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Enter the e-waiter.

From tips to clicks, restaurants are trying e-menus.

by: Rebecca Harrison | 26 Feb 2008

Restaurants in Europe, the United States and Japan are testing technology to let diners order their food direct from a screen at their table instead of depending on a fellow human being to note their choice – sometimes grumpily or erroneously.

Besides cutting costs, companies that sell the "e-menu" argue the bytes-for-bites approach has a novelty value that can lure younger customers, and boost revenues as tantalising photographs of succulent steaks and gooey desserts tempt diners to order more.

It also could extend the TV dinner. How about a computer-game dinner?

The idea may be only the latest gimmick in a trade which is driven by consumer appetites and where fads help. But at least for now, it appears to be boosting business.

In Israel, privately owned start-up Conceptic has already installed e-Menu technology in sushi bars, pubs and family restaurants. The system is based on touch-screens already used in self-service canteens or for ticketing in airports and cinemas.

The firm has also supplied its systems to restaurants in France, South Africa and Belgium.

Transformation tech?
In Japan, a company called Aska T3 has produced a similar system. But the field is attracting more than start-ups.

Microsoft says its new Microsoft Surface system, which transforms an entire table into one big touch-screen, is due to go live in spring 2008 in some US hotels and casinos, letting customers order food direct as well as play music and games.

The Seattle-based giant says on its Web site it will "transform the way people shop, dine, entertain and live". Both Conceptic and Microsoft argue their examples of interactive and communal technology represent the future.

But many diners doubt the e-menu idea will take off.

"I don't believe in screens, I believe in humans," said businessman Yoash Torkman as he lunched at Frame. "I'll wait for 15 minutes for a waitress instead of using this. It's a gimmick and gimmicks have very short lives."

"See this man here? He's been coming here for 25 years," said a waitress at Italian restaurant Rosticceria Fiorentina in Brussels, who gave her name only as Giovanna.

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