We live in a world of screens, monitors and digital signs that dwarf the most impressive billboards of previous generations. Everywhere you go you’ll see signs that advertise services, promote ideas or just entertain you with their creativity. Nothing comes close to the level of intimacy and pervasiveness that smartphones bring to consumers. These devices have become personal secretaries, communications devices, gatekeepers and entertainment screens for a mobile society that’s always moving.

Restaurants that want to engage customers today must learn how to control the horizontal and vertical, as the old “Outer Limits” television show promised viewers. Restaurateurs hear lots of information about engaging Millennials, Baby Boomers and Generations X, Y and Z, but nothing is as important as engaging the smartphone generation, which crosses generational lines.

Smartphones offer restaurant owners tangible ways to market in real-time, connect with customers, provide better service and promote the business brand and special events. Your customers use their phones to look for restaurants, read reviews, get directions, make reservations and preorder food for both carryout orders and sit-down meals. Savvy restaurateurs devise ways to encourage these interactions through the following initiatives:

  • Claiming listings at local directories, Google Places and restaurant-review sites
  • Setting up automatic loyalty programs through smartphone apps and technology
  • Designing websites and social media pages so that they display responsively on all types of smartphones and devices
  • Encouraging customers to take photos at the restaurant and post them online
  • Sending text messages and smartphone ads to customers to promote events and daily specials
  • Accepting mobile and tableside orders and payments from smartphones
  • Configuring POS systems to accept mobile-wallet payments

Putting Your Screens to Work

Restaurants use many kinds of screens and not just television monitors. You can use your monitors to display Internet sites, broadcast live HD events and connect with a digital sign system to display messages. You can even use big screens for music, gaming, karaoke and other entertainment applications.

The latest restaurant trend involves using screens at diner’s tables for placing orders and sending the different parts of the order to video monitors in the appropriate food and beverage stations. Diners can order, pay for their food, connect with the restaurant’s social media pages and website, view pictures of food or even watch their meals being prepared. Both kids and gamers can play games while waiting for their food.

Popular screen systems for restaurant tableside ordering include:

  • Ziosk: Guests can use Ziosk tablets to send appetizer orders to the kitchen immediately, order a drink refill, connect with the restaurant’s loyalty program and capture photos of their visit to share on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
  • Presto: The ElaCarte Presto tablet ordering system allows restaurants to show pictures of food and prompts your customers with sales suggestions. The efficient ordering and payment applications help to turn tables faster. Presto works seamlessly with all major POS systems.
  • eTab: eTab delivers great options for restaurants that need to digitize their menus, match their old hardware parameters and provide robust screens that hold up to spills, bumps, droppings and heavy use.

The above systems are just a few examples of tableside ordering systems. Your POS system might include monitors and tablets for various customer-facing or server-facing applications.

Controlling Your Customers’ Screens

You can’t really control your customers’ screens, but you can make useful information available online,. which your customers can access on their screens. You can send emails to inform your customers about special promotions, menu changes, new selections of wines or human interest stories about the staff and business. You can also send texts to stay connected with customers.

You’ve probably noticed that two-dimensional quick-response or QR codes are popping up everywhere. You can generate your own codes that customers can scan with their phones to connect with your digital signage, generate a marketing campaign, show customers how to get to your restaurant or link to your social media pages or website.

Tablets, smartphones and technology can improve delivery service for pizza restaurants and even work in-house to speed service by locating where each menu item goes. You can send coupons for special incentives to your customers’ phones or reward diners automatically when they qualify for loyalty rewards.

Marketing to your customers on their smartphones offers an astonishing array of benefits that range from self-service ordering to connecting with digital signage and servers and controlling video monitors with NFC-equipped Android smartphones.

Simply put, the more that you engage customers on their smartphones, the more benefits your restaurant gets in added sales and publicity.