Restaurant guests sour on Ziosk’s “touch it and you’re charged” payment systems

FingerMonet
By | July 25th, 2016

On a recent visit to Pizzeria Uno with his family, Ed Lawrence discovered a mysterious $1.99 charge on his bill for something called Ziosk.

Ziosk is a seven-inch tabletop tablet installed throughout many casual dining restaurants, which allows customers to order food, pay a bill and even play games. Best of all, it’s “free” to use, according to the manufacturer.

Except when it isn’t.

“The Ziosk includes games enticing to children,” Lawrence explains. “The device apparently charges the fee at the tap of a finger, without warning.”

Lawrence and his family played trivia games on the tablet while they waited for their food to arrive, but he says there was no button to accept or decline charges. Then the surprise $1.99 fee appeared on his bill.

As a consumer advocate and a mom to young children, Lawrence’s case makes me sit up and take notice. Restaurant-goers are encouraged to use the tablet, which includes both “free” and paid content on the same screen. But it is designed with apps for kids — even cartoons. Tricking parents into paying for charges incurred by children, some of whom aren’t even old enough to read, seems pretty deceptive.

But it gets worse.

As it turns out, this is happening at restaurants every day, all over the country.

Not long after Lawrence shared his story, Amanda Glass wrote to us about how her bill was padded when her family used a Ziosk tablet at a Red Robin restaurant in Broken Arrow, Okla. When she visited the restaurant, the Ziosk tablets were brand new.

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Here’s what she told us:

The hostess seated us and told us we could order drinks from the Ziosk or wait for our waiter, but didn’t tell us anything else about the Ziosk.

As my husband scanned the printed menu, I looked at the Ziosk. I got to the drink screen and decided it looked too complicated and I would just order with our waiter. That’s when I saw the games tab. I clicked and saw a baby video option as one of the first choices. I tapped it before I saw the $1.99 on it. There was no pop-up asking, “Are you sure you want to purchase this video for $1.99?” It was immediately purchased.

I had access to the video throughout the meal and it did distract my baby while we waited for our meal, but I probably would not have purchased it had I realized there was a charge.”

OK, so Glass thought the video was helpful. But the last thing she said — that she wouldn’t have purchased it had she known there was a fee — is a critical piece of establishing that a consumer practice is deceptive.

When customers aren’t aware that doing something — in this case, clicking an app — will cost them money, it’s problematic, and the company is profiting off the deception.

And while you might think that consumers are just being careless when they use the device, consider this: Ziosk offers both “free apps” and “premium content” on the same screen, with no verification built in to warn or confirm that the fee is in fact understood and accepted.

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  • Tom McShane

    How many other grimy fingers have touched that screen? From an ick factor standpoint it sounds like the grubbiest thing since the Salad Bar.

  • AJPeabody

    If the management won’t remove the charge, pay by credit card and dispute the $1.99. The time cost of that dispute, whether won or lost, will deter the restaurants if enough people do it. Ziosk is a parasite.

  • Joe Blasi

    or take it out of the tip and when people start doing all the time the servers will brake the ziosks.

  • Pegtoo

    Definitely need the authorization of the person who will be paying the bill… but I don’t know how you can do that. I messed with one of these recently, and yep… there was the charge on my tab. They happily removed it when I questioned it, what a scam.

  • Ben

    > In other words, this is all by design.

    Was there ever any doubt about that? I suspect more of these class action suits will pop up, eventually forcing the company to do the thing they *should* have done to begin with, simply ask the user to swipe their credit card to authorize the content charge. Of course, that destroys the business model because nobody is going to pay $2 to play on a kiosk the same games they already have on their phones.

    I won’t be upset to see these things go. I really like being able to pay at the table but I hate how much room these devices take up, how distracting they are, and how they miscalculate the suggested tip.

  • cscasi

    That’s your opinion and I can see your point. However, I use them all the time when we go to Chili’s, Abuelo’s and other places that have them. Never once have I encountered a $1.99 charge on my bill. Why? I don’t play the games. I use it to order something we may want during the meal rather than waiting for our server to show up and I always pay my bill using it as it is so much faster and it gives me a printed receipt at the end. It also allows me to rate my visit by asking a series of questions that I can answer or just go to exit and not answer. It also allows us to enter our phone number to get reward points. Then, when we accumulate so many points you can get an item or entrée free. It gives you a menu of the items and their cost in reward points. So, there are a lot of good things about these units.
    By the way, the first time I saw one of these at Chili’s, our server explained how it worked, even gave us a demo and explained about the charge if we played games on it.
    As for whether or not there is any indication there will be a charge added if you play the games, I thought there is. However, we are going out for lunch in a couple of hours and I will check the machine while we are dining and then add to my comment after we get back home this afternoon.

  • mbods2002

    I haven’t seen a Ziosk yet but if nothing else, thanks for making me aware!

  • cscasi

    One way to do it, but it is NOT the server’s fault they are there, is it?

  • Alan Gore

    I saw these terminals for the first time at Olive Garden this month. I’m glad I didn’t try using one.

  • Mel65

    I’m a little torn here. We use the Ziosks at Chili’s, Abuelos, and a lot of the restaurants here locally. I pay my bill with it if it’s available just about every time, because I don’t have to wait for the server to bring it. I sign on the screen and sometimes even order desert to go using it and a couple of times my son and I have played a trivia game or a word game while we’re waiting. I always thought that it was pretty clear that you were being charged for games, but I’m an adult and if it’s kids touching it, maybe they don’t understand–but I do have a little bit of a with parents who say their child was playing games while they weren’t paying attention. Simplest thing to do when you sit down is to ask the server to remove it and they will. Heck, frankly with some of the little hellions I’ve seen acting up in restaurants, I’D pay the $1.99 for them to have something occupying them at their table!

  • Mel65

    Often if we’re seated at one of the little tiny booths or a table for two I will ask the server to remove it and they always do with no fuss. I’ve never run across it miscalculating the suggested tip, but then again I don’t ever use the suggested tip. I adjust the slidebar until it comes out at an even amount for the bill because I’m weird that way :)

  • pauletteb

    I use Ziosk frequently. The fact that there is a charge for games is clearly stated.

  • pauletteb

    Some people are too lazy to pay attention and then blame the machine.

  • AJPeabody

    Want to bet that server tips are subtly reduced anyway by having Ziosk do some of their work?

  • The restaurants run the risk of losing the repeat custom of the client while these Ziosk money-stealers are sitting on the table.

    Best that they ditch the devices, and grubby Ziosk along with them.

    It’s odd that the case was dropped by Brenda Quijada . . . did Ziosk buy her silence?

  • FQTVLR

    I recently ate at a restaurant that used ziosks at the table. We were heavily encouraged to place our orders on them (which included special instructions about a food allergy) and then to look at and pay our bill using this machine. We saw 2 different servers–one dropped off our drinks and another our food. One asked if our meals were okay. That was it. And when we went to pay the suggested gratuity was 18%. The slider worked well and we reduced it to a level appropriate for the human service we received. We are good tippers and often over tip but we were not including a tip for the machine.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    The dirtiest, most filthy thing you’ll ever handle is the TV remote control in a hotel room. :-) They should use a design where the buttons are submerged beneath plastic and then cleaned with a bleach wiping cloth (after sterilized in a nuclear reactor! :-)

    Another filthy item? Food menus. For some reason, we all touch them with our fingers as we’re reading.

    There are some people who go so far as to bring their own utensils to the restaurant.

  • Dutchess

    That’s the worst recommendation ever, your server isn’t responsible for the device and they didn’t trick you into the fee why punish them? Punish the person that isn’t responsible and it will hurt the most. This is wrong on so many levels.

  • cscasi

    It is not a tip for the machine. It just states, Suggested Tip. And as you said, it has a slider that allows you to choose what amount/percent you wish to leave as a tip. So, it is up to you. Take the time, as you did, and look before you push the button on the screen. It’s your choice.

  • cscasi

    OK Alan. But, even old folks seem to be able to use them without problems. ;-) Who knows, you might be surprised.

  • Rebecca

    The dirtiest thing you touch is money. Cash – bills and coins – is the one filthy thing most people touch every day that they don’t even think about.

  • cscasi

    How do they miscalculate the tip? Can you give us an explanation?

  • Rebecca

    This, times a million plus one!!!!

    “So, whose fault is this? Of course it is Ziosks’. Really, it is the parents fault for not controlling their children.”

    I abhor people who think everything is someone else’s fault. Zero personal responsibility. That is doubly true for people that extend this to their children.

    Your explanation was very helpful; thank you for giving some more real user insight. I suspected as much because if there was no disclosure about the fee, someone would have sued by now and the outcome wouldn’t be the one illustrated in the article.

  • Rebecca

    Am I really the only person so far that finds it disturbing that some parents shove a screen in their kids face? Instead of having a family dinner out at a restaurant?

    I hate to sound old and crotchety, but seriously?!?!?!? It’s really a sad state when instead of having a family meal around a table together, parents would give their kids videos to watch and games to play. Isn’t the point of eating out to have a nice family dinner?

    I have a 9 month old and a 22 month old. So please don’t tell me if I had kids and tried to eat out I would shove a screen under them instead of actually interacting with each other. We have human interaction during meals.

  • FQTVLR

    By suggesting 18% they were asking us to tip for doing the ordering and paying by machine and not for actual human service. I know I can adjust the tip but suggesting 18% when most interaction was with a machine asking me to tip a machine….

  • mdy2k1

    Ok, I’ll take all your money so you don’t have to touch it anymore :)

  • LonnieC

    Much of this discussion sounds like some of the complaints many years ago in the early days of online purchasing. It was too easy to commit to a purchase without warning. Ziosk sounds the same. There should certainly be a requirement of some additional formal action (credit card swipe?) before a charge is made.

    Having said that, there are other concerns that come to my mind. My wife and I have seen and used Ziosks for a couple of years. When we first saw them, all I could think was that they are the first step in a process that will eventually lead to the elimination of servers. They can already be used to order drinks, desserts, etc., and pay our bills. Once they are used to place our entire meal orders, why have servers? (And deliveries to the tables can be made by robots.) Yet, when I mentioned that to the servers at the restaurants we go to, they seemed blissfully unaware of that possibility. Oh well, they’ll learn, I guess. After all, why wouldn’t owners/managers see Ziosks as a way to save considerable overhead/sick leave/workers comp, etc.? I expect that may be a subtle message used to promote the things. Of course, Mr. Regal will probably deny that, but – take a look: would you buy a used car from this guy?

    Another problem: In talking to servers we’ve come to know, they informed us that if they get too few extremely positive reviews (in the survey at the end of the bill paying process), they drop down on the restaurant’s “call list”. That is, they aren’t called in to work as many days as others who may have gotten more high reviews. This could be for many reasons unrelated to the quality of the service (for example, serving early dinner to a
    larger percentage of older patrons, who are less likely to use electronics and therefor provide fewer reviews). Ziosks have become another way to “rate” – and punish – servers. And in fact, a similar thing happens to managers. We’ve been told the results of the reviews get sent to “corporate”, where they are used to review managers.

    Knowing all of this, patrons are placed in the uncomfortable position of (a) completing surveys we don’t really want to take the time to bother with, and (b) giving artificially high ratings for things over which the servers have no control (“Was the restaurant clean?”). If we like the server, we have no other real choice. More ratings, less actual meaning and a loss of personal input and feedback.

    As for tips: I have not noticed the calculations are very far off an approximate “standard” 18%. At least the Ziosks calculate the tip on the basis of the total bill (before taxes), rather on the discounted amount after any coupons or discounts. And you can always increase or decrease the tip based on your experience.

    It just seems that Ziosks get us ever closer to a very cold, dispassionate, uncaring world. Am I overstating it?

  • Ben

    The Ziosk tip tool presents the tip as a percentage of the post-tax total, which inflates the amount of the tip. Tips should be based on the pre-tax subtotal (and pre-discounts, though the Ziosk already does that, naturally).

  • Rebecca

    Thank you for my good laugh today!!!!

  • Rebecca

    Thank you and the others that explained this. I don’t understand why the poll is asking for confirmation of something that’s already true? It is getting under my skin lately that there’s so many stories here where absolutely everything is someone else’s fault. Like there should have been a box with giant blinking letters in jumbo font you have to approve 12 times or something? Ridiculous.

  • Ed Lawrence

    Those of you posting condescending or snide or simplistic comments—that basically state “you’re not paying attention” or “just watch your kids”—In my opinion aren’t thinking this through. Your attitude is wrong for many reasons.

    Sometimes small children grab the Ziosk and that simple act can result in a charge. Same could actually hold for adults too.

    The warning labels aren’t on all machines at all restaurants. If present, they are usually at the base of the Ziosk.
    People quite often don’t notice peripheral items. Google the video for the gorilla and the basketball players. In psychology and even business classes, students are told to count the number of passes made by the players. A high percentage of people don’t notice the guy dressed as a gorilla who walks behind the players, stops, and waves. When people look at a computer screen, even a Ziosk, they often don’t notice the base. It’s not in-attention. It’s where you focus.

    The machines at UNOs were free for a year, then they added a ninety-nine cent charge, then raised it to $1.99. They once warned you about the charge by posting a confirmation screen. Them they took the screen away.

    I spoke with two managers at UNOs. They both confirmed there are many complaints and they don’t intend to change anything. The current setup is clearly intentional.

    The solution is, fortunately, rather simple—add BACK the confirmation screen. Make it the way it was.
    They won’t do that because they like it the way it is. The money more than offsets the number of complaints.

    Finally, I’ll add something not mentioned in the article: The tip percentage screen is not always accurate. I used one Ziosk that did not match my tip calculator. I checked using both the pre-tax and post-tax totals. The Ziosk in both cases presented higher numbers than the calculator.

    I don’t trust the ziosk. I’ve given up UNOs until they change this.

  • cscasi

    Perhaps, but the computer cannot bring out your food and drinks and refill them. So, I imagine most people still tip them just s they would the other way.

  • cscasi

    Haven’t seen that around where I live; at least not yet and I see more and more of these Ziosks.

  • cscasi

    Never had a Ziosk “thieve” me of money. They work well and it saves time and effort on my part. Issued me a receipt and allows me to load my reward card so I get points for future use. You control the amount of tip you want to leave and finally, guess what, your credit card never leaves your sight!

  • Mel65

    There are multiple screens indicating a charge will be assessed. How much warning is necessary? And if the kid are grabbing it and managing to get through the multiple screens to order before the parents wake up, I am hard pressed to have much sympathy.

  • random_observation_source

    Unethical and immoral? For charging you to use a device designed to entertain you or your kids? If the devices were free, but showed your children advertisements for ice cream sundaes, and you ended up buying ice cream sundaes for your children, would they still be unethical? Would you demand your money back?

    When my kids and I visit one of these places, I simply move the device to another table or hide it. The screen makes it clear that playing the games costs extra beyond a free period (I’ve used the ones at Outback steakhouse). If my kids get to it first, I ask for it back. It’s as simple as that.

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but regardless of whether or not it takes a village to raise a child, the primary responsibility to raise my kids is mine. And a big part of that responsibility includes paying attention to them and what they’re doing. If one of the kids used the device and I wasn’t paying close enough attention to prevent it, that’s on me, not the restaurant.

  • cscasi

    Agreed. However, if you want to tip on the pre-tax, how hard is it to just use the slider to back down the suggested amount? I note that some places to set theirs to pre-tax and some to post-tax. It’s simple enough to see and adjust accordingly. Either that or just pay through the server; whichever is easier for you.

  • random_observation_source

    I think it was Amazon, and a big difference is that the in-game app purchases were completely outside the control of the parents. Kids would play and buy items in the game without any parental involvement.

    For these devices, presumably the person responsible for paying for the extra games and such is sitting at the same table as the person incurring the charge.

  • cscasi

    For you, pay through the server. Then, you can manually do your calculations to make certain you do not tip too much and you won’t have to worry, rather than not go to UNO’s.
    And, as I mentioned earlier, the game screen does warn a person there is a $1.99 charge for unlimited game playing. When you click on the button, it takes you to another screen where the warning is also there. Click again and it comes up on that third page for a third warning. Then if you click on the button it charges you. The restaurant manager and I both used a couple of the Ziosk machines in his restaurant today and they all did the same thing.

  • Ed Lawrence

    The day I was most recently at. UNOs I was NOt presented with any opt out or warning screens.
    As as I left the restaurant, a manager asked me “How was it?”, meaning our dinner experience. I walked to a random table picked up a Ziosk and touched a single icon—and it flashed “You have agreed to pay $1.99.”

    The article contains specific examples with quotes from other people who have experienced the same.

    So, please don’t lecture us with the certainty of your position. It appears a restaurant you go to is doing things correctly and ethically. Lucky you.

  • Ed Lawrence

    How interesting that you attempt to flip the argument from one of “unethical behavior by a company” to “buyer beware.”
    Following that argument, we should get rid of most consumer protection laws; let’s just let the consumers beware.

    You also assert that all the Ziosks are set up the same—or you are calling the people mentioned in the article liars when they say they were not prompted,
    I prefer to believe that some restaurants have kept the opt screens.

  • random_observation_source

    Calm down there… Where in this post am I advocating getting rid of consumer protection laws? I’m just saying that it’s my responsibility to monitor my kids activities when they’re sitting with me at a table in a restaurant. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t need extra federal oversight or legislation to help me parent my kids at Outback Steakhouse (and for the record, if you read the post, I didn’t make a blanket generalization of all these devices; my experience is explicitly limited to outback.).

  • LFH0

    The customer has little or no leverage with the restaurant. The server does have leverage. If the servers realize that their income is being reduced by this device, then they will compel the restaurant to fix the problem or get rid of the devices. The alternative is that the servers are, in effect, part of the scam.

  • Randy Culpepper

    Servers absolutely do NOT have leverage over management in the service industry. I waited tables and bartended for over 10 years, and most restaurants, especially chains, regard waitstaff as being disposable.

    Regarding your “part of the scam” comment…can you honestly say that every organization you’ve ever worked for has behaved with integrity 100% of the time? If not, then you’re part of that scam.

  • LFH0

    Certainly servers have greater leverage. They are there every day, and have numerous interactions with the restaurant; the customer interacts with the restaurant only periodically (if that). If the servers are not getting the tips that they believe are deserved, then they’ll either petition the restaurant for higher wages, elimination of tip-reducing devices, or walk. Moreover, servers are agents of the restaurant; they are not independent. Customers are right to deal with the agents of the company–the servers in this case–as they would deal with the company directly.

    As to the integrity question, I have never myself compromised my own integrity. Whether the company and its other employees have every violated that principle, I cannot say. But I have not participated in any such dishonesty, and I would refuse to do so if asked–though I have never been asked to do so. If servers know that they are being used to perpetrate a scam, then they should not participate in the scam, protest, and if need be, quit.

  • Ed Lawrence

    I’ve both seen written arguments such as yours and spoken in person who debate/argue/discuss as you do. I find it useless to debate you. But, I’ll respond anyway, because I always have hope.

    You make statements of personal responsibility which a reasonable person will interpret as having certain meaning, but then you later fall back on your specific words and deny you meant to imply anything.

    Even your comment above to which I’m replying, Is full of implication and meaning, which I’m sure you would deny making or intending.

    I assert one can’t in a public discussion make a statement such as “I certainly don’t need extra federal oversight or legislation to help…”—and then deny intending anything.

    Your use of the word “certainly” implies superiority, and the rest of the sentence implies The rest of the people don’t need Federal or legislative help either. In short, we don’t need consumer protection laws.” But, you want we readers to accept you’re a perfect self-reliant parent who is never fooled by companies and never loses sight of anything done by the children.

    Finally, you hide behind an anonymous handle.

    As I wrote earlier in this note, I’ve encountered your type before.

  • Ben

    It’s not hard, but it’s an unnecessary hassle. The system is anti-consumer because it is designed to trick or guilt consumers into paying more than they would otherwise. That upsets me and should upset anyone who advocates for consumers.

  • joycexyz

    You’re absolutely right. You did the work of ordering, so why should the servers be fully compensated?

  • joycexyz

    1. You can ask to have these devices removed from the table and opt for human interaction (apparently very retro). 2. You can refuse to patronize a restaurant using these gizmos, and let corporate know why.

  • Pegtoo

    Thank you. It’s annoying to read how ignorant others assume I am. They did not have my exact experience, but are eager to generalize and condemn.

  • Dutchess

    Yeah, no..no they don’t. You’re taking away money from the lowest paid members of a staff who likely had zero input into the system. It’s just a scummy way of treating people who work very hard for the meager wages they receive.

  • Zann77

    I first saw parents using an iPad to entertain the baby in a restaurant two or three years ago. He probably was 2 years old. I was appalled then. It still seems so wrong.

  • Fishplate

    On a $50 bill in my state, the tax is $3.50. A 15% tip against $3.50 is $0.52.

    That doesn’t seem like much money against the bill total to be quibbling about. It’s hardly worth the arithmetic it takes to calculate it.

  • Fishplate

    “As I wrote earlier in this note, I’ve encountered your type before.”

    Now, to me, that seems like a sweeping generalization from a single Internet comment.

  • Michael__K

    If order-taking is handled through the kiosk, then that ought to free up some of the servers’ time and enable them to serve more tables. So they figure to be ‘fully compensated’ regardless. The restaurant may decide they need fewer servers though.

  • Michael__K

    If I give your kids a crayon and a coloring booklet, with no upfront indication that there is any cost, will you take personal responsibility and pay me if, inside the coloring booklet, it says in small print that there is a charge for it?

  • Michael__K

    It sounds like it’s the restaurant, not the parents, choosing to put these devices in customers’ faces.

  • Rebecca

    There’s this magic word called “no” that we use.

  • Michael__K

    It will remain in your face, magic words or not. Unless you use your feet to exit and find some other establishment without these.

  • scoosdad

    Yup, and I think even Google got hit as well, for having loose controls on their “in-app purchases” made by children. They were roundly criticized by the FTC and sued to change their ways.

    It’s not very long until Ziosk gets their attention and are forced to do the same thing. There goes their ‘model’ and their revenue stream paying for the devices. Apple and Google may have many other sources of revenue and would shrug that off, but Ziosk having only this one revenue stream wouldn’t last very long if they’re forced to change.

  • scoosdad

    You’re absolutely right, now get off my lawn!

  • Mel65

    I think it’s been pretty clearly established on this site a multitude of times that unless it’s in giant flashing NEON letters, followed up by an official notice from a person with a megaphone, people always say it wasn’t clearly presented or they were unable to find it, etc… When I’ve used Ziosks it’s very clear that there’s a charge.

  • AirlineEmployee

    You don’t have to look at it; you don’t have to use it. Simple.

  • AirlineEmployee

    I’m sick and tired of being “forced” to do even the simplest customer service transactions electronically. Give me a human to interact with instead of paying money for a “service” and having to do all the work myself.

  • Michael__K

    I thought the complaint was that it’s in children’s faces. It will blast advertisements at you and distract you whether or not you use it or try not to look at it.

  • AirlineEmployee

    And you’ll get some stupid canned response saying something like “this is what our customers want” or “..keeping up with our competitors..”. Nobody asked or polled me – why would I believe any of that ?

  • Randy Culpepper

    “Certainly servers have greater leverage.”

    No. They absolutely do not. With the exception of *some* fine dining restaurants, servers are regarded as being disposable employees. Please don’t claim to have an understanding of something you clearly don’t.