By: KATY WILLIS
Introducing the e-Table – a touch screen table that negates the need for servers waiting to take your food and drink orders. Customers no longer have to hurry their choice of appetizer, main, or dessert orders while servers wait impatiently. Nor do they have to desperately attempt to get the attention of a busy server to order additional drinks or request the bill. The e-Table allows customers to do all that stuff themselves, instantly. The introduction of touch screen service has numerous advantages and disadvantages for businesses, diners, and servers, alike.
What are they?
There are several different types of e-Table, from small, hand-held models that sit on your table, larger, 10-inch models that sit on bar tops, and large, full interfaces that replace traditional tables. With the full table models, diners each have an individual portion of the “table” that acts as their own personal touch screen, allowing them to browse the menu at their leisure, and place their own orders as they make their decision. As well as browsing the full menu, including the specials that can be programmed daily by the restaurant, e-Tables allow diners to request their bill and even book a taxi home.
Many offer Internet access, allowing users to browse the web, check emails, play games, and update their social media while they wait for their food to arrive, or even while dining. Some models allow customers to send e-cards to other tables, explore local points of interest, and many offer “Chef Cams”. These allow you to watch a live feed of the kitchen preparing your meal. For an added touch of novelty, and to imitate a more traditional dining experience, you can choose your very own virtual tablecloth.
Dining at an establishment with e-Tables provides diners with a novel, engaging dining experience, allowing them to order and dine at their leisure, without feeling the pressure of having to order quickly while a server hovers at the table. Additionally, e-Tables allow customers to order extra items easily, making a more convenient experience for customers, and, because customers tend to order more, because they can, it helps to increase profits for the dining establishment. Most people are more comfortable when they feel in control, and the addition of e-Tables, along with their self-ordering and Chef Cam functions, offers consumers considerably more control over their dining. Because servers only appear either when you call to them or when they deliver your order, you also get a more private dining experience, without having conversations interrupted.
Businesses can cut down on the number of server hours they need to cover, and servers tend to be happier, as they have less distance to travel during a shift, which increases business profits and server productivity. The e-Table speeds up service in many cases, too, allowing restaurants to increase the number of covers they have per service, further increasing profit. With a high quality touch screen graphical user interface, restaurants can add rich, colourful images to their menu, enticing customers to order. e-Tables offer businesses a high level of autonomy and increase profit-making potential, allowing owners to sell advertising space to other businesses.
While e-Tables have an obvious appeal to children, tech-lovers, and busy business people, older generations, and those who are not so tech-savvy may struggle to use the interface, and may even be put off by the idea of facing daunting new technology. Restaurants may also find that some customers dislike the impersonal self-service option. After all, many people like to be waited on by an attentive server. Some customers miss the server-consumer interaction, and may be tempted to go elsewhere, where they can still receive good quality food and more traditional service.
The introduction of the e-Table is also a considerable blow for servers, as this technology dramatically reduces the number of available jobs and hours in the server role. Additionally, not only do servers potentially lose hours and tips, they have to learn how to understand and use the e-Tables so that they can advise consumers when necessary. These tables are a costly investment, and are costly to repair and replace.
With such a wide array of features, particularly Internet-browsing capabilities, if users forget to sign out of their email, social media, or other online accounts, they substantially increase their risk of identity theft and malicious account activity. The introduction of Internet to meal tables heightens the already intense distraction of technology in our day-to-day lives. With some finding it impossible to sacrifice a chance to gratify their social media scrolling habits, when the table is literally a computer, will the social aspects of mealtime survive?
While many applaud this next-generation dining experience, others see it as simply one more step on the road to machines taking over the world. The question left at hand— are e-Tables a step forward for restaurants or just progress for the sake of progress?