Regarding All These iPads and Screens in Restaurants

Can't you just use a pen and paper?
Can’t you just use a pen and paper? Photo: iStock Photo

It was all the rage in 2010 to put your wine list onto iPads. Barbacco did it. Even the French Laundry did it! Since then, startup businesses like Sightglass Coffee have been using the devices as cash registers using a simple credit-card-swipey plug-in, and more restaurants are employing other types of tablets and hand-held computers to take orders from customers. This morning finds Mr. Bauer complaining about the practice at Bluestem Brasserie, where he’s already made at least one visit for an upcoming review, and it might just make restaurateurs reconsider getting too techie on us.

To wit:

How would you feel about a waiter standing over your table and texting while you’re trying to order your meal? That’s essentially what happens at the brand new Bluestem on Market near Fourth Street… Each waiter has a hand-held computer about twice the size of a Blackberry. Instead of a pad and paper or a very good memory, the server hovers over you and punches in your order.

It feels like he’s texting. The staff may get better with practice, but for now the process is painfully slow and awkward. Our server was so glued to the screen he never made eye contact. The machine — and, thus, the waiter — had as much warmth and personality as a white wall. It reminded me of talking to my 16-year-old niece who was texting the entire time I was giving her a tour of San Francisco, longing to be anywhere but with me.

Yeah. This isn’t going to be a rave. The device didn’t help Mr. Bauer’s server get the order right, either — his burger arrived with the wrong sauce, and the side dishes didn’t arrive until he inquired about them. He blames the technology. “[The servers’] eyes were so locked onto the screen they didn’t notice if diners needed anything.”

We ourselves find the wine list iPads at Barbacco sort of cumbersome and unnecessary — the pictures and tasting notes don’t get us any closer to making a decision than a traditional wine list, and all the “back” button pressing gets tedious. And to Bauer’s point, it does seem a little antithetical to the dining experience, and the elemental nature of food, to insert these screens into the mix, especially because eating out is one of the only moments in life these days in which most people aren’t interacting with a glowing screen.

Thoughts, gentle readers?

Is that waiter texting or taking my order?
[Between Meals/Scoop]
Earlier: How Do You Feel About Texting at the Table?
Bauer Weighs in on Waiters Who Don’t Write Things Down

Regarding All These iPads and Screens in Restaurants