Order Up!

22 09 2011

As if I need do anything to reveal my age and tenure on Planet Earth, let me say that I remember with a giggle that time in the early-70s when some restaurants started putting a telephone on each table. The idea was to help expedite the dining process by allowing patrons to interact with the kitchen directly. The server would only bring the food and drinks. I suppose you had to call for help if you needed it.

And it was indeed a novelty, for those were the new touch-tone phones. Yeah, we didn’t get touch-tone dialing in my current neck of the boondocks until the early-1990s (Chicago, you really were way ahead of the curve). I just didn’t realize at the time that I would get to experience the novelty twice in my lifetime.

But I am digressing again. That’s another thing you do when you get old.

Interestingly, the phone-at-your-table thing never really did take off. It was one of those better mousetrap ideas. It was fun the first few times my family went to that steakhouse (long before I became an herbivore).

So I continue to be surprised by the growing number of restaurants adding iPads and other tablets for table-top ordering. 21C novelty? Efficiency update? Deja vu all over again?

Good questions, Sherlock. I suppose time will tell. These things ain’t cheap (especially when compared to paper menus). But if you’re the first restaurateur on the block to do it, the bragging rights could be huge.

Until people start spilling their drinks on them.

As much as I love my iPad (for the record, I will be first in line for the iPad3), I am just not convinced that we are ready to ditch all of the human interaction when we dine out. This could work great in a fast food setting, with everyone taking a turn at the counter to tap in their order. But part of my dining experience (well, the good ones at least), is just the sitting. Talking. And even a little repartee with the server.

Now if there were a way to include add-on sales (think Hard Rock Cafe), then the iPads would be a great addition. If there’s merchandise to take home, then this is the way to sell it. Put it right under people’s noses while they are awaiting their custom burger and shake. Incremental sales could be huge.

But there’s a darker side to all this public hardware. We take on enough risk as it is mingling with friends and strangers, unwittingly sharing all manner of invisible germs and bacteria. Imagine the germs left behind on an iPad from the previous family. You know. The one whose toddler was coughing, but was manhandling that iPad during the entire meal. Sure, paper menus can serve as a germ vector as well, but probably nowhere near as good as the tabletop tablet. It’s little different from an ATM or pay phone from yesteryear.

R-r-r-r-ing! “Hello? It’s for you. Cold and Flu season calling again.”

Which brings me back to the 70s I suppose. Nice try. It was fun. It was off the hook for a while, but before long it just felt like we couldn’t get a dial tone.

“Waiter, oh waiter…Crap. How do I tell the kitchen we need more water? This thing only wants to sell me stuff.”

Dr “Can I Get A To Go Box, Too?” Gerlich


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