Does the E la Carte Tabletop PC Spell the End of the Waiter/Waitress?

Virgin America made ordering in-flight snacks and drinks a truly self-serve concept. Today a new Y Combinator backed start-up is hoping to revolutionize the restuarant industry with a little tabletop PC called the E la Carte. (Truly awful name, but let’s keep going.)

The concept is simple: Browse the PC’s menu and make your selections – you can specifiy how well you want your steak cooked, salad dressing on the side and so on, and the device also cleverly ups your bill with while-you’re-hungry upsell ideas. Add a salad for $3 – click here. Ca-ching.

Your order is sent digitally to the kitchen and you get an esitmate on when your food will be ready. You can pay the bill by swiping your card, hit the tip button by percentage (like NY Cabs) as well as manually, or even split the check with fellow diners and their cards.

This naturally begs the question: what about the wait staff? Are they now dinosaurs? No, according to the company. Current trials in 20 US restaurants have shown that people tend to tip more when they can press a colorful “20% button,” and the upsell makes check totals higher overall — and therefor tips go higher to offset the cheapos who don’t tip.

Our Take: Don’t expect to see this system in 5 star restaurants any time soon, but for your average Applebees and Olive Garden chains which strive to offer fast food-speed in a sit-down environment, this may be what both the diners and servers are looking for.

The downside: Training people to use an interface is not an easy thing and we predict servers will be doing the same training dance we saw when stores added credit card readers. (“Press Enter and then hit yes” “No, you have to hit yes first and then you sign.”)