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Waiters vs. the iPad: Who wins?
Customers of a restaurant chain opening in California will order their food using a computer at their table. How will that work out?

This post comes from Lynn Mucken of MSN Money.
Thu, Feb 17, 2011 11:41 AM


It's been a bad week for humans. First, IBM's Watson computer took on the two smartest "Jeopardy" players in history and made them look a bit dim. Now, iPads are taking jobs away from waiters.

The co-founders of BJ's Restaurants have announced that iPads will sit atop each of the tables in their three soon-to-open Stacked: Food Well fast-casual eateries in California.

Customers will use the iPads to choose from a standard menu or to build their own meal from dozens of options to customize hamburgers, sandwiches, pizza, salads and milkshakes. Once the order is placed, a server delivers the food to tables and tends to guests. At the end of the meal, guests can pay by using a card-swipe system. Post continues after video.

Video:

Chicago cut Steakhouse iPad Waiter DEMO

Owners Paul Motenko and Jerry Hennessy say it is a concept whose time has come. And they may be right. In a recent survey, two-thirds of 18- to 34-year-olds said they'd favor restaurants with high-tech gear, Hudson Riehle, research chief at the National Restaurant Association, told the Nation's Restaurant News
Like all great ideas, of course, the devil is in the details. Some possible pluses and minuses (only you know which side of the list they fall on for you):

•Sharing a menu. Tell the truth: One of the most irritating parts of dining out is the friend who can't make up his or her mind. Everyone else, primed by the sweet scents wafting out of the kitchen, is ready to eat, but one person is always high-centered on the choice between Swiss or cheddar. Now multiply this delay by the fact the iPad has to be passed around.
•What about the kids? Children love gadgets. Attempts to pry an iPod out of their hands will create some ugly scenes. And will they be able to color on the screen?
•Those choices. No matter how few or many menu options there are, diners have questions or requests: "Does this contain peanuts?" or "Please don't butter that bun." Assuming this business model includes fewer staff, it might take hours to place an order.
•Those choices No. 2. Maybe we don't want unlimited choices. One of the most popular fast-food places in my old hometown, Seattle, is Dick's, a small burger chain that gives you three choices of burgers and only one fries size -- everything made their way, not your way. People stand outside in 40-degree rain to order the stuff.
•The tip. Ah, that great American tradition/rip-off/reward. This sounds like a glorified fast-food outlet, but without the lines. We don't tip there; will we be expected to tip here? And how much: 5%? Surely, not 15%.
•The tip No. 2. If you're paying on the iPad, you never have to look the human help in the eye when you stiff them.
•No waiters. I'll be honest: A pretty, personable waitress brightens my dining experience. And it's not just a male thing. I recently went out to dinner with two women in their 70s. Every time our waiter, a very handsome and very young man, wandered by, they giggled about "how cute" he was. We'll miss that.
•No waiters No. 2. If there's no big tip in it for them, will the servers be as attentive? Will the water glass get refilled regularly, or will we have to order it up on the iPad?
•No waiters No. 3: Little is more irritating than a waitperson who rushes over and asks if everything is "OK" just one bite into your dinner, then comes back every five minutes to ask again, always arriving when your mouth is full or when the conversation has reached critical mass. Hope the iPad won't suddenly start talking to us.

The iPad-model restaurant is being tried elsewhere. Bone's Restaurant in Atlanta uses iPads for its wine list. Co-owner Richard Lewis told USA Today that wine sales jumped 20% since the iPads were added in mid-2010. "It's the future," he said.