Tablets In Restaurants Are Nothing New

The glut of recent iPad coverage following the Apple tablet's Australian launch has included a fair dose of "oh my goodness, they can even use them in restaurants!" coverage. But while that's a neat idea, it's hardly a new one.

Picture by davetron5000

I'm in one of Las Vegas' more elegant restaurants, Aureole at the Mandalay Bay casino. The standout feature is a four-story tower of wine, but that's closely followed by the way you can browse and choose from that wine: by browsing on a tablet PC which contains detailed descriptions of every bottle in the tower.

What's notable about this? It happened in January 2007, while I was attending CES. Yep, a whole three-and-a-half years ago. It was a magical meal, but it means I can't see using a tablet PC in a restaurant as anything approaching revolutionary.

I only mention this because in recent weeks we've seen a lot of coverage of the use of iPads in Australian restaurants for the same purpose. The Daily Telegraph ran a piece on Global Mundo Tapas in North Sydney, which allows diners to transmit their orders direct from the device to the kitchen. The Australian followed up with a piece about similar plans at Melbourne restaurant Pearl, though it hasn't actually rolled out the software yet.

What raises my hackles slightly here (News Limited's slavishly positive coverage of all things iPad aside) is the implication that this is a uniquely Apple-given gift. Given the 2 million sales, there's no question that Apple has mastered the tablet format in a way that appeals to consumers like none before it. But that doesn't mean that it (or its army of happy developers) should get credit for every possible use of a tablet form factor. Tablet PCs have happily resided in hospitals for quite some time — and the same is true of restaurants.

Doubtless, there are still people who would prefer a conventional printed menu and a chat with a sommelier to browsing on a tablet, whoever manufactures it. I doubt they'll be forced to use one. No matter what kind of restaurant you like, you can probably find one (especially if you happen to be in Las Vegas).

Having a range of options to choose from is part of what makes dining out so appealing. I'd argue the same also applies to which computer (or smart phone, or browser) you choose — and for that reason, I hope Aureole doesn't feel the urge to switch to the iPad in a hurry.

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Comments

    It seems Angus still has issues with the popularity of Apple. Why do you take it so pesonally Angus? Surely you could have written a positive piece on the use of a tablet PC at "Aureole" and how they're so ahead of others instead of using the article to bash peoples love for Apple products.

    Do you have shares in competing products?

      I don't have shares in anything. And I wouldn't have recalled the Aureole experience if I hadn't read so much reporting suggesting that the use of an iPad in this context represented something new and unique.

      In this case -- as I think this article makes clear -- my issue is with the reporting, not with the product. For journalists, loving the product (or hating it) shouldn't preclude having a proper understanding of the context it operates in.

        Fair enough.

        News Limited and their News.com.au site has become so biased it's just unreal. They bash Facebook (Because News Limited's ties with Myspace) They over cover Apple, and they Just spread general FUD (internet predators, your privacy).

        Its sad that Microsoft never get the kind of praise that Apple gets for innovation. An example is McDonalds. All those registers they have are Windows, and if you've ever been served in line with someone on a handheld order taker, thats windows mobile. Ive seen quite a few iPaq handhelds that order takers use around the place, but nobody ever says a thing about them. And these iPaqs are years old.

        Oh, I forgot to add, I actually think using any form of tablet is a little foolish for menus or wine lists as they're just too heavy.

        Although there was one situation where I ordered 3 different wines off a wine list at one restaurant only to be told on each choice that the wine was not available as it had just run out. This took about 10-15 minutes total as after each choice they had to check the cellar for stock. The restaurant was very apologetic and said the next wine (that they had in stock) would be free if I chose another out of stock item. I missed out. I guess in this situation an active menu tied to stock on hand would have bypassed this problem. But it still seems like overkill. Surely the use of touch screens or iPad is purely marketing driven and will only work in that sense for a short time until the hype wears off.

        Are they still using the touch PC at Aureole? That wasn't clear in the article.

          I believe so. I'm going to be in Las Vegas for work next week, so will try and stick my head in the door and find out for certain.

    I think you did a good Job Angus, pointing out that although so many think the iPad is revolutionary (and magic *cough*) it's not necessarily the case!
    And that there are a lot of Journo's out there that are more likely to have Apple shares the way they rant and rave on how good it is (even before it was released at times)

    Always enjoy reading the other side, the correct side, apple products are always massively over hyped and blogged about.

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