By Elena Kadvany
When dining meets techUploaded: Oct 29, 2013
Two articles I saw this week prompted me to think about the role that technology plays in eating out. The first, "How Mobile Technology Is Changing the Way We Dine Out," in the Wall Street Journal, details how technology has totally revolutionized the way we eat, "for better and worse."
There's numerous websites and smartphone apps Yelp, OpenTable, Urbanspoon, Zagat that help us choose where to eat. Others help us pay the tab, select a wine, order delivery, share photos, stick to a diet, find a happy hour close by, snag deals. It's endless.
Yelp is my drug of choice. When I'm deciding where to eat, I go straight there. I can not only read other diners' reviews, but also look at what eats are close to wherever I am, check a list of bookmarked places I want to try, photos of dishes, if somewhere is offering a deal or not (i.e. check in at that restaurant on Yelp and receive a free glass of house wine, free dessert, free guac and chips, etc.).
If a restaurant isn't rated well on Yelp, my perception of it immediately goes downhill. I'm less likely to try it. (If it's not even on Yelp, forget it.) I firmly believe in Yelp as a community where others help others I avidly upload photos and write reviews to build that community in some small way. But it definitely stands in the way of what used to be a natural, word-of-mouth selection process for where to dine out.
The WSJ article also goes into the pitfalls of electronic reservations -- great for the diner, not so great for the restaurants. Lots of cancellations without calls. But how great is it when you get to a restaurant, the host puts your name and party size into an iPad and you can comfortably grab a drink around the corner while you wait for a text that lets you know your table is ready?
Many places are also now using tablets instead of menus (Calafia at Town and Country in Palo Alto has been doing this for awhile), which I think is totally strange. I love holding a menu and seeing how places do different, unique menu design. More on this phenomenon in this NPR piece: "Goodbye Paper Menus? Restaurants Test the Water for Tablets."
What are your thoughts? Does technology have any place in the dining out experience? Is this something we should embrace, reject, enjoy?