Wave of the Future?

By Beacon Staff

You’ve read my rants in this space before about poor service in restaurants, so I have good news and I have bad news.

The good news is that there is a high-tech interactive table that has been created for restaurants that means you do not have to put up with undertrained or incompetent wait staff. The bad news is that there is a high-tech innovation that has been created for restaurants that means human interaction is reduced to a bare minimum.

This “innovation” has debuted in the fashionable Soho section of London at an Asian fusion restaurant. It’s a table for two that has a sort of touch screen so that you need not have any human contact while ordering your lunch or dinner.

You simply touch your way through the menu on the interactive ordering system that uses a Bluetooth linked track-pad embedded in the table that is also connected to the kitchen. It works using a projector on a hood above the table because – get this – technology still doesn’t allow for two mouse interfaces going to the same processor.

And while you’re waiting for your food you can play games against your dining companion. You can also change the look of your table by selecting a variety of virtual tablecloths. After the meal you can order a taxi or browse a map of London’s subway system to figure out which train to take home.

Since the table is linked into the restaurant’s point-of-sale system, you can also order your bill.

Total human interaction is not entirely eliminated, as your “server” has to activate the table and, presumably, bring the food you order. And that reminds me that this high tech table also gives you the ability to watch your food being prepared, and in my estimation that also can be good news – or bad. One of these days I’ll write about restaurant kitchen horrors.

For exasperated fast food restaurant owners and franchisees who have a hard time finding competent help, I’m certain that it may seem like the answer to a prayer. Things got so bad a few years back in the fast food sector that the ordering/register systems had to put pictures on the buttons because of literacy issues.

If you’re going out for a nice dinner or a special occasion, the meal can be enhanced by a knowledgeable and personable waiter or waitress. That interaction becomes an important part of the experience. You wouldn’t want anything like this contraption in a better restaurant.

So I’m wondering: What’s the point of having a table where you place your own order, press a button for your check and have as little human contact as possible?

I love high tech gadgets. I love my laptop, my iPod, my Blackberry, and so on. And techie publications worldwide are gushing about this interactive ordering system invention. I’m trying to figure out what the big deal is.

You can get just about the same experience at any drive-through fast food joint in America.

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