I’ve been a waitress on and off for the last eight years of my life. Waiting tables has taught me a lot, especially about how to deal with people. I learned very quickly how to read my tables and give them the kind of service they were looking for: super friendly and bubbly, quiet and removed, a bit mocking, or something in between. It's a difficult job, and that's why it's so hard for me to imagine a computer doing it.
The Chicago Tribune reports on Inamo, a restaurant in central London which has replaced its wait staff with a computer system where diners "can order from an illustrated menu, pay their bill, summon a taxi, play interactive games with fellow diners and even change the look of the table itself." Bryan Roberts, a research manager at consulting firm Planet Retail, thinks it's a great idea:
As with self-checkout in supermarkets, such innovations provide a greater perception of convenience and efficiency and have strong appeal for today's legion of tech-savvy consumers.
I disagree. Has Roberts ever seen the lines for self-checkout aisles in supermarkets? They are consistently long. Why—because the technology is complicated and it's easy to make a mistake and send alarms blaring. These machines only have to process prepackaged goods, imagine the complications when you throw in temperatures, substitutions, and allergies.
Back to Inamo, here’s how it works: Sculpted pods above each table beam information onto your tabletop while a circle in the corner acts as a mouse, allowing you to scroll through menu options and view photos before selecting a meal of your choice. A Bluetooth signal is then sent to the kitchen and with "chef cam," you can view your food being prepared on the tabletop screen. The technology sounds good, but reviews of a similar chain of restaurants in California, called UWink, show that these kind of systems break down, a lot. The owners of Inamo claim customers can't break the machine or crash the system. Then again, neither one of them has a high-tech background.
Even if you get past the technical difficulties, these systems can never replace good old fashioned human interaction. People go out to eat for service—they want to be taken care of. They want to know which wine goes best with their entrée, which dishes are most popular, and every once in a while, they even want to hear a lame joke.