Further evidence of the impending robot takeover, tablets are now a fixture at America’s most ubiquitous chain restaurants, from Applebee’s and Chili’s to Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse. By enabling diners to order drinks or food and pay their bill with a couple taps of the screen, the tablets are intended to speed up service — but they’re also making servers’ lives miserable, according to a report from Buzzfeed News.
After a customer uses the tablet to pay their bill, they’re prompted to take a survey to evaluate their experience, assigning a score from 1 to 5 on criteria such as speed of service. The restaurants then use the survey results to rate the performance of its servers, and anything less than a perfect score can have a negative impact, resulting in servers having their number of tables reduced, being switched to less desirable shifts, or having their hours cut.
Dozens of workers tell Buzzfeed that the customer surveys have drastically affected their bottom lines, with some being forced to quit their jobs due to shrinking paychecks. “Technically, they don’t fire you,” a former Chili’s server said. “But they give you such bad shifts, and they start cutting back your shifts to where you don’t have enough to survive.”
(The surveys are reminiscent of the star ratings doled out to Uber drivers, where anything less than five stars can jeopardize their ability to work and make money.)
Buzzfeed reached out to numerous chains including Applebee’s and Chili’s and most declined to comment; Olive Garden described the tabletop tablets as “one tool, among many others, we use to measure how we are doing and provide feedback to our servers to enhance the overall guest experience.”
At least in the U.S., servers’ performances are typically evaluated via tipping, which — while wildly problematic and discriminatory — traditionally gives diners a chance to either reward good service with a fat tip or, if a diner was displeased with the experience, leave a poor tip. But by using tabletop tech to tabulate numerical scores for its staff and potentially punish them for a lower than five-star rating, restaurants have introduced a whole new system of data-driven surveillance — one that’s contributing to “the economic and psychological precariousness that already defines restaurant work,” as Buzzfeed puts it.
Some customers have also apparently used the tabletop tablets to comment on their servers’ appearances or flirt with them, adding fuel to the already-raging dumpster fire that is sexual harassment in restaurants.
Restaurants say the use of tablets has boosted check averages, encouraging diners to tack on items like additional drinks and desserts. And despite some initial worries that the use of tabletop tablets would hurt servers’ tips, data has indicated that tip amounts have remained steady or even increased. But rather than making servers’ jobs easier, the corporate obsession with data collection seems to be making tabletop tablets just one more hurdle for workers to face in an already tough industry.