waiter, there’s an lcd screen on my table!

February 21st, 2008

computerized menu

You go to your favorite sushi joint for a leisurely bite with some friends. Someone points you to a table, the usual one. You’re wondering whether you’ll get a California roll, or perhaps a simple plate of sashimi. On the other hand, the daily special might be good. Everyone has a seat and waits for menus to arrive. But there aren’t any. You look around and notice that the other diners in the restaurant are all leaning over to touch colorful photos on a screen at the sides of their tables. Instead of servers, computers are now taking orders.

That’s exactly what’s happening at Tel Aviv’s “Frame & Sushi Bar.” The restaurant/bar installed a computerized menu and order system developed by Israeli company Conceptic. The touch screen allows diners to peruse photos of items on the menu and place an order. They can also chat with other diners. Frame restaurant manager Natalie Edry says the new system is a source of entertainment for young and old alike. Children can play with the menu while waiting for food, while the late-night after-party crowd can flirt with diners at other tables. The system also eases the workload for waiters and reduces the wait time for orders. What a concept!

I think it might be fun to try, but I wonder how well it actually works. If you know what you want to eat and you don’t have any particular needs or requirements, I imagine it would work quite well. But what if you want your burger medium rare? Suppose you want to know whether the feta cheese is made of sheep or cow’s milk? Are the greens organic? Is the fish wild or farmed? And if you want to order wine? Well, no computer can supplant a sommelier. Here’s where the system might become less efficient—when diners need to use the computer to fetch their server.

I can’t help but wonder what the maintenance must be like. Does the software run on Windows? What happens when you have to reboot? How much extra work does it take to keep the touch screens clean? And what if a pint-size customer accidentally spills his milk on the console?

On the other hand, for a majority of orders, a computerized ordering system might work quite well. The table to table chatting feature is particularly appealing for pubs and bars. In the case of Frame—open 24 hours with a late-night pub atmosphere—the screens appear to blend in pretty well with the fifties meets George Jetson style décor. The talble-side screens echo the large flat screen TV on the wall that displays to diners the real-time goings on in the kitchen.

What do you think? Would you prefer to order your food from a computer or a person? Do you think this system will help or hurt restaurant servers?

Watch a video clip of the story here or here.

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