Recently, Applebee’s startled the restaurant universe by announcing that they would install automated ordering systems in their 1,860 restaurants nationwide. The devices would be similar to iPads, but bolted to the tables to avoid damage or theft; in addition to ordering food and requesting the check, customers can use them to play video games (bad enough you have to go to Applebee’s, so why suffer the ultimate indignity of conversing with others at your table?). Chili’s is also installing the systems, and IHOP is supposedly considering them as well, but the Applebee’s announcement seems to have touched a nerve.
The restaurant universe is easily startled. These gadgets have been around since 2011, although this is the first time they’ve been used on such a large scale. Of course, there are a number of upscale eateries that are using iPads for their wine lists, but that seems to be regarded differently—if someone is going to spend $200 on a bottle of wine at a pricey restaurant, presumably they don’t need to steal an iPad.
Applebee’s insists that it will not reduce staffing levels as a result, which seems like a dubious claim. If enough customers use the tablets, service staff will likely be limited to food runners and bus help. No one seems to be bothered by this, which is curious given that the plight of underpaid fast food workers has become a major human rights issue. Servers at Applebee’s probably don’t make much more than employees at McDonald’s, and many of them will inevitably lose their jobs as a result of this innovation (or see their incomes plummet to a level that will make McDonald’s seem appealing).
For the customer, there are numerous advantages to the tablet system. The tablet won’t introduce itself to you as Todd. You won’t have to listen to stories about the tablet working its way through school, or being an unemployed actor. And hopefully you won’t have to endure poor service on top of consuming lousy food. Such are the fruits of technology.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxiacting History, published by Lyons Press; his second book, Moonshine nation, is forthcoming from Lyons press in June 2014. For more information, go to amazon.com