messy part.  We tend to layer new technology on top of existing paradigms.  Sometimes that’s probably necessary — culture can’t change nearly as quickly as technology can.  Indeed, while ZIOSK may be a blessing to many other businesses, it’s clear Chili’s is feeling the growing pains.

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  • Bread says:

    Yeah they just added these to olive garden and my dad hated them, I’m a lot younger than him so I tried to pay for the bill with a gift card we had and it wanted you to scan a QR code. Which the gift card only had a magnetic strip so that didn’t work which just pissed my dad off more. I personally don’t like them. They also start the tip off at 20% which just makes the server seem arrogant, I know that the servers don’t set it but that little mechanic peeves everyone.

  • Joseph says:

    After a long day of work I decided that as soon as my wife walked in the door I was going to take her to the Olive Garden for a nice relaxing dinner — just the two of us. When we sat down I noticed the table kiosk staring me right in the face the first thing I did was pick it up move it to the other side of the table and turn it around so that the screen was not facing me. We ordered the soup and salad and we shared an eggplant dinner. The waitress came over at the end and asked us if we would like anything else. I said no we are full and thanked her. Then she grabbed the kiosk and put it in front of me and said “You can pay here!” I left the kiosk where was – didn’t touch it – didn’t even look at it. I motioned back over to the waitress when I finally caught her attention and told her I didn’t want to pay using the kiosk. Then I explained to her that I didn’t have my glasses and I could not even see what was on the kiosk.

    The waitress said, “That’s okay I will show you!” and explained I would be doing her big favor if I used the kiosk. I told her, “No that’s okay. You would be doing me a big favor if I did not have to use the kiosk!” So, she took my credit card, went up front and came back with the normal papers that you sign, and put the tip in — which I gladly did.

    My personal reasons for not using the kiosk is that I went out for a relaxing dinner — not to play computer at the dinner table. I purposely kepy my cell phone in my pocket, so as not to be distracted. I understand the restaurant would like more people to use one, so they can cut down on cashiers. I get it. What the self-service people don’t understand as we as working class people don’t go to other places to be put to work! I do not want to work at Walmart. I do not want to work at the supermarket. I do not want to work at Home Depot. All of these places are constantly forcing the consumer to use their electronic check out machines and do the work for them!

    There will come the day where they will be no more cashiers. Cashiers will not have a job in society. So, those of you who believe in what I believe – do not get tricked, duped, Hoodwinked or bamboozled into using any kind of electronic device to check out – especially when you have to your hard-earned money! Somebody should work to receive the money you work hard to earn, not put you to work to spend it. So let’s start turning those kiosks around when we’re at the dinner table and let’s start refusing to use self-checkout when we go to stores!

    • Leigh Durst says:


      Apologies for late response here. THANK you for your terrific comment. It’s such a great story. We do a lot of user research for a living – and I remember thinking as I read it that the people employing this technology really need to go out with their families and test drive it themselves — in an environment with lazy wait staff. When technology doesn’t become seamless and easy and BUILD relationship rather than making you feel relegated to doing the work FOR a company, it’s a big fail. It’s maddening. It’s transparent and frustrating. We must DEMAND service.

      Two years ago, we did a ton of user research on simplifying the check out process for a major retailer. The app they had created was feature-rich and well-intentioned. However, it made the customer do all the work. We purposefully had a woman come in with her baby to test the app with kids, babies, couples. It wasn’t ergonomic. The company thought it was the next-generation of self-checkout… but the user testing proved that they were actually forcing users to jump through more hoops.

      When we fail to make technology feel natural, seamless, easy — when we fail to make technology service-driven, a tool for relationship building — and instead force users through more hoops than we did before, there’s no reason to adopt. In fact, as your comments prove, it may well make people so angry they stage a protest.

      I hope the fine folks full of good intentions who developed this technology — and the folks executing this technology — take the time to read what you wrote. It’s important.

      Thanks again! – Leigh Durst