Service with a Swipe
June 21, 2014 3:30 AM   Subscribe

Chili's Has Installed More Than 45,000 Tablets in Its RestaurantsWhen your server is a screen, you spend more money. Hungry? No human server in sight? With a flick of your wrist, you can instantly order more appetizers and drinks, indulge your whim for Baby Back Ribs, let the kids play games, read the news, pay your check (with a default tip), and get done faster. Be sure to save room for some Cinnamon Molten Cake: doesn't it look tasty?
posted by cenoxo (216 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
...pay your check (with a default tip)

Who's getting the tip? And are they splitting it with the software dev?

I was at my local Chili's about a year ago and they had these things installed. I ignored it and opted to do my little bit to help my server keep her job.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:41 AM on June 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


The tip thing is useful for anal-retentive types. I usually tip between 15 and 20 percent but I always prefer the resulting toal of check plus tip to be a whole dollar amount. The tablet automatically calculates what would be 15% and what would be 20% and then shows you a sliding scale to formulate anything in between.

So, in conclusion: Blah blah blah lack of human interaction, but it's still pretty awesome.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 3:41 AM on June 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm one of those horrible people who hate going to restaurants because I always end up waiting forever for a server to notice me and get me the bill, or take my order for food or whatever. I find it to be very frustrating. I like this idea.
posted by YAMWAK at 3:53 AM on June 21, 2014 [24 favorites]


Based on my experiences of self checkouts, this is going to work fine as long as the person ordering follows the script exactly. As soon as they press the wrong button, it's all going to go to shit. I love self checkouts, but there's no substitute for someone/something that can think on its feet and adapt to a problem.
posted by Solomon at 4:09 AM on June 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


These state of the art, cutting edge concepts of automatic dining surely say something profound about our fast-paced modern way of life.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:13 AM on June 21, 2014 [32 favorites]


let the kids play games, read the news

...or, and I know this is a radical idea, talk to each other.
posted by Spatch at 4:14 AM on June 21, 2014 [31 favorites]


> but there's no substitute for someone/something that can think on its feet and adapt to a problem.

On the other hand, I recall a United Airlines representative's remark years ago explaining their introduction of automated check in: "Every face to face interaction is an opportunity for service failure."

So there's that.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:15 AM on June 21, 2014 [25 favorites]


Who's getting the tip?

Uh probably the person bringing you your food...

The job-loss conversation can start happening when they finally design little mini drones to pick up and take your order to your table. Or your baby back ribs just rises out the counter like in Back to the Future 2, whatever comes first.
posted by windbox at 4:20 AM on June 21, 2014 [10 favorites]


...or, and I know this is a radical idea, talk to each other.

But then we wouldn't be able to hear you over at the next table, sneering and judging others.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:26 AM on June 21, 2014 [38 favorites]




"Every face to face interaction is an opportunity for service failure."

Everything everywhere is an opportunity for failure.
posted by compartment at 4:32 AM on June 21, 2014 [35 favorites]


I don't mind the idea of in-shop online ordering, but the games? Aw c'mon, are people so unable to sit calmly while waiting a couple minutes for their food? Or as Spatch put it: talk to each other.

(And if there must be stupid electronic toys at the table, I sure hope they're 100% silent, because if they bip & boop all the time I'd never come back to that place.)
posted by easily confused at 4:35 AM on June 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


I don't mind the idea of in-shop online ordering, but the games? Aw c'mon, are people so unable to sit calmly while waiting a couple minutes for their food? Or as Spatch put it: talk to each other.

Small children sometimes are!
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:39 AM on June 21, 2014 [13 favorites]


King's Food Host restaurants had phones in each booth to place orders (but they still went bankrupt in the 1970s.)
posted by cenoxo at 4:39 AM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


We have these in some restaurants in Australia. They are AWESOME. No more awkward "Are you ready to order?", the meal feels more leisurely because you can order as you go, you can get new drinks, and the restaurant certainly does better because you keep ordering. Either method is fine, machine or human, but the machine is faster and less intrusive. Plus, no pointing at a menu, no misunderstandings.

It is not the responsibility of business to provide jobs. Their responsibility is to their customers to provide good service, which machines provide by being always there, and to make profit, which I'm sure having less servers helps with. Perhaps instead of pretending business will "step up", we should start talking about the post-jobs world.
posted by Kittyhawk at 4:48 AM on June 21, 2014 [46 favorites]


But then we wouldn't be able to hear you over at the next table, sneering and judging others.

Heavens, no! We wait until we're home and then write about it on the Internet.
posted by Spatch at 4:50 AM on June 21, 2014 [23 favorites]


"Every face to face interaction is an opportunity for service failure."

Imagine the "service failure" you'll get when something goes wrong with the machine, such as someone entering the wrong code, or the thing just totally crashes, and the one person managing the machines is busy handling someone else. People get scared when they can't handle something, then they get angry when they're forced to wait to have their fear taken away.
posted by Solomon at 4:53 AM on June 21, 2014


little mini drones to pick up and take your order to your table

I will only accept this if they have little Dalek voices saying "HERE'S-YOUR-PLATE! HERE'S-YOUR-PLAAAAAAAATE!"
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:56 AM on June 21, 2014 [37 favorites]


Remember tabletop jukebox terminals?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:02 AM on June 21, 2014 [11 favorites]


No more awkward "Are you ready to order?"

How is this awkward in any way? Either you are or you aren't and you say so. They aren't asking for a declaration of undying love.

I can't escape this feeling that the direction of our future is being driven headlong by a group of people who are quite famous for (and, oddly, wear as a sign of distinction) their inability to interact socially with living beings (unless mitigated by a screen.) Thus, the drive to automate anything that requires even a cursory moment like "Are you ready to order?"
posted by Thorzdad at 5:05 AM on June 21, 2014 [100 favorites]


From the article, the change looks like a double-edged sword for the servers. Chili's are reporting higher average tips and faster table rotation (and so more tipping opportunities), so those that have jobs there should be fine.

On the other hand, the total number of required servers may be a bit lower, as taking orders and presenting / processing the bill is probably a big portion of the job.

There would also be less server / customer interaction, and I have no idea whether the servers would consider that a good thing or a bad thing.
posted by YAMWAK at 5:05 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


How the Ziosk tablet works at Red Robin: Ziosk in Review and Ziosk at Red Robin: Round Two. It's also a tabletop jukebox.
posted by cenoxo at 5:07 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I always prefer the resulting total of check plus tip to be a whole dollar amount

I'm sure the servers love that extra $0.61 when they're cashing out for the evening.
posted by FreezBoy at 5:08 AM on June 21, 2014


sigh
posted by lazycomputerkids at 5:17 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Small children sometimes are [unable to sit still]!

And if they are always catered to with a game, they will never learn how to be.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:18 AM on June 21, 2014 [24 favorites]


How is letting a child play a game on a tablet while they wait for their food different from letting them color with crayons on the placemat before the meal? Did that prevent kids from learning to stand still?
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:22 AM on June 21, 2014 [55 favorites]


High scorer gets a free kid's dessert. Beat it kid, you bother me.

(And speaking of W.C. Fields and restaurants, here's The Diner Sketch.)
posted by cenoxo at 5:29 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't even have kids, but I think anybody being like "just talk to each other" can't possibly have done that many meals out even in proximity to fussy small children. I don't fault parents for that, generally--it's just a feature of little kids. If you want to all sit down at a table for awhile, you need to provide them some kind of engagement at their level. A four-year-old isn't built to be able to sit still and will develop that ability over time without any rigorous training program.

I hope that some of my favored chains start doing this soon, because I find it a bit frustrating, regularly. I go to Bob Evans because it's close and comforting, probably about once a week. I don't usually get dessert, I admit, but it wouldn't matter if I wanted it because I'm usually lucky if I can snag a server long enough to actually get my check. I'd like to be able to page someone when I want a beverage refill instead of having them arrive with another full Coke when I've promised myself I'm only having one. Little stuff. Then maybe we can start paying servers a living wage instead of going on power trips about whether they "deserve" it because they didn't come check on our beverages often enough.
posted by Sequence at 5:31 AM on June 21, 2014 [23 favorites]


Same story from the NYT. Panera does the same thing.

The games: "Chili’s pays Ziosk a monthly service fee, but if enough customers opt to pay to play games on the system — trivia is the most popular game at Chili’s — it can make that money back under a revenue-sharing agreement."

I can absolutely see NORMAL PEOPLE LIKE ME playing the trivia games instead of talking and I hate it.
posted by kinetic at 5:31 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I fully support this. I have no love for your archaic enforcement of social interaction. Sometimes I just want to eat when I go to restaurant!
posted by blue_beetle at 5:32 AM on June 21, 2014 [11 favorites]


And if there must be stupid electronic toys at the table, I sure hope they're 100% silent

I wouldn't wager on the tablet's begging advertising mode being 100% silent during your meal.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:34 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


...or, and I know this is a radical idea, talk to each other.

In Mickey D the other day a family of six each had their own electronic device and were literally oblivious to each other. Nary a word was spoken among them from the time we sat opposite their table til we left.

Aside. Why do I want to use amongst? I know they mean the same?
posted by notreally at 5:41 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I go to the Sonic drive-in, talk to the box to tell it what I want, then swipe my credit card to pay. Girl on roller skates brings my food. They have been doing that forever. So Chili's is just doing this indoors? Big deal.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:42 AM on June 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


Chili's is a megachain casual dining restaurant with pre-programmed entrees, mostly made using shipped-in frozen piecework and formula-mix recipes. The experience was always supposed to be vaguely automated and homogeneous across locations. Has no one here seen Office Space? Or even a TV ad for Chili's or TGI Friday's?

In relation to the middle-class Americans it wants to service, Chili's is not an artisanal or luxury food or food culture experience where server interaction and, more critically, expertise, are key parts of the consumable experience for the target customers and for the majority of the real customers.

If you don't want a slightly dehumanized, artificial, and prepackaged dining experience -- and I'd argue you shouldn't -- you shouldn't be eating at restaurants like Chili's in the first place. Chili's is offering exactly the efficient and predictable dining experience it's always offered, and now it's using technology to offer that even more efficiently and predictably.
posted by kewb at 5:44 AM on June 21, 2014 [98 favorites]


My friends and I had a similar idea in 1996 for an internet cafe, until we found out how much restaurant equipment cost.

It is why I first learned HTML though, so it all worked out.
posted by Mick at 5:45 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


If this idea proves to be popular (and I think there's a good chance it will--Chili's is a great test case), I could see fast-casual places adopting it as well.
posted by box at 5:48 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


From a public health perspective, this seems like a bad thing. A big part of the appeal for Chili's is apparently that customers impulse-order more appetizers and desserts on the tablet than they do if they have to wait for a server to come by. This sort of seems like another way in which the food industry is convincing people to eat more than is in their best interest to eat.

On the other hand, I wonder if this is going to appeal to members of groups that sometimes get worse service because they're stereotyped as bad tippers.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:50 AM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


tips go to more than just the servers - bar staff, kitchen staff, hostess, etc - so this isn't going to replace tip-able staff.

and for all the bellyaching about people just talking to each other, it's like you've never seen little logic puzzles or crayons handed to kids at a restaurant before.
posted by nadawi at 5:54 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I could see fast-casual places adopting it as well.
Honestly, I'm having trouble seeing any potential drawback at someplace like Chipotle. They already have internet ordering for takeout anyway.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:59 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I'm having trouble seeing any potential drawback at someplace like Chipotle. They already have internet ordering for takeout anyway.

Chipotle isn't trying to keep you there and keep you ordering the way casual restaurants do, especially since they don't provide tableside service at all. That's the "fast" in fast-casual.

More broadly, everything on-site is done with the assembly line, where a key selling point is being able to micromanage the construction of your order, and payment is done at a central register. Chipotle's workflow doesn't really seem like it would be improved by tablet-based on-site ordering.
posted by kewb at 6:04 AM on June 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also, Chipotle's branding is about "fresh food" and "healthy ingredients," and that usually means seeing the actual, specific iteration of the stuff you will consume as it's put on your tortilla rather than seeing a stock photo or an icon on a screen.

Chipotle is trying to sell you homogeneous iterations of the same food at every location while giving you the vague emotional sense that you're in closer contact with the food preparation and the supply chain than you really are. Chili's and the other casual dining places are about concealing that stuff entirely, keeping the work off-site and the assembly line in a closed kitchen while they sell you the stock photo or the icon of a consumable.
posted by kewb at 6:07 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


talk to each other.

I don't have kids, but the idea that parents must constantly be devoting attention to their kids doesn't really make sense. Parents are people, too, and they need time to interact with other adults on an adult level. At a certain age, kids just aren't going have a lot to say about the upcoming midterm elections or the series finale of Fargo.

Of course, I live in the French Caribbean, where children run around on the beach chasing each other with sticks while adults drink rosé, smoke cigarettes and engage in polite conversation.
posted by snofoam at 6:12 AM on June 21, 2014 [31 favorites]


...or, and I know this is a radical idea, talk to each other.

Jeez, weren't any of you guys sixteen-year-old atheists with evangelical parents? I would've killed for the opportunity to play a game at the table rather than suffer through the usual hour-long lament that I had stopped attending youth group.
posted by brookedel at 6:13 AM on June 21, 2014 [42 favorites]


Chili's are reporting higher average tips and faster table rotation...

I wonder if the "higher than average" tips are mainly due to the faster rotation because I can easily picture the mindset that "the server didn't do anything except carry out the food...hmmm, that's worth 10% max."
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:15 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love self checkouts

Personally I loathe them, because I'm slower than even a bad professional checkout person. That's unsurprising, because I do it intermittently and they do it all day long; almost every time I do it there is an issue ("Please put item in bagging area" when the fucking item is already in the bagging area, say). So I really do resent it when I get up to the front and the only open lanes are self-checkout, but I recognize that there are people who prefer that option. I actually choose which supermarkets to shop at based on this, and avoid the ones where you are forced to use the self-checkout lanes.

As to the touchscreen restaurant ordering, this sounds perfectly appropriate to a place like Chilis, Applebees, and other chain sit-down restaurants; on the fast-food side, I'm sure McDonalds has tested the concept and would implement it if there were speed or cost benefits. I probably eat at one of these places twice a year, usually a work thing while traveling or dinner with my in-laws, and I've never had a dining experience that wowed me from either a food or a service perspective. Being able to request more drinks from the screen would probably help rather than hurt, and I'll bet even places that keep full waitstaff will add these for supplemental ordering (plus all the data collection benefits).

I eat out a lot, definitely more than I should on financial or dietary grounds, but it's at local places with tattooed hipster waitstaffs where I end up knowing everyone's name and sometimes go out drinking with them after work. Those places are never going to switch to touchscreen ordering, because the high quality interactions with the bartenders and the waitstaff is as much a part of going there as are the cocktails and the food, and they have the kind of adaptable service where bringing over the sous chef to talk about ingredients or making fancy alcohol-free cocktails for the pregnant person is just routine.

It's like the overall American economy -- a total hollowing out of the middle, leaving glorious high-end services for those who can afford them, and cost-centered, Walmart-style options for the majority. Because I earn just enough to access the (lower end of the) upper tier, I'm all smiles, but just a hair less income and my choices would be a lot more constrained.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:18 AM on June 21, 2014 [41 favorites]


FWIW: in Japan's Fukui prefecture(?) there's an awesome sushi restaurant where you order food on a touch screen monitor and eventually the food comes out on a conveyor belt next to the table.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:19 AM on June 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's like the overall American economy -- a total hollowing out of the middle, leaving glorious high-end services for those who can afford them, and cost-centered, Walmart-style options for the majority.

*repeatedly pokes "+" icon on tablet*
posted by kewb at 6:21 AM on June 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


I wonder if the "higher than average" tips are mainly due to the faster rotation because I can easily picture the mindset that "the server didn't do anything except carry out the food...hmmm, that's worth 10% max."
I think it's because the tablet system defaults to a 20% tip, and you have to manually adjust it to be higher or lower. A lot of customers won't bother fiddling with the tip, and my hunch is that there are a lot of 15% tippers in the Chili's customer base.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:23 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


The job-loss conversation can start happening when they finally design little mini drones to pick up and take your order to your table.

I've actually seen this at a restaurant in Japan. Each seat (not just each table, it was per person) had a tablet on which you ordered. Then the food came down a rail to your seat. You took the plate and hit a button so the little train could go back to the kitchen. At the end you paid on the tablet and put your empty plates on the higher (like above eye level when seated) conveyor belt. There were empty cups, chopsticks, a boiling water spout and tea making supplies at the table.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:30 AM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


Hope they install those at Hooters and get rid of those pesky young girls who wait on tables.
posted by Postroad at 6:33 AM on June 21, 2014 [22 favorites]


I wonder if the "higher than average" tips are mainly due to the faster rotation because I can easily picture the mindset that "the server didn't do anything except carry out the food...hmmm, that's worth 10% max."


That's an interesting question... that said, does it actually matter, at least in the short term? I mean, in the sense that margin is margin for the restaurant - you're still very broadly serving $20 worth of food and charging $30 for it whether you are serving two $15 plates to two people or a $10 starter and a $20 main...

Although it occurs to me that the high-margin items on restaurant menus are usually drinks - coffee or soda, which are basically $3 water with a tiny bit of ingredient and a process. And people are likely to order more drinks if they rotate quicker or can get more drinks by pressing a button rather than trying to attract a server. That's good for the restaurant, but it also pushes the percentage represented by the tip up..

In the longer term...

Each seat (not just each table, it was per person) had a tablet on which you ordered. Then the food came down a rail to your seat.

That sounds like a development of the kaiten-zuchi restaurant, right? Except instead of having the plates going around on a little conveyor all the time, they make up the plates when they get orders (or possibly just make them up out of sight and put them on the train when an order comes in; it's probably a mix of both...)

The longer term question here is where those jobs go - because if the cost/benefit ratio of tablets and robots gets better than the cost-benefit ratio of human servers, then the restaurants will cut servers loose as fast as the systems can be built. And of course the same applies to the people assembling the tablets in Shenzhen, and the people moving the product off container ships at the docks and moving them through the warehousing system...
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:38 AM on June 21, 2014


I encountered one of these in a Chili's a few weeks ago.

The interface on the tablet is really well-designed and easy to navigate. The games are $0.99, which for some reason rubs me the wrong way. The server was careful to point that out to me - I guess sometimes people don't realize it and get upset with the charge.

As noted in the article, the thing does flash pictures of dessert at you during your meal. It doesn't make noise that I recall, but Chili's is a noisy restaurant anyway.

The server took my food order, but also gave me a brief orientation to the tablet. When she brought the food, she let me know that I could access my bill and pay using the tablet. I can't remember how she phrased it, but it was politely clear that she would not be bringing a check and that I needed to use the tablet.

The ability to just pay my check and leave was a HUGE positive for me. Waiting around for the check is the most annoying part of a meal. I came away from the experience thinking the thing was genius.
posted by jeoc at 6:40 AM on June 21, 2014 [37 favorites]


Hope they install those at Hooters and get rid of those pesky young girls who wait on tables.

Why did I read this as PERKY?
posted by notreally at 6:52 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


As an aside, on the paying front, this an area which app developers are trying to create as restaurant-agnostic solutions as well. There's a startup called Flypay which Wahaca uses in London - you have to download the app (there are QR codes on the tables), but it then lets you divide the bill by item, set the tip, pay and leave.

There's a similar app for bars called Q - you give your order by phone, it charges your card and notifies you when it's ready, and you just walk up to the collection area and pick it up rather than having to queue for a server and wait for them to pour your drinks...

Obviously you don't get the same integration with the brand and dedicated services, but there's a lot of low-hanging fruit that probably can't justify or afford a dedicated solution or a tablet at every table that can piggyback everyone having smartphones and put a logo on a white-box app.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:54 AM on June 21, 2014


kewb: Chili's is a megachain casual dining restaurant with pre-programmed entrees, mostly made using shipped-in frozen piecework and formula-mix recipes. The experience was always supposed to be vaguely automated and homogeneous across locations.

What restaurant chain will be next to deploy the kitchen of the future? (Motley Fool, May 10, 2013):
Middleby (NASDAQ: MIDD) decided to do for the casual-dining restaurant what it did for the pizza joint with the conveyor oven -- speed it all up and automate the process. Casual-dining restaurants like Brinker International's (NYSE: EAT) Chili's chain were struggling to keep their heads above water. In a weak economy with high unemployment, fast food was the place to be. It was cheap and it was . . . well . . fast.

So Brinker took a chance. It investigated Middleby's kitchen of the future, tested it, and invested roughly $30 million to install it in all its company-owned U.S. stores, more than 1,000 in all, over the past year and a half.

In the kitchen of the future, no one stands over the griddle or the charbroiler or the fryer. The food goes into a conveyor oven -- like a pizza -- and comes out the other side fully cooked in about half the time it would normally take. There is no waste -- no throwaways, no send-backs -- and much less labor required since no one has to stand there and watch it cook.
Here's a sales demonstration of the automated Middleby Marshall CTX conveyor oven system that promises to reduce casual dining cooking time by 30-60% (PDF).

Too many cooks spoil the broth profit.
posted by cenoxo at 6:57 AM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


I still eat at Flingers. They have the best flair.
posted by maxsparber at 7:04 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


That sounds like a development of the kaiten-zuchi restaurant, right? Except instead of having the plates going around on a little conveyor all the time, they make up the plates when they get orders (or possibly just make them up out of sight and put them on the train when an order comes in; it's probably a mix of both...)

Sort of, but the little train brought the food right to your seat, not just indiscrimininantly around the restaurant where anyone could grab it. So it would zoom by everyone else and stop directly in front of you. The delivery wasn't really a conveyor belt, but more like a train on railes. The take-dirty-plates away thing was a constantly running conveyor belt.

Anyway, the prices were dramatically better than everywhere else we ate in Japan and the food was good, so at least if you assume Japanese labour costs, it sounds like this is cost-saving.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:09 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I really like this idea, but it's not what I want all the time. Not a fan of Chili's or most franchises either, but I would love this for sushi or the type of place where you can stay a while and read or study, like a diner near a university. I think Japan has the right idea, and not every restaurant will cater to this level of automated service... but it's pretty great to have the option when you don't really want a lot of interaction.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:11 AM on June 21, 2014


Sound's like the software is better than when Nolan Bushnell tried this back in 2000 with his uWink restaurants. I don't think I ever got an order correct at that place. And the computer was so efficient they were cooking my meal before I could find a real person to correct the order.

But at least the games were free at uWink. It is weird, though. They've had tablet video games at bars for a long time now. Most people ignore them. They go out to talk to each other.
posted by eye of newt at 7:19 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


My Chili's was part of the pilot program, so I've been using these for a while. They were slow and buggy when first installed but pretty good now. (And yes, I eat at Chili's, judge away; it's a good sit-down restaurant to take preschoolers to, and the kids' menu is easy for kids to order from independently and they loooooove that.)

I hardly ever see people playing the games (sometimes futzing around with it a bit to see what it has, but not playing them). What people use them for are a) ordering alcoholic drinks mid-meal and b) paying the bill at the end, especially if they have kids with them or it's a busy time. Even well-behaved kids often get bored and antsy once the eating is done, and it's nice to be able to just swipe and go if you need to. It also lets you break up bills at your table yourself, which I've seen people use to break up bills in hyperspecific ways. I've used the bill-pay when it was a bit busy and I wanted to get home to the sitter instead of lingering another half-hour.

For the alcoholic drinks mid-meal, the servers who are under 21 (I think) aren't allowed to bring them to the table in my state, so you order from the server, they go put it in with the bartender, the bartender makes it, someone over 21 brings it ... it's a whole process. If you order from the "ziosk" you don't have to flag someone down in the middle of the meal (always the most annoying part, IMHO) and you can just beam the order directly to the bartender and it magically appears at your table within 2 minutes instead of within 8 minutes.

The servers at my Chili's seem to mostly be local high school and college students and they're very nice and perky and the service is good ... the only things you wait for are drink refills and the check during busy times. (Really, the reason it ended up being the local chain we favor for chain-restaurant dining is that it's a very well-run location with good service and a competent staff.)

The ziosk is silent; it's easy to put face-down or turn to face the wall if the screen changing its ads is distracting. (Most people seem to turn them to face the wall when they're not using it.) The servers are happy to take it off the table if it's annoying you or there's not room for it. It feels like basically part of the landscape at this point like the promotional trifolds places stick by the salt and pepper: Interesting to look at for 2 minutes, then something to just push out of the way. It's not the end of humanity!

If it matters, I strenuously dislike self-checkouts, though I will use them if the lines are long and I only have a few items.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:23 AM on June 21, 2014 [26 favorites]


I read this the wrong way and was really surprised that the Chilean government was trying to automate waitstaff out of a job.
posted by vorpal bunny at 7:23 AM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


Who's getting the tip?

It's an interesting question. You pay 15–20 percent to a server, not a busser, for service. That server, in turn, pays some lesser amount to the bussers. We just had a gi-i-iant thread about tipping, so I don't necessarily want to reopen that can...but yeah, if nobody is providing many of the duties of "service," then isn't there an argument to discontinue paying that 15–20 percent tip?

The article doesn't address special requests. I don't think I'm an especially high-maintenance customer, but for instance, I dislike cheese so I'll often order something off the menu, "no cheese." For dessert I'll order a dish of ice cream with hot fudge, but I don't want the whipped cream, nuts, or cherry that come with the "sundae" on the menu. Can this device handle those requests? If a mistake is made conveying the request, does that become my mistake because I can articulate the request aloud but I couldn't figure out how via keypad; and will the restaurant still be willing to correct the mistake, or do I now have to pay for two?
posted by cribcage at 7:26 AM on June 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think it's because the tablet system defaults to a 20% tip, and you have to manually adjust it to be higher or lower. A lot of customers won't bother fiddling with the tip, and my hunch is that there are a lot of 15% tippers in the Chili's customer base.

You're awfully kind in that assumption.

Between four parks and over two dozen hotels, there's a lot of sit down restaurants at Walt Disney World. If you go there often, you can get "Tables In Wonderland", a discount card. The deal is very simple. With ToW, beside free valet parking (good for locals, not for me), you get 20% off the bill. Oh, and they automagically add an 18% tip.

Let me tell you from long experience. Cast members who are serving *love* this card. Because they know they're getting 18% on that tab. This tells me that they are frequently not getting 18%, nor anywhere near.

And, yes, you can kick in more tip at the end, if you think 18% isn't adequate. I usually do, unless the service was exceptionally meh or overpowering, and that's happened once -- kind of freaking out my girlfriend-at-the-time is not a path to a good tip, to be honest.
posted by eriko at 7:26 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


jeoc: When she brought the food, she let me know that I could access my bill and pay using the tablet. I can't remember how she phrased it, but it was politely clear that she would not be bringing a check and that I needed to use the tablet.

From a TripAdvisor review of Chili's: “Forced use of Ziosk”:
Typical Chili's food, but they now force you to use the Ziosk at the table to check out if you pay by credit card. Just be aware of this. It is not customer friendly when you are dining with elderly parents wanting to purchase the meal for you. I'm rating the service low because I don't think this should be mandatory. In fact, we were encourage to order using the Ziosk. If I order with the Ziosk and pay for it using the Ziosk, why am I tipping you? For carrying the plates to the table? What can't the Ziosk tell me when the food is ready and I'll get it myself.
Too many cashiers and servers, also.
posted by cenoxo at 7:27 AM on June 21, 2014


They have these at Toronto airport for various places and they are fucking annoying, especially as they default to giant sizes for things (noticeably drinks - no I don't want your giant glass of wine and don't want to spend 10 minutes working out how to order a normal size) and they appear to have used them as an excuse to fire 50% of the servers, so you wait forever for your food.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:30 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Indeed, Thorzdad. This x9001.

Human interaction is getting downgraded all the time. The practice of having and using manners is disappearing, and it is saddening.

On the other hand, maybe if we are going this route I'd rather see us barking at real robots rather than the abhorrent practice of treating low wage workers as robots.
posted by drowsy at 7:30 AM on June 21, 2014 [8 favorites]


Too many cooks spoil the broth profit.

Both, actually -- esp. if they're low wage cooks who are basically imperfect food robots rather than actual chefs with cooking skills.

If it matters, I strenuously dislike self-checkouts, though I will use them if the lines are long and I only have a few items.

I'm the other way, though at least in Chicago, they seem to be on the way out.
posted by eriko at 7:31 AM on June 21, 2014


A favorite restaurant of mine gave their waitstaff tablets maybe two years ago. I suppose in theory, that means they could just move directly to putting them at tables like this and cut some payroll. But frankly, my job involves sitting at a computer all day. The introvert that I am, even I prefer human interaction over filling out another electronic form. I think they understand this too, but the dynamic is probably different at a chain like Chilis.
posted by indubitable at 7:32 AM on June 21, 2014


What I wonder about is what happens when the underclass can no longer afford to consume. Right now we're in a sort of sweet spot, where there are still working class jobs that pay enough for people to buy non-essentials, even if they're shitty Target/McDonalds/etc non-essentials, and even if they're pretty limited. But what happens when that stops? The 1% will want more robots than servants, rich people can only consume so much sex work and massage and wages on that stuff will drop anyway, even skilled jobs like tailoring can't absorb the unemployed, and again, wages will drop...Who exactly is going to eat at Chili's in ten years?
posted by Frowner at 7:34 AM on June 21, 2014 [11 favorites]


You're awfully kind in that assumption.
Possibly, but I don't think that anything you said really challenges my basic point, which is that the reason that the tips are higher with the tablet is that the default tip is higher than the percentage that customers would use if they calculated a tip themselves.
esp. if they're low wage cooks who are basically imperfect food robots rather than actual chefs with cooking skills.
Can we not refer to low-wage workers as imperfect robots? I get what you're saying, but that's kind of fucked-up, dehumanizing language.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:35 AM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


We went to a Chili's last weekend, a nostalgia trip as neither one of us has been in one in about 7 years*. We had never seen a Ziosk before and did not get the hint from our server (who did not want to be there) that we should direct all our interactions to the device.

Paying on the thing was actually the only satisfying part of the experience. That is far preferable to having someone take my card away - I don't understand why US restaurants still do that when in other countries I've had the swiping take place on a server-holstered wireless device so the card never leaves my sight. And I got to take a survey in which I was quite firmly neutral about the quality of our human service.

*They changed the queso formula to something very gruesome, but man how do they get those chips so thin and crispy? Also, how did they manage to weaponize a cob of corn so that every bite sprayed my face and glasses with industrial butter substitute? Literally every bite required wiping my face and dripping chin with a napkin, so I gave up after three sprays. Chili's now returns to its previous "only in an airport if there is literally no other sit-down option" status.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:36 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


King's Food Host restaurants had phones in each booth to place orders

I worked at one of those in the late '70s, mostly as a cook. There were two stations in the kitchen that were little switchboards with a headset and buttons to connect to each table. One time when the servers were really busy I pitched in to help out taking orders. Unfortunately after taking a half-dozen orders I realized I hadn't written down the table numbers on the orders!
posted by achrise at 7:38 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


One 'Mix & Match Fajitas' with steak. I'll stick with water, thanks.
posted by mazola at 7:41 AM on June 21, 2014


esp. if they're low wage cooks who are basically imperfect food robots rather than actual chefs with cooking skills.

And this is why we will never have nice things - unless you're some kind of google-ista, you're just an imperfect robot and we, the almighty consumers (who are never considered as workers, just in our status as petty tyrants with credit cards) are just waiting for you to be replaced so that we can have an "optimal" experience. Because life without an optimal customized experience is hardly life at all.

Theology? The fucking theology of the customer, that's what we've got.
posted by Frowner at 7:43 AM on June 21, 2014 [21 favorites]


This is a way to basically eliminate wait-staff and just have bussers also doing food delivery.

Next step: now that the labor is fully fungible and little to no direct communication with customers is required, more employees working fewer, shorter shifts. Restaurants work on the Target model.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:51 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't see this being of much benefit for picky eaters. I don't like jalapenos on my nachos, or onions on my cheeseburgers, for example. Unless there's a way to note that on the tablet -- or to ask for substitutions, etc -- then my customer satisfaction is going to go way down.
posted by jscalzi at 7:52 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


How often are these touchscreens cleaned? Because the thought of touching a surface a dozen (or maybe more) people have touched with my hands and then eating fries is not a pleasant idea.

I think for this reason I'm just going to order from a waitperson. But, if these ziosks become mandatory, I'm going to order once and then thoroughly wash my hands. Or failing that, eat with one hand, touch with the other (like I try to do now when I use my phone while eating a finger food).
posted by FJT at 7:53 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


And this is why we will never have nice things - unless you're some kind of google-ista, you're just an imperfect robot and we, the almighty consumers (who are never considered as workers, just in our status as petty tyrants with credit cards) are just waiting for you to be replaced so that we can have an "optimal" experience.

I think the point of the comment is that these chains use their kitchen employees as "imperfect robots" -- they are given zero autonomy, nor are they expected to have culinary skills, but are instead required to perform repetitive food assembly in a strictly controlled process. From the company's perspective, replacing them with robots would be mean an improvement in quality control and consistency.

Sadly, many of the customers probably agree, but this is being driven by the companies, not the consumers.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:53 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


This relentless march toward efficiency reminds me of the rise of the fast food industry, and the far reaching and corrosive effects that has had on the American, and now, world economy. Every additional step toward automating work comes with costs that are not immediately apparent. Fast food service jobs have been a growth area in the last five years, making up many of the recovered jobs in our so called economic recovery. Except these jobs are shit jobs, where workers are little more than assembly line workers who learn few meaningful job skills, and get paid minimum wage or slightly above, because why pay a worker a higher wage for doing a job that requires hardly any skill?

This does deliver good value to the consumer, though, who can be assured of getting his Baby Back Ribs delivered to his table faster, and the more efficient service keeps the costs of pseudo- fast food dining low enough so that the consumer can then afford to spend a few extra dollars a week at Wendy's, or maybe by ordering a pizza for delivery over the internet, or purchasing something at the automated check out lane at the national brand supermarket where he shops. Or, it could be that the efficiencies that places like Chili's create make it just affordable enough for him to enjoy a sit down meal on his own meager service economy wages that he earns at his job.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:56 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


It seems like you'd make a crap ton more money if every table in your restaurant didn't have to do the "wait 5-10 minutes for the server to notice you're finished, then wait 5-10 minutes for them to process your check, then wait 5-10 minutes for them to run your card" thing. You would turn over tables faster. I'm neutral on ordering through one of these things, but I would love paying with it. It would also avoid the awkward conversation where I ask the server for my check when my food comes out, because I have to get back to work or get to the movies on time. There's not really a way to do that now without both sounding like a dick and ensuring you won't get any drink refills.
posted by almostmanda at 7:56 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'd wager these devices get wiped about as often, possibly more, than the menus we're all already handling. Certainly more often than those dessert and drink flip-cards that sit perpetually on the tables, which everybody seems nevertheless to pick up and handle.
posted by cribcage at 7:58 AM on June 21, 2014 [15 favorites]


Huh, I was surprised to find out people spend more with a tablet vs. a human, since I thought all the flirting waitstaff stuff worked and got people to spend more. I usually get whatever "tonight's special is..." that I hear about before ordering.

I guess I'd have to look at my own experience the one time I got to take a Virgin America flight, and how they didn't do the horrible slow-ass drink/food cart through the plane but let you order stuff from your seatback screen. Even though most of the stuff I ordered was free (cokes, cookies, chips), it arrived really quickly almost exactly when I wanted it. It was fantastic, and I ordered more stuff as a result.

About the only upside to me would be getting the bill and paying for it quickly. Even though I usually go to nice restaurants and tip in the 25-30% range, I still get annoyed about 3/4 of the time since I can't leave to go to the next thing I have to do because I have to wait 4-5min to get a bill first.
posted by mathowie at 7:59 AM on June 21, 2014


I used one of these and thought it was awesome. I wish every place I went had one. I'm not the biggest fan of interaction with strangers, so if we can place or order (and not worry if the server understood) and get our food and pay attention to the people I came with so much the better.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:00 AM on June 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've never heard of Chili's, but the food sounds gross. And I enjoy a plate of unhealthy food every so often.

It's like those trendy clothing stores targeted at teens/young adults... the cheap materials make the clothes so uncomfortable to wear, I stayed away no matter how affordable and stylish the clothes were. Or made an impulse buy and immediately regretted it.
posted by mantecol at 8:03 AM on June 21, 2014


One. 'Mix & Match Fajitas'. With. Steak.

I'M READY TO ORDER!
posted by mazola at 8:03 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


but this is being driven by the companies, not the consumers.

On reflection, this is indirectly being driven by customers -- because the middle and lower-middle class customer base of these restaurants is economically hurting and spending on casual chain dining is an easy thing for people to cut, the companies are being forced to be cost-conscious in a way that they weren't fifteen years ago.

It's maybe unsurprising that increased inequality has far reaching impacts like this, but automating chain restaurant kitchens and waitstaffs is not one that I would have predicted.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:03 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


We very occasionally do Chili's (usually for a rush lunch because they're fast or on the road) and we've used these things. One thing I remember is that the drinks you get are only from the bar, so if you're ordering soda, like, say, you do when you have to go back to work, you're going to have to talk to the waitron anyway. It's nice not to have to turn over your card if you worry about that kind of thing, but the tech to bring the card swipe to your table was around before the iPhone and now it's dead simple.

Another local place, a Japanese sushi/tapas place, had a similar ordering-via-iPad thing. It wasn't through Ziosk, though, because they had actual iPads. The provider went out of business on no notice and they're back to menu/waitstaff.

I've never heard of Chili's, but the food sounds gross. And I enjoy a plate of unhealthy food every so often.

It's a Southwestern (a little Tex Mex, a little Cal Mex, a little mid-American) grill, and it comes out of Dallas. My regular exposure to it is mostly through my mom, though when I lived in suburban NJ, it was the only place I knew to get "fajitas". Now that I live in Austin, I turn my nose up at it, I admit.
posted by immlass at 8:06 AM on June 21, 2014


Who's getting the tip?

Uh probably the person bringing you your food...

The job-loss conversation can start happening when they finally design little mini drones to pick up and take your order to your table.


No, the job-loss conversation can start now. Serving tables is actually a difficult skill to learn, and once these tablets become ubiquitous the only human FOH staff you need are a host/ess to seat you, and food runners (who make shit money and, sometimes, get a small % of the tip) do the rest. (Also kitchen staff, but again, in places like Chili's you're not hiring culi school grads; you're hiring the cheapest labour you can find and teaching them to be robots. As soon as there are actual robots, they're out of jobs too.)

I mean, in the sense that margin is margin for the restaurant - you're still very broadly serving $20 worth of food and charging $30 for it whether you are serving two $15 plates to two people or a $10 starter and a $20 main...

At a good restaurant, food (ingredient) cost is under 30%. At a Sysco-supplied megachain like Chili's, I'd be willing to bet their total food cost per plate is under 20%. You're overestimating food cost, I think. (Alcohol costs tend to remain fairly steady at 25% across the board, except for wines, where you can go hog wild unless the customer base actually knows wine.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:07 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


I was going to say I don't think twenty percent is worth it if your server is doing half the job, but it guess if I get in and out quicker and they're attentive during the meal, it might be worth it anyway. They should have more time for refills, etc.

I hate the whole process of waiting for the server to take your order, and especially waiting for them to take the check, take your card, bring back your receipt, etc.
posted by empath at 8:11 AM on June 21, 2014


Also, are the tablets waterproof? Aside from being restless, I know another thing kids tend to do at restaurants...
posted by mantecol at 8:14 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would like to see American dining culture change with regard to the timing of the payment. It's ridiculous to wait until the server inquires whether you're finished, then comes back with a bill, then comes back with a credit card slip to sign. One of the nicer aspects of dining out when we lived overseas was that when you finished your meal you walked to the receptionist to pay.

On the other hand, there was not a tipping culture there, and I could see how this process could affect tipping.

But on the other other hand, working class wages were higher across the board there, so there's that.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:18 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


One of the nicer aspects of dining out when we lived overseas was that when you finished your meal you walked to the receptionist to pay.

In europe, it seems like most decent restaurants have credit card machines for the servers to use at the table.
posted by empath at 8:27 AM on June 21, 2014


I eat out alone a lot and often I just want to be left alone. So this seems super handy.
posted by divabat at 8:27 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


Surely we can have the convenience of technology without the headlong rush toward some kind of privatized corporate cookie-cutter hellscape.

Seems like I keep running across this issue. "This approach will make jobs obsolete and lead to a markedly dehumanized, lower quality of living for most people."

"Yes, but it's just so convenient for me. Not to mention my unique yuppie spawn."
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:45 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yeah, like your four year old brat will want to sit still and talk about the latest toast restaurant down the street or where they will store their bitcoins or how annoying it is when girls list Ayn Rand as a favorite author on their OKC dating profile.
posted by ReeMonster at 8:47 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


Let's consider the opportunities for technological problems and abuse. Which will happen first:

* A Target style case of wireless credit card harvesting
* Machine doesn't notice you're swiping a home made card (tablet cameras start being used, ATM style)
* Ziosk starts selling your purchase information.
* You have to swipe your card before ordering. Targetted ads for non-Chili's products appear during meal. Social media buttons encourage you to tweet your order and post it to Facebook.
* Someone figures out a way to order -40 cheese fries to bring the total bill down to zero
* Someone figures out a way to bring a laptop/tablet of their own and send their own orders to the kitchen without notifying the billing platform.
* Someone crashes/roots the tablet and reboots it instead of paying. Or wirelessly crashes every tablet in the restaurant to avoid being singled out. Bonus if it's because of a buggy game.
* A software update unintentionally freezes all tablets. Bonus if during a holiday rush.

Not all of these are equally likely, but I wonder if at least one of them will happen eventually.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:48 AM on June 21, 2014 [25 favorites]


A mother's lament — Why a Screen Had Me Seeing Red:
Here’s something I’ve been taking for granted: crayons.

Crayons at restaurants, more specifically.

I just assume they’ll be available, because why wouldn’t they be. Restaurateurs know that people with young kids dine out. They also know that said kids can be loud, especially when they’re hungry, which is usually the reason why people go to restaurants in the first place. So, setting a stack of crayons and a sheet to color in front of a cranky toddler is usually a welcome (albeit brief) distraction until your food arrives.

That’s why I was more than a little surprised when we stopped at a Chili’s a few weeks ago and were told they didn’t have any crayons. “Really?” I asked, incredulous. Yes, really. Instead, the hostess and our waitress both proceeded to plop a “ziosk” in front of A: a stupid little electronic device that sits on all the tables and tempts diners of all ages to play games while they eat. I realize it has other purposes, too, like offering another way to order food or pay your tab, or sometimes, apparently, it serves as the menu itself.

It’s bad enough when a restaurant doesn’t have any crayons. But then, when they tell me that the children’s menu is located solely on this electronic brain fryer that they keep trying to stick in front of my kid, I start to lose it. WTF.
Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning? Oh yes — how to buy even more stuff, and computers encourage that behavior far better than crayons.
posted by cenoxo at 8:53 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


Wondering if it's still possible to pay with cash...
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:57 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Someone figures out a way to bring a laptop/tablet of their own and send their own orders to the kitchen without notifying the billing platform.

If they're smart, the kitchen and billing platform linking happens in backend, rather than the kiosk being responsible for sending out separate calls to two platforms.
posted by mantecol at 8:59 AM on June 21, 2014


I always use self checkout because I am of the opinion that plastic bags are strong enough to hold more than two items apiece, which seems to be the opinion of every employee bagger on the planet.

Also, no, I don't need a bag for my milk, it already has a handle on it.
posted by Evilspork at 9:08 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


It is not the responsibility of business to provide jobs.

that's as good an epitaph for our economy as any
posted by pyramid termite at 9:09 AM on June 21, 2014 [38 favorites]


I eat at corporate casual restaurants on the road. There's a lot of stuff I don't ask the server because I don't want to be that customer, but if the tablet menu allowed me to see not only calorie count but a listing of potential problem ingredients (allergens etc) and a Nutritiondata-style profile for each dish, that would soooo satisfy my persnickety side.

Also, if there was a way to do it without getting creepy, a "What's that person eating at the next table? It looks yummy" option.
posted by pernoctalian at 9:21 AM on June 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I thought the 'job creators' were the sacred saviours of America?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:23 AM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


.Who exactly is going to eat at Chili's in ten years?

corporate management doesn't like to think past the current quarter but I also think the prospect of other emerging countries overshadows the US and they've basically given up on such a comparatively small population getting increasingly poorer.
posted by The Whelk at 9:38 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


How is this awkward in any way? Either you are or you aren't and you say so. They aren't asking for a declaration of undying love.

I don't find it awkward, but I do find the process annoying. I like to take my time choosing, but once I choose, I would like to order right away. Most of the time it seems like they ask if we're ready, we ask for another minute or two, and they don't come back for 10 or 15 minutes (that may be an exaggeration; I don't use a stopwatch. But when you're hungry, it feels like a long time). I eat out a LOT at a ton of places because I travel for business. And I very regularly find myself having to try to flag down an oblivious server to place my order.

I also have absolutely no problem believing that people spend more when they can order whenever they want. I've often wanted another glass of wine, but I know that by the time I get the server's attention, they put the order in, they remember to go back to the bar to pick it up, and they bring it to me, I'll be done with my meal. I can understand the argument that maybe having that second glass of wine isn't always such a good thing from a health perspective. But it seems bizarre to make the argument that the right way to get people to eat or drink less is to make it harder for them to order...

In short, I would welcome this system just about everywhere except fine dining restaurants (where the service should be excellent, and is a big part of the experience).
posted by primethyme at 9:41 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


My main takeaway from this thread is that y'all are really fucking impatient.
posted by The Whelk at 9:44 AM on June 21, 2014 [31 favorites]


There's no excuse for bad/oblivious service anywhere. Also I kind of suspect the people complaining about having to wait a whole 5 minutes for something have never, ever worked service in their lives. You're juggling between 5 and 20 tables in your head, and every single one of them has their own idiosyncracies and mods to menu items and are generally all each individual special snowflakes that all require different handling.

It's not an easy job. Go try it for a couple weeks and then tell me how 'oblivious' they are, as opposed to having to keep a whole lot of balls in the air all at once.

I'm not saying bad and oblivious service doesn't exist; I've had it, and I've seen it in restaurants I've worked in. But 5 or 10 minutes doesn't indicate obliviousness, especially if the restaurant is busy. That speaks to FOH management not scheduling or assigning sections properly.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:46 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


My ziosk'ed chili's still has paper kid menus and crayons and, as I said, has been in the pilot program. That sounds like a location-specific problem. Also people come with multiple small children and there is only one ziosk per table, so that would make no sense as a policy. (Also, they don't really have kiddie games.)

And, in response to another question above, they're pretty sturdy and at least water resistant.

I can order soft drinks on it as well as alcohol, but that may vary by state or whatever.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:46 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Today, the chains. Tomorrow, your favorite den of pretentious gastro-wankery.

So it goes.
posted by dr_dank at 10:02 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Actually elBulli pioneered this idea over a decade ago with ellBullvi, their wine list. It helped you pick out wines based on your preferences, budget, etc. The problem they had with it was not enough tablet-y computers to go around, and patrons having way too much fun playing with it.

ellBullvi used to have a standalone version on their website, but think since conversion to the foundation it's disappeared.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:05 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much longer it will be before some places don't even have tablets, just smartphone apps that customers can download.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:18 AM on June 21, 2014


death to all restaurants
posted by eustatic at 10:21 AM on June 21, 2014


Thus freezing out those of us who don't have smartphones.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:22 AM on June 21, 2014


Chili's can do what ever the hell they want. They could pass around free plates of coke and it'd still be Overloud annoying-as-fuck America Land, that I'd only enter out not dire family or work obligation.... Which means I sure as hell am not paying.
If I want hot food to cram in my mouth with no social interaction the drive through works fine, or even take out from the corner deli if you want tho avoid the soylant-green of McDonaslds. But Christ-on-a-stick, bring some crayons for the rug rats and unplug for 20 mineuts.

Incidentally, how long until your ordering and game choice and.... is linked with your credit card? You walk in to a Chili's 500 miles from home, your ice tea of choice is already at your table along with candy crush loaded up for your tyke, if you're really lucky they can go from the game they where playing in the car to the same game at the table!

We don't need to fear big brother, we willingly hand over all our personal information all day already. Little Brother is so much more effective.
posted by edgeways at 10:28 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Today, the chains. Tomorrow, your favorite den of pretentious gastro-wankery.

I've been to a couple of dens of pretentious gastro-wankery where ipads are already in use. Not in exactly the same manner as in chilis though - one place I've been to had the waiters themselves carrying tablets or smartphones to enter orders into, while another used ipads in place of paper menus so they could have constantly updated specials list or wine/draft beer list.

The only place I've seen tablets used as the ordering mechanism was in an airport; as far as I know chilis doesn't exist where I live.
posted by modernnomad at 10:31 AM on June 21, 2014


We don't need to fear big brother

No, you still do. Chili's won't torture and cage you if you get out of line.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:32 AM on June 21, 2014


they will at nosotros dolemos - think of it as a floor show - and the food is really excellent
posted by pyramid termite at 10:47 AM on June 21, 2014


At the Automat with Doris Day & Cary Grant
posted by R. Mutt at 11:05 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


almost every time I do it [self-checkout] there is an issue

Same here. When I first encountered them I thought self-checkouts would be great, and I used them a lot. Now, I never do. Between the almost-every-time scanning problems at BJ's, and the INCREDIBLY LOUD MACHINE VOICE SHOUTING at the local supermarket that has them, I'd rather stand in line and have a problem-solving human ring up my purchases and take my money. It always works, and is usually at least as fast.


How often are these touchscreens cleaned?

This is another issue I have with touchscreens everywhere. When the dirtiest things I'm likely to handle during normal activities are gas-pump nozzles and grocery-cart handles, I really don't have a lot of confidence that ATM screens and the like are remotely sterile.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:16 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


So now I can get more of their chicken enchilada soup at the mere touch of a button?

Fantastic. I'm going to end up like one of the rats in those cocaine experiments. Only much, much fatter.
posted by MrBadExample at 11:41 AM on June 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


I went to a Chili's a couple of weeks ago and didn't use the tablet until it came time to pay the bill. We asked our server about them, and he said he liked them generally except that a few nights ago some bored kids had been allowed to go from table to table switching the tablets up and people had ended up with the wrong bills before it got figured out, which was frustrating for everyone.
posted by rewil at 11:42 AM on June 21, 2014


I bet the software doesn't time the arrival of dishes.

Does it even give us the option of making our ready-dish priority known: Bring each dish out as soon as it's ready, vs. stage the dishes in "courses" which has risk of dishes cooling while the other dishes in that course are still being prepared.

What if we want to make our order and be done with it. She wants her salad when my entree arrives. She wants her appetizer when my salad arrives. I want a cocktail now but bring me a beer with dinner. And forfrickin chrissakes if my meal shows up piping hot but I have to wait for a beer, I am going to stiff this software so hard it locks up.
posted by surplus at 11:44 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Humans who are, to be fair, probably not at all judging you for what you are ordering at Chili's, but who are also potential judgers, which in itself can be enough to make you rethink your rack of ribs/cheese-covered potatoes/life choices.

So the real point of these is to allow the customer to avoid having to look a fellow human being in the eye and say "I'd like to order 3500 calories please."
posted by sfkiddo at 11:59 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


If this solves the problem where you have to get someone's attention to ask for the check, then wait for the check, then put your card on it, then get someone's attention to take your card, then wait for them to swipe it and bring it back, this is brilliant. There is nothing I dislike more than the waiting around for the check when I want to leave.

I like the system in Japan and Korea - done eating? Get up and walk over to the counter, where someone rings you up and you pay like at a store. A lot of Korean restaurants also have little buzzers to get service attention, which is way easier than having to interrupt your meal to futilely wave at waitstaff who happen to not be looking your way.
posted by pravit at 12:10 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Pub meals in the UK are easier still - you pay when you place your order. Works fine for me. Of course, you don't tip the person at the counter, so it does change the money dynamic a little.
posted by YAMWAK at 12:16 PM on June 21, 2014


Do you guys in the USA not have the credit card/debit card wireless machines that can be taken to every table? I can't think of a single restaurant (other than QSR where you pay at the counter anyway) I've been to in years that doesn't.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:19 PM on June 21, 2014


If they exist, they are uncommon. I have never seen one used, and I eat out several times a month.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 12:25 PM on June 21, 2014


The only place I can think of seeing handheld credit card scanners is at Apple stores or fairs where booths are using Square to run credit cards.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 12:26 PM on June 21, 2014


Metafilter: I'm not the biggest fan of interaction with strangers
posted by Jahaza at 12:32 PM on June 21, 2014 [13 favorites]


The only place I can think of seeing handheld credit card scanners is at Apple stores or fairs where booths are using Square to run credit cards.

One of my doctors uses Square at his office.
posted by Jahaza at 12:33 PM on June 21, 2014


Kittyhawk: "It is not the responsibility of business to provide jobs. Their responsibility is to their customers to provide good service, which machines provide by being always there, and to make profit, which I'm sure having less servers helps with. Perhaps instead of pretending business will "step up", we should start talking about the post-jobs world."

In the US those businesses are touted as 'job creators' as an explanation for why they get so many tax breaks and benefits. If their only purpose is to please their board, shareholders and nominally their customers, we need to stop giving them corporate welfare. I imagine that Australia is different about this.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 12:35 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


One of my doctors uses Square at his office

Right, the technology is there and people use it in other businesses , so I don't get why restaurants don't.

Also, there are sit-down restaurants in the US where you pay at the register but they are diners or chains going for a diner vibe.

(now I want some Steak & Shake)
posted by Elementary Penguin at 12:37 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


almost every time I do it [self-checkout] there is an issue

Huh. I use these all the time at multiple grocery stores and Home Depot, and I've never had a problem.

Maybe I missed my calling as a cashier.
posted by jeoc at 12:39 PM on June 21, 2014


I take this development as a divine intervention encouraging more comfortable, story-filled fabulous simple dinners with friends at home instead of more money-wasting nights out for generic food and rushed camaraderie at one more mundane Sysco-cafe with reproduction kitsch on the walls.

I've now crossed back into blue collar from my five year stint in the middle class, so I'm not eating out much, but when I ate out, it was to get stuff I couldn't make at home, like proper Indonesian, Burmese, Korean, Indian, Malaysian, or phở, not some bland grey hamburger on a defrosted pretzel roll that costs more than buying a pound of organic pastured beef and making three gorgeously rare burgers on homemade ciabatta rolls with freshly made Old Bay sriracha mayo and lightly blanched New Zealand spinach from the back yard.

Feh on this world of the future--I'm cookin' dinner at my house. Who's in?
posted by sonascope at 12:41 PM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Feh on this world of the future--I'm cookin' dinner at my house. Who's in?

I would say I'm coming round to yours for dinner, but that'd come close to ordering my food on a tablet. (Also, I already cooked and ate some very nice chicken legs and maize couscous)
posted by ambrosen at 12:52 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's no excuse for bad/oblivious service anywhere. Also I kind of suspect the people complaining about having to wait a whole 5 minutes for something have never, ever worked service in their lives. You're juggling between 5 and 20 tables in your head, and every single one of them has their own idiosyncracies and mods to menu items and are generally all each individual special snowflakes that all require different handling.

Sure--but all you're pointing out is why a tablet will likely do the job better. I mean, "remembering what each person at every table wants" is precisely the sort of thing a human finds hard but a tablet hardly needs the processing power of a 1980s calculator to pull off. And, yeah, it would be trivially easy to program an app that lets you specify exactly which courses you want when and so forth.

The thing I've always dreamed of in restaurants is a little "I need service now" light at the table. I simply cannot count the number of times I've desperately tried to catch the waiter's eye, either because we're ready to order or we're ready to pay or something in the order isn't quite right or we need a new fork or knife or what have you. Precisely because waiters are "juggling between 5 and 20 tables" in their heads they're very resistant to catching patron's eyes "out of sequence"--they don't want to be forced to break their routine and deal with something new and disruptive. (One of the worst is when you ask for just a minute more to decide on your order--you can guarantee that you won't see that waiter again for a quarter of an hour). A little light on a pole (or suspended from the ceiling) above each table that signaled when you needed something would be great. But this tablet would be even better: you don't have to waste someone's time running over to your table, finding out what you want, going away and telling someone what it is (or attending to it themselves and coming back again). You just make known exactly what you want ("new fork," "a second glass of the Cabernet," "the bill" etc.) and someone comes and deals with it.
posted by yoink at 12:52 PM on June 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Do you guys in the USA not have the credit card/debit card wireless machines that can be taken to every table?

I've never seen it here, though every place I go to in Canada seems to have them. It seems like a better system, unless there are security issues or something like that.

Huh. I use these all the time at multiple grocery stores and Home Depot, and I've never had a problem.

The latest issue I had was finding out you can't buy alcohol at the self-serve line, which is maybe obvious (think of the children!) but it wasn't to me and it caused all kinds of fuss and backed up the line. I was That Person, unfortunately.

The Home Depot ones work ok as long as everything has a bar code.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:53 PM on June 21, 2014


Sure--but all you're pointing out is why a tablet will likely do the job better.

If by 'better' you mean impersonally and putting a skilled worker out of work, sure. I for one, should I encounter tablets such as these, will flat out refuse to use them--the tablet can't tell me which allergens the food has come into contact unless someone programs it that way, which is pretty unlikely. A server either knows or can say "Let me just check with the kitchen." (Because allergens aren't limited to what's actually in the food. Is the food cooked in something else that's also been used to cook peanuts or walnuts or pecans? That's me reaching for my epi-pen and refusing to pay for the meal because the ambulance will be here in five minutes).

I thought we were supposed to be creating jobs, not killing them?

though every place I go to in Canada seems to have them. It seems like a better system, unless there are security issues or something like that.

There aren't any security issues I'm afraid of. And wouldn't you prefer to see the server swipe the card in front of your eyes instead of disappearing with it?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:00 PM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


Do you guys in the USA not have the credit card/debit card wireless machines that can be taken to every table?

My favorite taquieria has one, and my coffee shop. But they're both small non-chain restaurants so maybe it is a better deal for them in some way?
posted by winna at 1:05 PM on June 21, 2014


The thing I've always dreamed of in restaurants is a little "I need service now" light at the table.

You know, I am sure I've seen this, but I can't for the life of me think where, or whether it was a chain...
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:08 PM on June 21, 2014


Was it in Denmark? I've heard that you can hoist a little flag over your table when service is required.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:16 PM on June 21, 2014


If by 'better' you mean impersonally and putting a skilled worker out of work, sure.

Well, yeah. You know, just like the car you drive has put all those horse breeders and groomers out of work and the email you use has put all those "messenger boys" and mail carriers and telegraph operators out of work, and the phone you use has put all those switchboard operators out of work etc. etc. etc. It seems a bit arbitrary to choose this one profession out of the thousands upon thousands that you have happily participated in the killing of (or benefited from the killing of without staging any kind of heroic "bring back the telegraph operators!" campaign) and say "no, the taking of food orders and the carrying of them from the kitchen to the table is the one sacred duty that must always and forever employ the maximum possible number of people!"

I for one, should I encounter tablets such as these, will flat out refuse to use them--the tablet can't tell me which allergens the food has come into contact unless someone programs it that way, which is pretty unlikely.

I would guess that these tablets are actually more likely to provide reliable information on that kind of thing than waitstaff (who are notoriously crappy--according to all my friends with serious allergies--at fully grasping the exact difference between genuine "allergies" and simple customer preferences). Put the wrong information in your tablet and you're just begging for a lawsuit; have the waiter screw up and there's a lot of fuzzy "did you actually make it clear you were allergic" territory for the restaurant owner to hide behind. But be that as it may, I don't think anyone is saying that there should be no person in the restaurant at all. I would think that a button saying "I need to talk to a waiter" would be a pretty easy fix for your particular anxiety.
posted by yoink at 1:16 PM on June 21, 2014 [11 favorites]


Was it in Denmark? I've heard that you can hoist a little flag over your table when service is required.

Oh God, I would LOVE that. They could give you the full nautical alphabet to play with. "ENGLAND EXPECTS EVERY MAN TO BRING THE DESSERT CART."
posted by yoink at 1:18 PM on June 21, 2014 [14 favorites]


Was it in Denmark? I've heard that you can hoist a little flag over your table when service is required.

Norway, maybe...
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:22 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Was it in Denmark? I've heard that you can hoist a little flag over your table when service is required.

At Pancho's Mexican Buffet, you raise a flag to receive your sopapillas when you're done with dinner.

I also used to live near a little Korean Sushi-Karaoke place that, during karaoke, used a light-up coaster on each table to beckon a server.

I'm pretty sure there was an option on the Ziosk to alert someone to come to the table as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:37 PM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


Please, no more crap on the table. That pad with stand thing looks huge, plus in the photo there are still folded cardboard menu ads. It doesn't at least replace those?
posted by R. Mutt at 1:38 PM on June 21, 2014


I've never worked in a restaurant and I'll admit I don't eat out too often, but I don't like some of the classist comments I've seen upthread. A lot of "Well I wouldn't but you know they're catering to a 'certain type' of customer". As to the concept itself it seems fine enough if it works in some restaurants and if it improves it will probably expand. And other places it probably won't. But I don't think the specific restaurant or the finances of the people that eat there should matter.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:41 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


We went to a Chilis a couple of weeks ago, at the request of my son. I hadn't experienced the "ziosk experience", but I left less than pleased, and pretty much vowed to avoid Chilis in the future. My "waiter" was snippy about it, and banged the ziosk down in front of us like 4 times, every time we moved it to face away from the table, and flagged for him (he was doing nothing, but chatting up another server about 2 feet from us). He didn't want to take our order, he didn't check on drink levels, there was zero "service", and yet they still expect me to tip 20%? (I'm a very generous tipper as a rule, like most of us, I did my stint in restaurant jobs.)

And then the insistence that we pay via the ziosk...which is problematic if you carry cash. And significantly problematic if you have any security chops. At least at our location, the ziosk was running on an unsecured wireless. (I did point out to the manager that if I wanted to, I could login to the network labeled as the ziosk network, not their client network, by using the easiest to guess password in the history of guesses, via an android device. He shrugged.)

Put my credit card across a system that insecure, and pay a 20% premium to be ignored by waiters that expect me to tip them for doing fuckall? Yeah...gonna give Chili's a pretty big pass from here on in. But I guarantee you that wardrivers will find, and hack those ziosk networks and slurp up hundreds and hundreds of cards at a time.
posted by dejah420 at 1:42 PM on June 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


I mean, "remembering what each person at every table wants" is precisely the sort of thing a human finds hard

a notebook and a pen can help with that
posted by pyramid termite at 1:53 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


yoink, you're welcome to your opinion but I can pretty much guarantee I've seen a lot more of the 'backstage' work at a restaurant than you have.

These may seem like neat toys for a bit, but they are no substitute for the human interaction, on a whole variety of levels.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:59 PM on June 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Protip: get your credit card/cash out of your wallet before you flag down the waiter to ask for your bill. Then hand it to her when you ask, she'll do her thing and you can just sign and leave. Speeds things up considerably.
posted by skewed at 2:02 PM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Was it in Denmark? I've heard that you can hoist a little flag over your table when service is required.

At Pancho's Mexican Buffet, you raise a flag to receive your sopapillas when you're done with dinner.


At Pancho's Mexican Buffet, you only go through the buffet line once, after that, EVERY TIME YOU WANT SOMETHING ELSE, you raise the flag, and they come and ask what you want and bring you whatever you ask for. It's one of my favorite features of that restaurant. Since you've already paid for your meal at the front end, there is no waiting for the check. There is just flagging for more food until it's time to leave.
posted by hippybear at 2:45 PM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


The latest issue I had was finding out you can't buy alcohol at the self-serve line

Where I live you can; the worker attending the self-service area just has to make sure you're old enough (via visual inspection or carding) and then waive their badge in front of the scanner to authorize you.

I guess I really like self-service things. I find for simple transactions that people have many more failure modes and annoyances. Plus I don't have to make inane chitchat or whatever. If I could get some sort of auto-self-hairstyling service that would be the ne plus ultra for me.
posted by jeoc at 2:58 PM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


yoink, you're welcome to your opinion but I can pretty much guarantee I've seen a lot more of the 'backstage' work at a restaurant than you have.

And that's relevant how, exactly? This is solely relevant to the "frontstage" part of the proceedings. I've had plenty of experience of dealing with waiters and I know it to be simply a fact that in 99 cases out of a hundred the acts of "placing my order" and "paying for my meal" and "soliciting attention for special requests" would be quicker and easier on a tablet than they are in the conventional situation.

Perhaps you're going to say something along the lines of "aha! but you don't know all the super-complicated, quasi-magical things the waitperson does after they go back through the kitchen doors! They don't just take your order back and then carry the food out to you when it's ready!" But the point you're missing is that I'm talking about the tablet purely as a supplement to the table/waiter interface (the interface with whose functioning and malfunctioning I am intimately familiar). If the waiter servers a crucial function behind the kitchen doors then great--there's no reason to remove that function. Have the iPad relay the order to a largely "backstage" waitperson and have them perform their wizardry in response to the order they receive via the iPad. But I'm not, then, at the mercy of the waiter's ability to recognize that I'm trying to solicit their attention. I can just order my meal (or my bill, or my extra fork, or my new napkin or my second glass of wine or what have you) and carry on with my conversation, without any of that awkward craning my head around to see where the waiter's got to and waiting until they finish taking the order from that table over on the other side of the restaurant so I've got a chance to catch their eye and OH DAMN, they didn't look in my direction, so now I'm waiting for them to re-emerge from the kitchen and, sorry, what were you saying? Oh, and I've pretty much finished the plate I wanted to have that second glass of wine with etc. etc. etc.
posted by yoink at 4:32 PM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


but they are no substitute for the human interaction

Once your order is taken, most of the "human interaction" consists of the server interrupting your conversation by barking "how we doin' over here?" on their way to somewhere else. Which they do precisely once and you cannot get their attention at any other time.

Though my current favorite is the guy -- in an otherwise quite decent restaurant, I guess you can't get the help these days -- who stood off about eight feet and with the worst used-car-salesman smile I've ever seen, literally yelled "HOW'S YOUR FOOD TASTING????"

Bonus points for the guy who, when you give him two twenties for a $24 check, asks you if you're going to want your change. Or really, ever asks that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:49 PM on June 21, 2014


I've now crossed back into blue collar from my five year stint in the middle class,...

As an aside, it's a measure of how things have degraded that you can reasonably make that distinction. Time was, a large segment of the middle class worked blue-collar jobs. They had the income to do all the middle-class stuff - two cars, own their home. Some even did it on one income.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:50 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, "blue collar" is a type of job, not a class distinction. There are historically plenty of blue collar jobs which are entirely middle class in lifestyle, and plenty of white collar jobs which fall short of middle class.

If you're working in an office, you're white collar. If you're working in a warehouse or factory or anywhere that using your physical body is more important to the job than your ability to work a keyboard or shuffle paper, you're blue collar.
posted by hippybear at 4:59 PM on June 21, 2014


I'm working in overalls with a hammer danglin' and have been eating my peanut butter sandwiches on the roof, so I'm both blue collar and, according to income, no longer in the middle class. Hoping to rejoin the lower middle class at some point, but for now, my fashionable dinners will be largely devoid of a Ziosk.
posted by sonascope at 5:46 PM on June 21, 2014


There is a restaurant in the Crown Center in Kansas City that has meals delivered by a system of miniature trains. We are almost to only needing servers to circulate for drink refills.
posted by honeybee413 at 6:16 PM on June 21, 2014


You know, I am sure I've seen this, but I can't for the life of me think where, or whether it was a chain...

This is a thing in some Korean restaurants. I've seen it in a fried-chicken chain in Koreatown in LA. (And the first place I ever saw tablets at the table was at a restaurant started by a former Google chef in Palo Alto.)
posted by asterix at 6:22 PM on June 21, 2014


There is a restaurant in the Crown Center in Kansas City that has meals delivered by a system of miniature trains.

This is apparently somewhat common.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:57 PM on June 21, 2014


So the real point of these is to allow the customer to avoid having to look a fellow human being in the eye and say "I'd like to order 3500 calories please.".

That was the first thing I thought of: I'm on Weight Watchers, which I normally don't even have to think about. I got stuck in the Calgary airport with nowhere to eat but a Chili's, and had one of the nastiest shocks of my life when I checked their website and realized that my not-particularly tasty, not-especially large burger (just the burger, no fries) had more points than I had used over the previous three days.

I will never go back. I don't know what they do to that food, but I don't trust it.
posted by jrochest at 7:11 PM on June 21, 2014


I don't know what they do to that food, but I don't trust it.

I just looked up their calorie chart. Woah, that is some seriously calorically dense food. The lightest appetizer is, counterintuitively, the fried cheese, which (if I'm adding correctly) alone is almost as much as my entire dinner tonight, and my dinner wasn't small.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:38 PM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


The thing I've always dreamed of in restaurants is a little "I need service now" light at the table.

This is a thing in some Korean restaurants.


Yup, this is not unusual in Korean restaurants in LA. My favorite KBBQ place has two or three different buttons at each table; one of them has a little dollar sign on it and means that you're ready for the check. Whenever I go there I find myself wishing that every restaurant had them.
posted by heisenberg at 7:52 PM on June 21, 2014


I always prefer the resulting total of check plus tip to be a whole dollar amount

I'm sure the servers love that extra $0.61 when they're cashing out for the evening.


If four customers a night rounded up, and you worked four nights a week, that comes to about five hundred dollars a year. For some people, that is a good chunk of change.
posted by mecran01 at 8:18 PM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


So, do these take the place of the "Special XTreeeme Burger!" of the month card stand, and the "Frozen, vaguely fruit flavoured frozen alco-pop" card and the "Death by Mega Chocolate Caramel Sugar Mountain" dessert pop-up?

'Cause every chain I've been in lately, the table has been pretty damn crowded, if they stick a tablet on it as well, I'm not sure where they're gonna put the food.
posted by madajb at 8:38 PM on June 21, 2014


yoink - The thing I've always dreamed of in restaurants is a little "I need service now" light at the table.

You would like Bubba Gump's, where every table comes with a flippable sign for just that purpose.
posted by madajb at 8:54 PM on June 21, 2014


I'm agnostic on the use of these for this species of restaurant. I've worked in foodservice pretty much everywhere on the spectrum from Burger King drivethrus to a Michelin rated place with a wine cellar and sommelier service. I've worked at these sorts of shitty chain pieces-of-flair places, though thankfully not within the past two decades, and from my observations, for the demographic that mostly frequents the informal chain subset of the genre, I can absolutely see tablet service both being appreciated by the patrons and it also being way less of a pain in the ass for everyone else involved in the transaction.

you know I get why people want to defend jobs in the service industry but the thing is that at the sort of place that Chili's is, I really have a hard time defending these jobs as anything but the godawfulest form of purgatory imaginable, and I've done them. There is literally NO reward to being a good server to be had at these sorts of joints because the patrons don't tip well to start with, you're paid less than minimum wage anyhow, and if you do prove you can handle yourself, you get given more and more tables until you're overwhelmed, to make up for the fact that half the rest of the staff is slacking or just can't hang. It's a real race to the bottom mentality. There's just this unholy intersection of terrible management, bad service ethic, ineffectual staff training, high turnover, mediocre food and last but not least there's this patron demographic that is just a weird combination of a ball of impatience, bizarrely high expectations and special everything demands, plus it contains the highest proportion of flat out abusive-to-service-class types in the restaurant industry. I cannot tell you how much we used to dread being scheduled on the Sunday after-church brunch shift - it was effective punishment if you got it regularly. 5% tips were the least of our woes.

yeah most of the EU does it right in my experience by having a policy of never taking your credit card out of your direct view - most Europeans I've gone to restaurants here with are positively horrified by the concept of giving their CC to a stranger to walk off with. Here in Boulder, several of the indie / hip restaurants (plus I think all our local coffeeshops or at least the ones I frequent) have started using Square tableside pay service recently and I went to a Korean place in Oakland, CA a couple weeks ago that had it too. So maybe it's a progressive thing?

most of the server-takes-check deal in the US a perception thing that leads back to "service" - it's yet another hoop the server has to jump through to "earn" their 20% or whatever. If you have to pay at the register when you leave, that's viewed as a "diner" or "cafeteria" (low-class) thing, because you didn't force the server to read your mind and figure out when you were done.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:06 PM on June 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


DipFlash -- The lightest appetizer is, counterintuitively, the fried cheese, which (if I'm adding correctly) alone is almost as much as my entire dinner tonight, and my dinner wasn't small.

Yeah: it makes me wonder what the hell they've done to it to get it that high. The lowest calorie/points value main is the sirloin steak, which is still absurdly high -- but at least it's believable.
posted by jrochest at 11:35 PM on June 21, 2014


About the spending-more-when-ordering-with-a-tablet thing: I totally do that. But, only because the tablet shows me a nice tally of everything I've ordered so far thus allowing me to judge wether I can afford more.
posted by AxelT at 12:39 AM on June 22, 2014




I'm convinced that a good portion of the pay-with-card wankery in US restaurants is due to the (general) absence of two factor authentication for credit & debit cards. US banks don't actually give a shit about security, so EU/UK-style chip & pin cards aren't worth the expense of the tech infrastructure. Tableside credit card machines are largely the rule elsewhere because the server hands you the unit with your card in it so you can enter your pin. The US version of "I'm going to present a reasonable facsimile of the signature on the back of this card and you're going to pretend you can discern it's really me thereby" is just stupid as fuck.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:56 AM on June 22, 2014


I don't understand why there is so little discussion of Basic Income here on MetaFilter. People are decrying the loss of these jobs as if there isn't anything to solve the problem. We need to enter the 21st century with solutions--Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness demand Universal Healthcare and Basic Income. Basic Income is a Homestead Act for the Millennial generation and beyond.
posted by GregorWill at 2:51 AM on June 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Some general things:

Basically nothing is sterile. I'm sure it is possible to wipe down the tablets as often as the tables themselves are wiped down. Perhaps even with the same dirty rag!

Maybe US restaurant-style payment is related to tipping. Where I live, they bring the card machine to the table, but if you want to add a tip to the card you have to tell the server. This is not awkward if you are leaving a good tip (which here means leaving a tip). US-style, you can do it in secret and leave before interacting with the server again. On the flip-side, using a PIN requires the customer, server or cashier and machine to be in the same place, either at the counter or at the table.

One of my initial thoughts was that this system was probably good for a place like Chili's, where in some ways the service is just a pale imitation of what you would want at a really nice restaurant. But, if Chili's is a nice restaurant for you and you're taking a date there or something, I could see wanting a server rather than a tablet. This may be a small/unimportant part of their customer base. Also, after thinking about it, I have had great service at casual places like brewpubs quite often.
posted by snofoam at 3:58 AM on June 22, 2014


I have never been to a Chili's, I have never had a desire to go to a Chili's...

but I now want to go to Chili's to see how this works.

Damn you, technology.
posted by kinetic at 4:39 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Recently I went to a (fairly high end, actually) restaurant that had an iPad-based drink menu. It worked well for the first round, but then abruptly locked up with some sort of communications failure. The menu software kept you from exiting to the regular iPod screen, so you couldn't restart it, and none of the servers knew what to do.

Eventually, a manager brought out the "backup paper menu".

Solution looking for a problem while causing its own.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:04 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Eventually, a manager brought out the "backup paper menu".
Solution looking for a problem while causing its own.


A few years ago, a local pub, which features a good, rotating selection of microbrews on-tap, replaced their usual print-out menu of the current selection, with a card on the table emblazoned with a big QR code. You were expected to then, pull out your smartphone (provided you had one) snap a shot of the QR code, run it through your QR code app (if you had one. If not, downloading one is another step), then make a selection from the beer menu the code takes you to. Just to order a frigging beer.

They, too, had to search around the place for a paper beer menu when I explained that I couldn't play along with the cool kids. Thankfully, this "solution" quickly and quietly disappeared.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:38 AM on June 22, 2014


yoink, you completely and totally missed my point but I am uninterested in having an argument about it with you.

Thorzdad, that's just... stupid. It's like a startup trying to run on synergy buzzwords without considering how what they do actually functions.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:48 AM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't like some of the classist comments I've seen upthread. A lot of "Well I wouldn't but you know they're catering to a 'certain type' of customer".

I hear you, but the reality is that the data set we refer to as "restaurants" includes an overly broad set of businesses that do, in fact, cater to different classes of customer. Those customers have different expectations, which means restaurants need to focus on different things and can or cannot opt for certain things (early-bird specials, vegetarian options, tasting menus) depending on what type of customer they're...well, catering to.

It's a definitional problem. We don't object when Old Navy sells different products than Nordstrom, which in turn provides far different service. But with food service we use this big umbrella of a word, "restaurants," that we pretend is all-encompassing. It's why we get a bunch of people insisting in a thread about Alinea that crying babies are to be expected. These people think they know what they're talking about because they go to "restaurants" all the time.

Having said that. A few people have noted the impatience on display in this thread, but honestly what I see are a lot of people who just don't appear to like restaurants. Sure, you like certain aspects—presumably the ability to choose from a variety of dishes on a whim without shopping or cooking—but mostly you don't seem to like the experience. That's fine, I suppose. If there are enough of you, the industry will evolve. (As it has been.) My guess is that places at the level of Chili's, Applebee's, TGI Friday's, etc might implement things like these Ziosks and anything else that can minimize error, maximize sales, ease social anxiety, and generally nudge the whole tier as close as possible to "fast food" without dipping into that label's stigma.

Because really, that's what it sounds like many of you want. I'm sure you want better quality than McDonald's, and a different menu. And probably not have to think of yourselves as "fast food customers." But that's the model you're describing.
posted by cribcage at 9:07 AM on June 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


Because really, that's what it sounds like many of you want. I'm sure you want better quality than McDonald's, and a different menu. And probably not have to think of yourselves as "fast food customers." But that's the model you're describing.

Right. "Fast food" in the sense that we want to sit and choose from a thoughtfully prepared menu of creative and original dishes, eat a meal that has been carefully prepared in response to our particular order, linger over the meal with our fellow diners, receive prompt attention from the waitstaff when we have particular needs to be met etc. etc. etc.

In other words, nothing even the teeniest bit like "fast food"--not even the aspect of ordering from a tablet, because you don't currently do that in a fast food restaurant, either.

Look, it's fine if you find some particular benefit in the traditional restaurant model but you're fetishizing one particular feature of that experience (having to have a person come to your table every time you have some request to make of the waitstaff) which for many, perhaps most, diners is basically irrelevant to what they seek out a restaurant for. I don't go to a restaurant because I'm thinking "yay, I get to speak to a *waiter*!" In fact, the very best waiters are the ones who are, in general, least noticeable. I don't need the waiter to suggest dishes to me (they don't know me, so they don't know what I like); having waiters recite specials from memory is just about the stupidest convention in current restaurant practice (I've never once *not* had some version of this conversation immediately after the waiter leaves: "so...what was the one with the salmon again? Was that the one with the mole? The chicken? Really? I thought that was with plum sauce? etc. etc."--just print the fucking specials out on a slip WITH THE PRICES and tuck it into the menu, for god's sake); asking a waiter details about how a dish is prepared is hit-or-miss (and all that info would be easy to make available on a tablet) etc. etc. etc.

And again, no one is suggesting, so far as I know, that there should be no one available in the restaurant to answer questions or what have you--simply that when you have a simple, straightforward request to make and you're not looking for someone to chat to, a tablet is simply a superior way of doing that than the current situation which requires soliciting your waiter's attention and conveying the request verbally. And in those situations where you do want to consult the waiter, the tablet would allow you to press a "summon waiter" button that instantly lets the waiter know s/he is needed.
posted by yoink at 9:47 AM on June 22, 2014


Eventually, a manager brought out the "backup paper menu".

I don't know why that made me laugh, but it did.
posted by ambivalentic at 10:31 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


yoink, in some tiers of restaurant service, people do, indeed, go to the restaurant to be waited on by quality staff and interact with a knowledgable wine steward. Life and society contains multitudes, y'know. The entire experience at a high-tier place is a well-choreographed social interaction and the service staff at these places receives extensive training in the wine list, the menu, and how to interact appropriately with the patrons. This, as well as the high quality of cuisine, is what you're paying for at $50+ entree and sommelier-catered establishments and it is in main why they even exist. And it is by and large a level to which most restaurant service staff in the US is not trained, but is often held for whatever mysterious reason. I've seen good waitstaff at midrange to low end fast casual corporate places. They frequently only last a few months at best before they burn out, graduate, get promoted to management or work further up the chain to better paying jobs at higher end places.

the problem lies in this intersection where people conflate the term "nice restaurant" to include chain fast-casual places like Chilis, Applebees, Olive Garden, etc, where "cooking" mostly involves microwaving or conveyor grilling pre-prepped high-fat MSG and salt laden slop-inna-box from Sysco or Aramark, the service jobs are dumping grounds for unskilled labor working at starvation rates (yes this is a problem we as a society do need to deal with, I'm not arguing that) and people's feral children run wild in the aisles because there's basically no differentiation in expectations between fast casual places and Chuck E Cheeses.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:37 AM on June 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure anything is being "fetishized" on either side. I'm also not sure I agree with characterizing Chili's as having a thoughtfully prepared menu of creative and original dishes that are prepared with care...but I think that's rather the point. Those are all subjective characterizations that can be applied to anything (you don't think somebody put considerable thought into the taste, texture, shape, and temperature of Chicken McNuggets?), and how you or I apply those labels will speak to our expectations when we walk into what we perceive to be a "restaurant."

In reading this thread, I see a lot more than just complaints that occasionally it's difficult to get a server's attention. There's a contingent expressing a desire to basically eliminate front-of-the-house. They would like to seat themselves wherever, order quickly or casually without delay or conversation, and then pay automatically. That's fine. Just like preferring rock music or pistachio ice cream, it's prerogative. But it is, in fact, wishing that "restaurants" would push toward the fast-food model.

I understand what's wanted is more than what's offered by current fast-food. People want appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts. They want craft beers and a wine list, and unique dishes that are being artfully designed by Lorena Garcia in some faraway kitchen and then meticulously prepared by CIA grads using farm-to-table ingredients. We'll see how that's priced. And no sarcasm: if there are enough of y'all, the industry will evolve to accommodate. But it's more than just wanting the menu displayed on a tablet. It's a fundamental split in conception.
posted by cribcage at 10:55 AM on June 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


A few people have noted the impatience on display in this thread, but honestly what I see are a lot of people who just don't appear to like restaurants.

Dude, I love restaurants. I eat at everything from taco trucks to Michelin starred fine dining restaurants. Sitting and enjoying a culinary experience for hours is among my favorite things to do. Seasonal tasting menu with wine pairings? Bring it on! But when I'm away from home for the tenth day straight in some town I can't even remember the name of, I've been working for twelve hours, and all I want to do is have a meal before I go and crash in my hotel room, my top priority is fast and efficient service.

I envy those of you who can take time and savor the experience every time you go out to eat. I do that as much as I can too. But sometimes I don't have that luxury. And I feel like the pace of my meal should be in my control, not limited by how many tables the manager has decided to saddle the server with. I feel bad for the server, but it doesn't change the fact that I'm starving and exhausted. This isn't impatience. It's life.
posted by primethyme at 11:36 AM on June 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


From The New Yorker: May We Tell You Our Specials This Evening?
We have several.

For an appetizer, the chef has prepared a slaughter of baby salmon on toast points of nine grains—blue corn, barley, rye, chaff, stover, found rice, horse-rolled oats, balsa, and fermented teff flown in daily from Ethiopia—and fancy assorted nuts, which may contain up to ten per cent peanuts. The salmon is very fresh; it was hatched just this morning.
Enjoy!
posted by cenoxo at 11:54 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


A few people have mentioned the problem of customizing an order and surely this application has that functionality. Have you never ordered takeout using Seamless? It's probably close to the same experience. You likely have more of a chance of your order coming out with your preferences correctly executed.
posted by valeries at 8:23 AM on June 23, 2014


But sometimes I don't have that luxury.

That's everybody's circumstance; skip the uphill-both-ways envy. We all starve and exhaust in the exact same 24 hours, every day. We choose and prioritize how to spend them. That's the discussion.

Reading your comment, we're not disagreeing. You're pointing out rationalizations for the fast-food model, and you're exactly right about them—"life" (if you prefer that term to being short on time or general impatience), consistency when you're traveling, not wanting to trust a proprietors' judgment, etc. Those are all fair, and they're why that model exists. They are not, in this context, disagreement or rebuttal. So okay, you dislike restaurants sometimes, and what you want is faster food. The point holds.
posted by cribcage at 9:20 AM on June 23, 2014


A few people have mentioned the problem of customizing an order and surely this application has that functionality. Have you never ordered takeout using Seamless? It's probably close to the same experience. You likely have more of a chance of your order coming out with your preferences correctly executed.


You'd hope!

That feels like less of an issue, actually: whereas the QR code to go to an online beer menu just sounds _awful_, and almost certainly not well optimized for mobile devices. Whereas a dedicated app for a place you visit regularly might work pretty well, if it was nicely designed. But the hassle of designing for lots of different hardware probably means that unless you have access to free app development skills (which may well be the case for a small, boutique place) a dedicated hardware solution might be the best bet.

I guess the halfway house here is something like Breadcrumb, Groupon's PoS solution - which is mainly at the moment a small-company point of sale solution that runs on an iPad, with extra Groupon integration, but could I guess be tweaked to provide a remote ordering service also...
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:31 AM on June 23, 2014


The point holds.
I can't quite figure out what the point is, to be honest. If the point is that some people sometimes eat out for reasons other than wanting a fine dining experience, then yes, that is very true. You seem to be freighting that fact with a bunch of weird baggage, though, and I don't think that most other people share it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:38 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


A very minor point that I'm a little nervous to discover might be a dead point in this modern world...but for young children, my premise is of COURSE crayons and paper are better for their minds than any computer game. If people believe the converse, I am sad forever.
posted by agregoli at 10:57 AM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


The job-loss conversation can start happening when they finally design little mini drones to pick up and take your order to your table. Or your baby back ribs just rises out the counter like in Back to the Future 2, whatever comes first.

Or pneumatic tubes?
posted by ddd at 11:58 AM on June 23, 2014


actually I'll tell you what's really revolutionized the whole dining experience for us here in our little progressive college town and it's not tablet / Square wallet service. It's our local delivery co-op. It's a local enterprise service whereby many of the food places in town, ranging from the sub-and-pizza-shop crowd all the way up to a couple of nice midrange places (plus all the ethnic eateries, so basically any restaurant that already accommodated carryout orders) have collaborated to run a group website whereby you can order a wide range of food choices to be eaten in the comfort of your very own home.

I'm not totally certain what their delivery model is; whether they're using restaurant employees or a pool of delivery drivers to staff it. What I do know is that they are fast, accurate, don't charge exorbitant fees for the service (you have to order a minimum of $20 worth of food which is easy enough with 2 people at today's rates), the drivers seem to be primarily college students, they are always nice and the food is always served hot and undamaged somehow. I've never seen anything like it. It blows GrubHub out of the water, honestly. The web application works well and seamlessly on our browsers, they use 2-part authentication for CC payment, you can pay cash to the driver if you don't have or feel secure using credit, and if there's ever a question of whether something will take longer than 30-40 minutes to deliver to us, they call.

You can add a tip to the order as part of the transaction and they helpfully provide the math right next to the sum, but I always tip the drivers generously in cash, because by providing this service it means that we can have fresh hot pho, salads and wings from the brewpub I like, or sushi from the nice sushi place downtown while we hang out on our patio or watch a movie at home, and it means we don't have to listen to people's loud, unfiltered phone conversations or deal with their obnoxious hellspawn.

I feel like the very fact that our society seems to have gotten fairly liberal with interpretations of public manners and social skills and so on means that this sort of delivery-on-demand maybe a business model that could, if well implemented, largely take over some of the midrange fast-casual market sector and shift the primary service job model from "waitron" to "deliverytron". I've seen these same sorts of co-ops in use in a few other towns (Flagstaff has a locally-run variant that we recently used on a road trip and it would seem a number of hotel chains are generally starting to replace their room service with various similar schemes - the main barrier to entry seems to be the perception that "delivery service" == cheap shitty pizza or Chinese food).

I'm also kind of ambivalent about this trend because it doesn't do a thing to fix the issues of low wage work; it is very car-dependent (our co-op does use some bike service in central downtown and on campus) and it puts wear and mileage on personal vehicles, etc..., but tbh these vulnerable unskilled / young employees are ALREADY being exploited at the hands of the service industry and to fix that we're going to have to have a whole big nasty sociopolitical donnybrook with the nation at large and frankly it doesn't seem like anyone's listening. To be fair I also have and use an Amazon Prime account so it would be hypocritical to deny that I'm immune to the lure of privileged expediency that stands on the shoulders of the vulnerable.

le sigh.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:59 AM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm also not sure I agree with characterizing Chili's as having a thoughtfully prepared menu of creative and original dishes that are prepared with care...

No one so characterized it. You claimed that those of us who like the idea of using a tablet to order from are the kind of people who really want a fast food experience and don't want the true fine dining, restaurant experience. I was pointing out that you're incorrect in that assumption. I love fine dining--it's just that the things I love about it have pretty much nothing to do with having a waiter *have* to come to my table should I want anything.

Perhaps you only ever dine at the highest of high-end (and rather old-fashioned) restaurants where there are a superabundance of waitstaff eying every table like hawks looking for the first hint of a raised head or an empty glass or an interrogative glance, so you're unaware of the annoyances I'm talking about--but I can assure you that I've encountered this problem in restaurants of every other description and every price range all over the world--and it's a common enough problem to be a staple of cartoons and sitcoms and so forth.

And I'm not talking simply about "bad service"--the kind of situation where your table ends up so severely neglected that you're tempted to just walk out. I'm talking about the kind of thing that happens every third or fourth time I dine out--especially in any larger group. You order a drink with a certain dish and your neighbor doesn't. Then they try a sip of yours and decide they'd like to have one after all--but there's a surprisingly small window of time in which the ability to pair the drink you want with the hot main dish you've got sitting right in front of you is actually a viable option. If you look for your waiter when your friend says "you know what, I think I'll get a glass of that too; it really pairs perfectly with this, doesn't it?" and s/he's taking an order from a table of four people, you might as well forget about it. And that's just one perfectly ordinary, real-world example of the kind of thing that happens over and over and over again ("You know, these pancakes are great, but I'd really like to have some fruit with them"; "Oops, I forgot to ask for cream with the coffee"; "Hang on, the waiter didn't bring the pancakes for the moo shoo pork"' etc. etc. etc.) Having the ability to immediately alert someone that, as soon as the next waitperson is free, you need X or Y (or just need to ask a question of someone) would be a really significant improvement over the current system.

As for Chili's--I've never eaten in one and don't imagine I ever will.
posted by yoink at 12:34 PM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


i don't know you guys I'm okay with just waiting for ten minutes
posted by The Whelk at 12:44 PM on June 23, 2014


i don't know you guys I'm okay with just waiting for ten minutes

Well, it's nice for you that you're so patient and that you don't care whether your food goes cold and that you don't care that your conversation is being blitzed by the constant game of "where's the waiter NOW, and will they see me trying to catch their attention" and so forth. But what I don't understand is why those of us who are bugged by such things shouldn't be accommodated with this easy and obviously sensible fix. I mean, you always have the option of letting your food go cold before you choose to push the "summon waiter" button if that's something you actively enjoy, but I don't see how anyone can argue that the system in which you occasionally have to sit for 10 minutes hoping someone looks in your direction in order to get service is actually better than one in which you have a means of immediately communicating your needs right there on the table.
posted by yoink at 12:49 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


You claimed that those of us who like the idea of using a tablet to order from are the kind of people who really want a fast food experience and don't want the true fine dining, restaurant experience.

Did I. Let's take a look. "A few people have noted the impatience on display in this thread, but honestly what I see are a lot of people who just don't appear to like restaurants." I do indeed see that on display in this thread. I see a lot more than just, "Hey, tablets, neat." If you don't, hey, agree to disagree.

But what you're describing is a different problem. It's somewhat more of a MeTa issue because it happens a lot, but it's pertinent here. A thread goes on for some time, and people chime in with all kinds of slightly different angles. An argument is presented, concurred, buttressed, extended, and onward. Then somebody comes along taking issue with some of that tailspin, and invariably someone from waaaay earlier reads it as not just a direct rebuttal but a personal attack.

When I'm driving, sometimes I hear people honking at each other. Occasionally I can't figure out what's being objected to. On those occasions, I don't roll down my window and justify whatever I was doing. I just assume they weren't honking at me. I shrug and keep driving. I feel like that's a good strategy generally, and due respect, maybe more so if I found myself arguing in a thread about a restaurant I had no intention of ever visiting.
posted by cribcage at 1:10 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


When I'm driving, sometimes I hear people honking at each other. Occasionally I can't figure out what's being objected to.

They're trying to get the attention of their servers, obviously.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:21 PM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Did I. Let's take a look.

Yes, shall we? Oh, here we go:
Because really, that's what it sounds like many of you want. I'm sure you want better quality than McDonald's, and a different menu. And probably not have to think of yourselves as "fast food customers." But that's the model you're describing.
posted by yoink at 1:25 PM on June 23, 2014


I feel like that's a good strategy generally, and due respect, maybe more so if I found myself arguing in a thread about a restaurant I had no intention of ever visiting.

You quoted from one of my comments and commented directly on it. I pointed out that you were mischaracterizing what I was saying. If you aren't interested in engaging the particular line of argument I've brought to this thread, that's fine, but when you quote one of my comments that's hardly analogous to me hearing "honking" and assuming it must somehow be about me.
posted by yoink at 1:28 PM on June 23, 2014


You've got that backward. Read again.
posted by cribcage at 1:36 PM on June 23, 2014


guys, it's just food. Let's be cool.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:46 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


A very minor point that I'm a little nervous to discover might be a dead point in this modern world...but for young children, my premise is of COURSE crayons and paper are better for their minds than any computer game. If people believe the converse, I am sad forever.

I ate at one of these tablet-based restaurants of the future (Applebee's, IIRC) with my daughter a couple weeks ago. She made me play some kind of would-you-rather question game with her on the tablet that actually prompted some interesting conversations. Crayons are great and all but it isn't a given that the less technologically advanced child-distraction option is always more enriching and virtuous.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:51 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Chipotle is trying to sell you homogeneous iterations of the same food at every location while giving you the vague emotional sense that you're in closer contact with the food preparation and the supply chain than you really are. Chili's and the other casual dining places are about concealing that stuff entirely, keeping the work off-site and the assembly line in a closed kitchen while they sell you the stock photo or the icon of a consumable.

This is so smugly off-point, if only for trying to get away with implying that Chili's uses stock photos for their own food. And yes, standing in front of someone and telling them how you want your burrito assembled in a building covered with livestock origin disclaimers is literally in closer contact with the food preparation and the supply chain than not having those things (maybe meant to use "vague emotional sense" for the phrase "than you really are"?).

Also, sure chain restaurants differ from traditional ones in the way they develop their menus and supply each store in a nation/region ensure that they all sell the same things; but their kitchens are just kitchens. Just cooks preparing dishes using provided ingredients, according to provided recipes.
posted by deathmaven at 2:08 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


All I will say is that the last time I ate at Chili's, I ended up pretty immediately food poisoned so badly that I entirely missed seeing My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult on their 25-year anniversary tour. Got midway through the second warmup band and felt so awful I left the venue, puked in the gutter twice on my way to my car, again once I got to my car, and had to pull over once on the way home to retch by the side of the road. Spent two very unhappy days recovering from that, PLUS the to-this-day lingering anger about missing what should have been an amazing show.

Since then I've eschewed any and all of those mass-market chain restaurants where they prepare the food elsewhere so it can be finished-off and served to you in some generic "experience" of atmosphere. The only reason they are popular is that they offer homogeneity across the country, and they do so at a price. One which some customers pay for at risk to their health.
posted by hippybear at 12:01 AM on June 24, 2014


This is so smugly off-point, if only for trying to get away with implying that Chili's uses stock photos for their own food.

If Chili's is at all like other chain restaurants, they certainly use food advertising-style photos that are consistent across locations. Food advertising photos use various methods to promise food that is both homogeneous across locations and impossibly vidsually attractive. So yes, Chili's uses a bank of internal stock photos of its dishes, goosed with visual trickery, on its menus. That's what they're selling you.

And yes, standing in front of someone and telling them how you want your burrito assembled in a building covered with livestock origin disclaimers is literally in closer contact with the food preparation and the supply chain than not having those things (maybe meant to use "vague emotional sense" for the phrase "than you really are"?).

About that….

It turns out that large-scale, consistent food marketing and supply chains don't always work out as you'd wish.

When Chipotle outgrows its preferred supply chain, it will do what it has to to, albeit transparently, to keep going.
Yet the same rare meat that Chipotle's success depends upon may threaten its future growth and profitability. Due to price hikes and scarcity, Chipotle's periodically served conventional meat in regional store locations, and warns that it may do so with higher frequency in the near future. Combined with Chipotle's January announcement that it may raise menu prices mid-year (due to natural meat and dairy's cost), the company faces an uphill struggle.... As Chipotle continues to expand faster than small farmers can get into the natural meat business, the company's demanding more of a commodity that's already in short supply, which drives up market prices in the short term. That's why Chipotle's had to consider raising prices as well as serving conventional meat -- the combination of which may deter customers for reasons both economical and personal.
Also, sure chain restaurants differ from traditional ones in the way they develop their menus and supply each store in a nation/region ensure that they all sell the same things; but their kitchens are just kitchens. Just cooks preparing dishes using provided ingredients, according to provided recipes.

Most people do not think this sort of thing sounds like a conventional kitchen
posted by kewb at 4:32 AM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


The CTX ad video is pretty interesting. First, because it has hilariously low production values (seriously, is that a tactic? the "amateur" porn of advertising?), but also because it explains where those conveyor ovens that took over chain pizza places came from.

The one job it doesn't seem to replace is the fry cook. No way you're going to eliminate the deep fryer in a typical American restaurant, and that means a fair bit of the food won't be coming out of the CTX anytime soon. You can replace the broiler and the flat-top and the skillet, but until it can produce a decent french fry I don't think it'll be the king of the chain restaurant kitchen.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:33 PM on June 24, 2014


I can't think of a reason that deep-frying would not be easily automated. McBurger places already have the process as simplified as possible for using humans to do it, with rote moves and timers. Conveyor belt? No, but there is no magic in making a machine that fills, lowers, raises, and empties a basket of fries or whatever.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:30 AM on June 25, 2014


It's not like your average short-order cook is putting any more thought into your meal than that machine is.
posted by empath at 4:40 AM on June 25, 2014


I'm pretty sure that is not true. I've watched short order cooks many times (several of the restaurants I've enjoyed going to have counter seating with an open kitchen), and they are paying a lot of attention to what they are doing. Even at the busiest of times, when they have several tickets in process at once, they have everything they are cooking present in their mental radar and are checking on it, starting the different pieces of each plate with the right timing so it all comes off together, constantly juggling things....

A good short order cook is a maestro of mental task management, spatial memory, and cooking knowledge. It can be thrilling to watch, because it is so obviously a talent and a skill.
posted by hippybear at 8:20 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Actually I'm a little surprised that McDonalds hasn't replaced all its fryolators with something that looks like a donut making machine. It seems like with a finer metal belt that you could make it work for french fries and it'd be more consistent than the baskets.

They already have fairly clever machines for filling the baskets with fries (PDF), which doesn't seem like the hardest part of the operation.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:10 AM on June 25, 2014


empath: It's not like your average short-order cook is putting any more thought into your meal than that machine is.

hippybear: A good short order cook is a maestro of mental task management, spatial memory, and cooking knowledge. It can be thrilling to watch, because it is so obviously a talent and a skill.

Well said. With fine dining--where most of my experience lies--it's kind of like filming a movie. Everyone has to be ready when the camera rolls, but other than that it is generally measured (if rather brisk and unyielding) pace, and you really usually only have a few things you actually cook.

Short order guys and gals, though... usually it's only them in the kitchen, they're responsible for banging out 90%+ of the menu, and every single SO cook I've ever gotten into industry conversation with has just as much pride in what they do, and just as much professionalism in how they do it, as anyone working in a *** resto.

In any restaurant it's the job of the cook/s to bang out the right food at the right time to the right tables. Some places require more juggling than others, and if you're in fine dining (or even relatively casual dining that actually has a real kitchen, not bung it in Chef Mike for three minutes), you have plenty of other people to assist you with the juggling. SO cooks rarely have a team behind them.

(And, just as a nitpick, unless you're actually the exec, sous, or de cuisine, de partie etc, you're a cook. Most of the really, really good execs refer to themselves as cooks. Unfortunately there's something of a social stigma around being a 'cook' as opposed to 'chef'--which translates, literally, to 'chief'--and so most of us in the industry just go along with the mooing crowd and call ourselves chefs. There are far more SO cooks who are chiefs in their kitchens than there are chefs qua chefs. /rant)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:17 PM on June 26, 2014


Kadin, the only reason I can think of for McD's not doing that (I'd guarantee they've looked at it) is those systems are really only good for continuous output. And the variability of the fries at McD's is either one of: workers ignoring the timer on the fry machine, or leaving fries under the heat lamp longer than the manual dictates.

So I could see, for example, the McD's on Times Square (there's still one there right?) using an automatic system like that because afaik they'd be busy every minute they're open, so it makes sense.

Another objection would be that with a standard deep frying machine you can fry anything, you just need to hit the right timer. With one of those doughnut making machines, you'd need different ones operating at different speeds to cook hash browns, McNuggets, McChicken, Filet o Fish, etc. Under their current system it's just a matter of using a specialized basket and pressing go on the timer.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:22 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


It was the prospect of frying different foods that had me using baskets instead of a conveyor.

For about 30 years, there have been machine tools that can be programmed to select and load different cutting tools, make precision cuts with them using different feeds and speeds, and even load and unload the workpieces.

If restaurants already have specialized baskets for different fried food, programming the automated fryer to pick, fill, and cook the right one in response to a button should be pretty easy.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:24 PM on June 26, 2014


I have a feeling that humans are easier to clean, and cheaper to replace.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:54 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


How It's Fried — Frymaster 1814 Electric (and Gas) High-Production Fryers:
Five Factors for FitFrying (the right fryer, oil, food, cooking, and maintenance).
1814 Series Fryers demo video
Fry Station Management Boilout Procedure
FAQ
Glossary
There's a lot of technology, work, skill, and danger behind the quest for the perfect French Fry.
posted by cenoxo at 3:19 PM on June 26, 2014


Seen today in a link list: Why waiters should be replaced with iPads. (NY Post.)
posted by immlass at 8:11 AM on June 30, 2014


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