It may be impolite to play with mobile devices at the dinner table, but more restaurants are incorporating this type of technology into the dining experience, trading menus for iPads and encouraging customers to send out tweets on Twitter as they eat.
"The trend is only starting to take off now, but in the next few years, restaurants around the world will make technology a part of their core business operations to not only increase customer satisfaction, but also increase business efficiency," said Jonathan Galaviz, chief economist at the consultant firm Galaviz & Company.
Large hotel chains and their restaurants will likely be some of the early adopters of these new technologies, particularly locations in major global cities such as New York, London and Tokyo, said Galaviz, an adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The iPad, in particular, has been embraced by restaurants since its debut in spring 2010, thanks to its size and user-friendly interface.
"When servers use it to take orders, it cuts down on error rates," Galaviz said. "In addition, information can be better displayed on an iPad compared to the smaller touch screen devices."
Galaviz noted that the iPad is an evolution, not a revolution, in the way technology is used in restaurants.
"There has as always been a need for some tech in restaurants, such as point-of-sale systems," he said. "Now due to the relatively low cost of mobile technology -- especially the iPad and other tablets, and the apps that go on it -- even small restaurants can capitalize on the trend of automating service management. Adoption will only grow in the future as the price of these devices decrease over time."
4Food, a quick-service burger spot in New York City, is among the wave of restaurants touting technology as a part of the dining experience.
4Food encourages guests to check in via Foursquare, share orders with friends on Facebook and send out tweets, which then appear on a 240-square-foot LED monitor in the restaurant. iPad menus also allow customers to tap and order custom-made meals.
The iPad is not just getting play at casual restaurants. When popular fine-dining restaurant The Carlton in Pittsburgh -- which serves a variety of seafood and steak entrees and has been long recognized by the magazine Wine Spectator for its extensive wine list -- temporarily closed last summer for a renovation, it re-opened with a new look and a modern-tech flare.
"We had a 45-page wine list that changed three or four times a week, so we wanted to make the list more efficient for us to change and easier for customers to read," said Kevin Joyce, owner of The Cartlon. "We put the wine list on eight iPads and started giving them to customers to help them with the bottle-selection process."
The app allows users to distinguish wines from countries and type, and provides information and articles from magazines to give diners more details about certain bottles. The wine bottle label will be featured in the next version of the iPad program, Joyce said.
After the wine list was moved to the iPad at The Carlton, wine sales jumped 20 percent and have since continued to stay strong.
"As popular as the iPad is, not everyone has tried it, so people love playing with the device," Joyce told TechNewsDaily. "We've had a few non-techy people request traditional wine lists, which we still keep nearby. However, for the most part, people love clicking their way to a wine bottle."
Other restaurants are also getting in on the iPad wine-list movement. At the Final Cut Steakhouse inside the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, W.Va., the iPad's wine list filters selections based on price, variety, and geographical location and provides pairing suggestions.
Meanwhile, Sagra Italian Trattoria in Austin, Texas, uses iPads for its entire menu. It also highlights gluten-free options, pronunciation guides, ingredient lists and tutorials on what goes into making their homemade pastas.
"The menus are not meant to replace servers; they're meant to enhance the dining experience, and provide diners with additional information and conversation at their leisure,” said Mallory Hoke, a spokesperson for Sagra Italian Trattoria.
Galaviz of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said he expects more restaurants to replace traditional paper menus in the future: "As the cost of the iPad goes down over the coming years, the increase of usage for menus will be significant."
Beyond the iPad
Although servers and hostess use the iPad at the Haven food lounge in South Beach in Miami, to show still images of menu items, play videos of food being prepared by the chef and keep track of the guest list, it also uses other technology to stay relevant. In fact, diners can send text messages to make a reservation.
These texts are synced automatically through its wireless cloud system, allowing reservations to be made quickly and efficiently.
Restaurants are also getting techy behind closed doors in the kitchen. In fact, some restaurants are incorporating technologies, such as the software Kitchen Brains, that essentially give the kitchen a mind of its own.
For fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken, this software gives advice on when to start cooking and it also monitors hold times at some of its locations. Algorithms are also used to measure real-time stats of the restaurant, such as traffic patterns and inventory to prep time, to maximize efficiency and productivity.
"This technology makes the whole experience efficient and gives employees more time to spend with customers," said a KFC spokesperson.
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