Thursday, September 1, 2011

Restaurants Will Never Be The Same

A few weeks back I wrote a column called Your Table is Ready. It was a brief story about what happened to me while adding my name to the waiting list for a table at a local restaurant. It was a completely new and interesting experience, never having encountered a cell phone and text message based restaurant system before. I was very impressed and fascinated with what has been happening in the restaurant industry through the introduction of mobile technology.

At the end of that piece I mentioned another restaurant experience I had in New York City. At lunch our little group decided to enhance our dining experience with a glass of wine. The waiter handed over an iPad which contained the restaurant's wine list. I imagined that more restaurants would begin using the iPad, other tablets or perhaps even your smart phone in the same way, holding not only the wine list or specials but their entire menu. There were a couple of news stories this week which confirmed my suspicions.

The first story was on De Santos in the West Village of New York City. This may lay claim to being the first restaurant in New York City to hand out an iPad in lieu of a menu. You place your own order and it is transmitted to the kitchen including any special instructions you might include. Please put the dressing on the side and leave out the bleu cheese. When you are done you can pay the check using Square (an add-on device that allows you to swipe your credit card.) The iPad application is connected to the restaurant register and payment system.

Another news story discussed the growth in use of custom ruggedized tablets that were introduced by e La Carte earlier this year. They are starting to appear in many restaurants in Boston and the San Francisco area. Again, these "Presto" tablets allow patrons to review the entire menu, place their own orders and, with built in credit card reader, pay the tab.

Perhaps my favorite new development was the announcement of  The Melt, a food chain opened by the founder of the Flip video device, Jonathan Kaplan. While a fast food restaurant specializing in grilled cheese sandwiches is hardly earth shattering news, there is a double twist. Not only does The Melt take food orders from a wireless device but they go a step further and allow you to order from your smart phone. With their app, you don't have to go to the store and use an iPad or special wireless device. You just use your own smart phone. Then, your phone displays your order in the form of a QR code (see Internet from the Great Beyond) which is read by a device in the store. Two minutes later you pick up your order and you are on your way.

Mobile devices like tablets and smart phones combined with ubiquitous wireless connectivity are introducing change to the food services industry faster than you can imagine the next innovation. There are probably another dozen or more stories just like these journaling the evolution of this industry. How long before they begin to tie into the social networks like Yelp for real time reviews and Foursquare for instant location updates.

I suppose after we digest this, we can think about what other industry might be next.

Captain Joe

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