At a growing number of restaurants around the country, tablets are doing triple-duty: as the menu, the waiter, and a pastime. At a restaurant near my house, you can browse the food and drinks, tap on your choices to order, and swipe your credit card when you finish. While tablets can’t serve your meal (at least not yet), they are programmed to upsell—for example, by asking if you want an appetizer or extra fixings for your baked potato. While waiting for your meal, you can play a trivia game or drawing app from the tablet’s game menu.

This is just one of the ways I see tablets revolutionizing business, and not just the restaurant business. For too long, tablets occupied that uncertain middle ground between smartphones and laptops, with business owners unsure what to do with them. Tablets are just now coming into their own.

Putting the tablet to work

Data from the 2013 AT&T Small Business Technology Poll supports the growing tablet trend. Nearly seven in 10 business owners now use tablets, and 39 percent consider them to be very important—a significant jump from 25 percent in last year’s survey. Yet most still use their tablets to check email, browse the Internet, and perform other simple tasks—which aren’t really taking advantage of tablets’ best features.

I would urge more business owners to put their tablets to work to grow their companies. Here are some uses I see:

  • Create sales presentations

How great would it be for you and your sales staff to pitch potential customers one-on-one using an iPad, rather than setting up a projector or having everyone crowd around a laptop for a slide presentation? Tablets can help showcase your offerings in a way that’s personal and engaging.

  • Replace paper forms

I recently read an article about how strongly the medical profession has embraced tablets. I’ve personally seen this at my children’s pediatric office. Tablets are used to capture patient information in waiting rooms (saving staff time from figuring out messy handwriting) and to let doctors enter notes more quickly during exams. Many types of businesses with mobile employees could take advantage of tablets to capture and submit information more quickly than with paper forms.

  • Highlight work samples

Tablets can also make fantastic portfolios for designers, photographers, architects, and other professionals with highly visual work. The devices’ rich colors and crisp displays can help users present projects and samples in the best light.

  • Take payments

Along with restaurants, many retailers are using tablets to process payments from anywhere in the store. Many kinds of mobile businesses are also using tablets to accept payment. Having this option can boost revenue significantly, compared with taking only cash or checks—I know that I rarely have cash on me when I’m out and about.

  • Track workforce and inventory

GPS-based apps can help fleet managers locate workers, track mileage, and dispatch new job assignments. Tablets are also popping up in warehouses, making it easier for staff to capture product data and update inventory records.

  • Track billable time

Employees that work in the field can use tablets to log hours worked and tasks completed, rather than filling out time cards to take back to a central office. This can simplify bookkeeping tasks, since there’s less of a chance of payments falling through the cracks.

By this time next year, I expect that we’ll see more and more businesses using tablets as more business apps are developed that small companies can use.

How do you use tablets? How does this compare with your use of smartphones? Please share your experiences below.