Not content with infiltrating our offices, commute to work, and the bedroom of every Photo Booth-obsessed tween, touch-screen technology has also weaseled its way onto our dinner tables.
American restaurant chain Chili's installed more than 45,000 tabletop tablets at outlets last year (and subsequently found that servers' tips went up) and McDonald's recently added touch-screen, customisable burger kiosks to 20 of its US restaurants.
A shiny, touchy thing that improves wait staff pay, assists in the creation of monster burgers, and means that you need never again endure the judgemental "Will that be all?" of your waiter after ordering a side of onion rings and chips. What's not to like?
Well, maybe the whole lack-of-human-interaction thing. Despite the novelty of tablet-based ordering systems, a new report from Italian pasta sauce brand Saclà has shown that most of us are pretty ambivalent about technology in restaurants. In fact, we may even prefer good ol' fashioned good service.
Based on interviews with more than 2000 British adults, Eating Out—Today and Tomorrow found that 37 percent of us prefer a tech-free environment when eating out, 51 percent have no preference, and the remainder presumably enjoy pawing at a greasy computer screen over making basic conversation with their waiter.
So, old people don't like using tablet computers? No surprise to anyone who has ever spent three hours showing their mum how to get the new Jodi Picoult on her Kindle. But what's interesting is that the report also found pretty similar stats among 18 to 34-year-olds, aka Generation Y. A marginally lower 32 percent of these supposed digital natives said they preferred tech-free restaurants, with just 18 percent stating a preference for technology when eating out.
The report's authors referred to this as a "conflicted relationship with connected technology" among Millennials, but many in the restaurant industry see it as a triumph of human touch over technology.
Speaking to industry website BigHospitality, co-founder of Clapham restaurants The Dairy and The Manor, Robin Gill said: "If a customer wants any information on a dish then we don't want any barriers between them and us. If you put a computer or an iPad there, straight away it says you don't want to speak to the guest […] I want a nice, personal service."
He's not wrong. A waitress who has actually tried the day's specials and knows if there's fish sauce in the green curry is a damn sight more helpful than an iPad cable-tied to the wall. And unless she's packing a buttonhole camera, there's also less risk of being spied on, as tablet-using patrons at a Sacramento Chili's feared last year.
Despite not being particularly psyched about using technology when eating out, Saclà's report did find that for Gen Y, "all forms of waiting appear to be a source of frustration." From waiting for a table to waiting to order, and then to pay, ain't nobody got time for the realities of eating at a popular, mid-price restaurant on a Friday night.
But you know what can improve communication between front- and back-of-house staff to shorten dining wait times? Technology. The report noted that many restaurants have started to use mobile payment technologies and queue busting apps like Flypay, Orderella, and Wi-Q to get those Millennials, in, ordered, and out with enough time for few #goodnightTwitter selfies on the way home.
Maybe those impatient Gen Y diners could find something to amuse themselves with in the interim between ordering their meal and Instagramming it. Something like, oh, I don't know—that iPad?