Could Tablets In Restaurants Mark the End of the Social Service Industry?

Gone may be the days where your perky server takes your order at a restaurant, and where you converse with your company at the table, because the future of ordering is here. Now, you can directly order your meal, browse information and play games on a touch-screen tablet at local restaurants.

A company that has already begun to sell these tablets, E la Carte, announced on Tuesday that it has raised more than $1 million in funding from prominent investors to make this business thrive. The tablets can take orders, entertain guests, accept check payments and more. The company expects to launch tablets in 20 restaurants on the West coast.

The selling-point behind providing tables with touch-screen tablets is that people are expected to buy more food when they can do so instantly, without waiting for service. According to E la Carte’s CEO Rajat Suri, in the six restaurants that ran a pilot scheme, tables using the devices spent 10% to 12% more than those at other tables.

E la Carte tablets allow customers to browse a full menu and communicate their orders directly to the kitchen. They come loaded with social games and a calculator for check splits and tips. They also allow customers to email themselves a receipt or instantly sign up for a loyalty club. In high-end restaurants, the tablet can suggest an appropriate wine pairing for a meal.

Eventually, E la Carte might offer restaurants the option to compile data about their customers’ preferences as they use the device.

“It’s propelling the restaurant industry into the Internet age,” Suri says.

While this may be true, what are the implications of this sterile ordering process? Couldn’t this technology be interfering with the social aspect of dining out – being focused on the device and playing games on it – as well as impeding our social skills outside our comfort zone, over all? It may be a good technology in some cases, but the implications this ordering process has on our social norms and comfort in interacting with each other seems a bit concerning.