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Could This Be the Future of the Restaurant Business

By JLP | January 26, 2012

I read this in a Thomas Friedman piece I read this morning. I know I complain about the quality of service I receive at most places, but I’m not sure I’m ready to here…

Last April, Annie Lowrey of Slate wrote about a start-up called “E la Carte” that is out to shrink the need for waiters and waitresses: The company “has produced a kind of souped-up iPad that lets you order and pay right at your table. The brainchild of a bunch of M.I.T. engineers, the nifty invention, known as the Presto, might be found at a restaurant near you soon. … 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. … 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 e-mailed to you. … Each console goes for $100 per month. If a restaurant serves meals eight hours a day, seven days a week, it works out to 42 cents per hour per table — making the Presto cheaper than even the very cheapest waiter.”

Thoughts?

Topics: Economics | 11 Comments »


11 Responses to “Could This Be the Future of the Restaurant Business”

  1. BG Says:
    January 26th, 2012 at 11:55 am

    You mean I wont have to wait for my waiter (pun intended) to get your order in, or pay the bill? Add something like on the spot discounts for frequent visitors and you could build some good customer loyalty.

  2. Lindsay Says:
    January 26th, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    I think this could be good for fast-food restaurants and other quick-service places, but I definitely wouldn’t like it at more upscale places. When you go out for a nice dinner, you go for the whole atmosphere, not just for the quickest and most efficient dinner you can find.

    Plus, it’s kind of like the self-checkout at the grocery store – they’re making the customer do something (for free) that they used to pay someone to do.

  3. tom Says:
    January 26th, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    I like the idea.

    What happens when the system goes down?

  4. tee Says:
    January 27th, 2012 at 1:53 am

    This could be an improvement for restaurants with lackluster management (poor service). I would be okay with it.. maybe have the restaurant split between self service and “full service”

  5. Stacey Says:
    January 27th, 2012 at 7:10 am

    No interest…I refused to use the Chili’s table-top crap when they rolled out their system. I like the human touch, even when they are morons. (I’m a former waitress, and a server to 3 boys, a husband, and dog, so I can say that.) If we can just get people to stop saying “are you ready to order, guys? service would improve 85%.) Last time I looked, I had parts that would not qualify me as “a guy”…

  6. JLP Says:
    January 27th, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Stacey,

    I thought “guys” had become generic. Kind of like how everyone is an “actor.”

  7. Ed Says:
    January 27th, 2012 at 8:33 am

    I thought ‘guys’ was generic also. Has been for a while at least

  8. Leland Says:
    January 27th, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    This sounds great to me! Throw in punching in your own drink refills and I couldn’t be happier. When you think about all the time it saves, they are probably able to funnel through more dinner parties too. So it sounds like a win win, and let’s not forget, no service means no tip….15% discount on every meal!!

  9. tom Says:
    January 27th, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Well… I actually question whether this saves any money at all.

    Think about it… You still need people to get your drinks and food. You still need someone to check on you or handle issues.

    Waiters and waitresses make less than minimum wage. If you replace them with this machine, that means you have to pay someone at least minimum wage to handle all of the stuff this machine can’t do.

    Also, good luck finding waiters/waitresses who will work with a machine like this. It would cut their tips in half because customers would think that the machine does all the work, why should I tip much?

  10. sam Says:
    January 29th, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    Makes more sense to me to give the ipad to the waiter to record the order, send it to the kitchen and bartender wirelessly, calculate the bill, split the check, even swipe the credit card to pay the bill. Help out the waiter and get faster, more accurate service. Not replace the waiter, but rather improve his/her productivity.

  11. BG Says:
    January 30th, 2012 at 6:53 am

    I like your idea too, sam. There are some restaurants that have strategically placed order entry kiosks for the waiters to use. So equipping them with tablets would just speed everything up. Plus, having these devices at the table, and they would be covered with grime from kids fingers…not sure how hardy the machines are to stand up to restaurant quality cleanings between servings.

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