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.
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.