A restaurant table-top tablet manufacturer named Ziosk and several family restaurant chains around the country have informed us that they are adding consumer-friendly disclosures to the platform that allows restaurant goers to play interactive games while they wait for their food.
Ed Lawrence, a technical trainer from Natick, Mass., brought the issue to our attention over the summer after he was hit with an unexpected charge on his bill at a local Pizzeria Uno’s. Lawrence played trivia games installed on Uno’s tabletop tablet called Ziosk, but when his bill came, he discovered that those games came with a cost — specifically, a $1.99 fee.
Our investigation and widely-shared story revealed that this fee wasn’t limited to Lawrence — and it wasn’t limited to Uno’s, either. Restaurant patrons complained about the surprise charge — from a Chili’s in California, to a Red Robin in Oklahoma, to a Friendly’s in Massachusetts.
Customers were frustrated by the fee, which they said was not clearly displayed. Some reported that children — not parents — played the games, and some of those children were even too young to read. The Ziosk fee caused consumers consternation, but today we can finally report some good news.
Ziosk is testing designs for all parts of its user interface, including the gaming section, that include new confirmation messaging before access to paid content is granted and a fee incurred.
Randy Davis, spokesman for Friendly’s restaurants, told me that the restaurant chain has already modified its gaming system to include two prompts to inform guests of the $1.99 charge before playing. Friendly’s second screen, shown here, gives guests the option to cancel if the charge is unwanted.
Pizzeria Uno’s, the Massachusetts-based restaurant chain where Lawrence encountered the fee, is also making improvements for consumers. “We have added a bright, bold sticker to every Ziosk machine in our restaurants, clearly stating the charge to play,” says Skip Weldon, spokesman for Uno’s. “We are also working with Ziosk to add a second confirmation screen to further avoid any misunderstanding, and this should be in place by the end of the year.”
Not many people will be moved to action by a two dollar fee, but Lawrence was. Back in July, he sounded off about the fee charged to his restaurant bill at Pizzeria Uno near his home outside of Boston.
Lawrence wrote to Uno’s and Red Robin to report his concerns about the lack of disclosure on the tablet. He then followed up with a letter to state representative David Linsky (D-Mass.) and wrote about his experience in his local newspaper.
With a divide and conquer strategy, the combination of Lawrence’s letter writing campaign and my media campaign may have prompted the change. After my story was published, I also spoke about the issue on The TravelGuys radio show out of Sacramento.
And while the change hasn’t been implemented at every restaurant where Ziosks exist (Olive Garden, for example, has not yet changed its device, and has not returned our request for comment), we’re happy to report increased transparency for many restaurant patrons, who will soon have a clear way to opt out of the charges if they so choose.
Ziosk’s team encourages any customer who feels he was charged unfairly or without acknowledgment to dispute the fee before leaving the restaurant and request that the charge be removed. The clear opt-out allows consumers to decide whether or not they want to spend money on games. It also reduces the risk of unintended purchases by children.
We applaud Friendly’s, Uno’s, and Ziosk for introducing up-front disclosures, and hope the other restaurant chains who provide the tablets to their customers will follow suit. We’ll continue to follow these developments and will report on them here.
So … game on?