Admit it, we have all been to an Olive Garden, Applebee’s or even Chili’s and ordered a generic appetizer from the third-generation tablet on the table. My first encounter with the virtual waiter at Olive Garden left me thinking that it was a futuristic, smart way to make table service more efficient. After selecting “classic calamari” and then pressing the all-too-familiar “order” button, it hit me: These tablets were slowly taking over my career. My feelings? First shocked (that I had used the enemy). Second, frightened. Will computers one day take over my current job ... and the world?
This uncontrollable downward spiral of thoughts kept my mind occupied while I ate what must have been my fifth bowl of Olive Garden salad ... also uncontrollable. When my portabella mushroom raviolis came out from the kitchen, hand-delivered by a PERSON, I was quickly soothed. Part of me was expecting the food to rise from the center of the table on a conveyer belt. Maybe all of that worry was because I had low blood sugar, but still, computers are starting to freak me out.
However, I don’t think tablet service will ever replace your waiter or waitress, at least in small-town Durango. Here’s why:
I understand why it makes sense to take out the middleman (server) in the restaurant world. It would dissolve the tipping system, which means at least a 15 to 20 percent discount on every meal and it would leave little room for error. It would essentially make every sit-in restaurant a glorified Sonic. You could order, eat, play games, pay and leave whenever you wanted to, all without any human interaction. Ah, wouldn’t that be nice? Hopefully, you said no. The whole point of eating out is to have the full dining experience, human service intact. Taking the human out of this position would essentially make dining out pointless. Why sit somewhere strange with a computer and a bowl of pasta when you could order the meal to-go and enjoy it on a familiar couch at home?
This tech trend hit multiple Applebee’s restaurants in 2014. To put it into perspective, more than 100,000 of these robot waiters were installed. In a press release, Mike Archer, Applebee’s president said, “Let’s face it, everyone who has ever been to a restaurant has been frustrated by waiting for their check.” So basically, these computers were installed because of Americans’ expanding stomachs, shortened attention spans and impatient wallets? Tablet service is starting to sound like a gateway to unemployment for industry workers and a future of uneventful dining experiences.
So the question remains: Do these computers work efficiently enough to replace waiter and waitress positions? In my opinion, the answer is a firm “no.” No matter how easy and efficient the computer makes the dining experience, a real-live person will always trump tablet service. Remember when Siri was first introduced to the Apple world and was talked up to be this helpful robot? Well, we can have technology complete these tasks for us but there will always be a glitch. How many times have you asked this helpful robot to “call Mom” only to get “I’m sorry, can you repeat that” as your answer?
Cutting out the middleman will not alleviate errors. It may even make things more hectic. Computers glitch and people make mistakes. But people can learn from their mistakes, computers, not so much. Don’t allow a rechargeable device to stand in for your human. Keep in mind that nothing will ever be perfect, and it is important to keep human interaction alive in all workplaces.
Taylor Ferraro provides five-star service and entertainment at the Red Snapper. She is also a massage therapist and KDUR DJ. Contact her at email@example.com.