George Jetson Would Approve

Update (sort of):  I stumbled across this article on Serious Eats where the magic of technology has made it possible to make your own milkshake at gas stations across the country.  Yum?  That remains to be seen…


Good service is harder and harder to find these days, in restaurants and in any other industry that relies strongly upon human capital. With that in mind, how would you feel about eliminating waitstaff altogether in favor of a touch-screen ordering system built in to your table? The technology certainly isn’t new, but this application of it is:

Ever find yourself unable to get the attention of a waiter? It can be frustrating. But soon that may be a problem of the past thanks to new tableside touch screens.

“It’s cooler placing your own order on the computer than having a waitress come up and do it,” restaurant customer Amanda Rosengarten told CBS 2 HD.

That’s because the order goes directly from your fingertips to the kitchen or bar, eliminating the possibility of human error during the transaction process. The new technology is being used at uWink, the latest offering from the founder of Chuck E. Cheese. The company said the new system is providing faster service, fewer mistakes and fewer interruptions.

“Whenever you want … that extra glass of wine or a dessert … bingo, it happens right away,” said Nolan Bushnell of uWink.

“It seems a lot more immediate. If I happen to change my mind or need an additional dish, I can order it right away even if the server is busy doing something else,” patron Julie Lightner said.

I once went to a sushi joint in Seattle whose schtick was that the sushi, sashimi, tempura, etc. was circulated throughout the restaurant via giant conveyor belts. When something passed by you that caught your fancy, you simply snagged it off the belt. The cost was determined by the color of the plates, and your tab was settled by adding your colored plates together at the end of the meal.

It effectively eliminated the need for a waiter or waitress, except for drink orders and paying your tab. That said, however, I was definitely squicked out by the possibility that someone could have fingered the food, contemplatively, and then put it back on the conveyor belt for someone else to pick up. Also, it seemed that the tables sitting towards the beginning of the conveyor belt kept snatching up all the good stuff and the people towards the end were left with plate after plate of California rolls and tamago.

But back to the item at hand…

I don’t necessarily see in-table touch-screen ordering taking the place of traditional service any time soon. I see it as more of a novelty item. Just because it eliminates human error between your order and the kitchen, it doesn’t mean that human error in the kitchen or a computer error in the system won’t still cause your order to be incorrect. And I can’t see an entire working class of employees so easily eliminated, especially since it’s one of the few industries that someone with limited education and skills can enter and make a living (not a huge living, but a living nonetheless). Also, just a thought, but how dirty would those little screens get after only a four-tops’ worth of diners? I’d want those puppies bleached down thoroughly after every table is finished…

What do you think? Do you see its future as novelty item at McDonald’s across the nation? Or do you have bigger expectations for this technology?


10 thoughts on “George Jetson Would Approve”

  1. You’ve been to Lowe’s or Home Depot lately, haven’t you? It seems these buisnesses want you to do the work instead or paying someone else to do it. The whole reason I go to a restaurant is to be served, if I wanted to serve myself I would have cooked at home!

  2. I’m not really too concerned about this, because the days of the career waiter are pretty much gone.

    I can do just as good of a job describing most entrees sight unseen as Bobby the undiscovered actor, Brenda the College student or Charlie the perpetually strung out.

  3. @ evil chef mom: Oooh, don’t get me started on the “self-checkout” lines at Home Depot. Not long ago, we did some major home remodeling and every trip to Home Depot was painful. The worst is that they never, EVER seem to have a regular check register open! Grr…

    @ Cory: You forgot Tammy the world’s biggest purchaser of blue eyeshadow and menthol Kools.

    @ mikey: No, it really wasn’t, was it? We need to take another vacation again soon! I’m thinking Santa Barbara and a certain Polish girl… 😀

  4. There’s already a variant of this at Sonic Drive In’s, you don’t see your server until you food is brought out altho you can see the staff working in the kitchen.

  5. Although at Sonic you do actually talk to a person to place your order. Unless, that is, you’re going to a way cooler and more futuristic Sonic than I’m frequenting for the occasional vanilla Coke. Admit it, JL: you’re from the future, aren’t you?

  6. This has been implemented at Wawa for years and is in fact awesome. So 1. This isn’t a “novelty” feature, as Wawa is incredibly efficient due to their ordering system and 2. This is not a brand new idea.

  7. i once ran a restaurant in new york, the wait staff were all ‘actors’. none ever became famous, you know why? they couldn’t even play the roll of a waiter.

  8. @ wawa foreva: 1. I’ve never heard of Wawa and 2. I’m not CNN; sue me.

    @ jimbo: Sounds like L.A., too. 😀 You should come to Houston some time!

  9. The restaurant you went to with the conveyor belt reminds of an episode of Futurama where Fry and Bender go to a restaurant that had a conveyor belt. They tried to make that come off as a concept of the future. Hehe.

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