Want your beer and wings faster? Order on the iPad, please

iPads are being tested at customer tables by the Buffalo Wild Wings chain

Pass the buffalo wings and the iPad.

IPads are popping up in the military, on car showfloors and at wineries and are now being tested out at customer tables by the Buffalo Wild Wings grill and bar chain.

Nestled in a rugged case from integrator Hubworks, the 9.7-in. iPad is being tested for customers to make food and drink orders from their tables. They can also use the tablets to jump online to check out Facebook, Twitter and play interactive games.

The 830-store Buffalo Wild Wings chain is about to launch a second phase of the iPad pilot program at a Minneapolis location after working out technical kinks at a suburban Toronto site, said Tim Murphy, director of international business for the chain.

"Ultimately, we are trying to use the technology to enhance the customer experience," he said in an interview. "People are familiar with iPads, iPhones and Android tablets, so this would enhance that."

The chain hasn't decided whether to combine purchasing from the device with purely entertainment uses, something it hopes to measure in its tests, Murphy said.

If the chain decides the device can be used for entertainment, it might sell advertising on the tablets, license popular games or even design custom-built games suited to its audience and brand, he said.

Buffalo Wild Wings doesn't expect the devices to replace waiters. Instead, if customers make their own orders, waiters will be freed up to interact more with their guests and promote food and drinks or the in-bar live trivia games, Murphy said.

Other companies make table-top ordering devices used by some other restaurant chains, but most are smaller devices and some are fixed to a spot on the table, Murphy noted. He said he evaluated products by Ziosk, which provides a table-top surface touchscreen, and E la Carte, which uses a Presto tablet with a 7-in. screen.

Hubworks has included a charging capability and credit card reader in the rugged case, and has enhanced battery efficiency so that a single unit can last up 12 to 15 hours before being placed in a charging dock, Murphy said. Hubworks minimized the power drain with a screensaver and other features.

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