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Waiting on waiters

Over at Slate there's an excellent new tech piece on the possibility of replacing waiters in restaurants with small tablet computers, on which customers can place their orders and pay at the end of the meal:
It works like this. The company manufactures tablet computers with full-day battery lives and a credit-card reader attached. The interface is easy enough for a grade-schooler to use. You select what you want to eat and add items to a cart. Depending on the restaurant's preferences, the console could show you nutritional information, ingredients lists, and photographs. You can make special requests, like "dressing on the side" or "quintuple bacon." When you're done, the order zings over to the kitchen, and the Presto tells you how long it will take for your items to come out. Want a margarita in the meantime? Just add it on the console, and wait for the waiter to bring it. Bored with your companions? Play games on the machine. When you're through with your meal, you pay on the console, splitting the bill item by item if you wish and paying however you want. And you can have your receipt emailed to you.
For most dining experiences, I'd be in favor of such a device. And keep in mind that I worked 3 years in the food service industry when I was in high school, starting as a bus boy and working my away up through Sunday brunch server and occasional host ("this way to your table, sir."). I usually sympathize with the wait staff. But a lot of the time these days I'd rather not have to interface with a human.

Sure, ideally you'd get prompt service from a server who would be there to meet your every need. But in most establishments, particularly those with entrees less than $20, you end up playing a game of "I need you/I don't see you." I hate this game. It usually plays out with me sitting at the table, all hungry and wondering why no one has stopped by our table since the hostess sat us. I then try to make eye-contact with passing servers who then play "I don't see you," deftly averting their gaze just when I think they'll pass through my line of sight. Damn, they're good!

Most of the time I much prefer the restaurant in which you walk up to a counter, place your order and pick up your food when it's ready. This way I can know for sure that my order has been received, I can get my own water when my glass is empty, and at the end I don't have to worry about how much to tip. Granted, these types of establishments don't often provide top-of-the line dining experiences. But most of the time our family eats at these places because Erin doesn't want to cook, and/or we're out of the house and hungry right now. During these times, especially with the kids, I don't want to spend half of the time looking around the room for our server only to have to pay an additional 15% tax on the bill.

On the nights when I take Erin out for a fine dining experience, I'll go to a place with professionally-trained servers who will notice that my glass is half empty and refill it, and who know how to recommend a wine to go with my particular entree (hello Ruth's Chris!). After that type of service, I don't mind shelling out an extra 20% for a job well done.

For all other dining experiences: bring on the tablet waiters!


blissful_e said…
You said it very well, and I completely agree. Tablets would be especially nice for parents who bring kids to the restaurant and automatically get relegated to the we-assume-your-children-dine-like-wild-hyenas section.

Like the new clean format of the blog!

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