Is an automated menu going to replace me?

Welcome to In the Weeds. Kyle will be right with you -- most likely to complain about something. Usually he is pleasant, but this is his place to blow off some steam. Don't take it personally; he just needs to vent because he's been doing this for about thirteen years. Enjoy your meal.

Yes, every once in a while guests will do something that annoys me a little. Whether they're rude or excessively needy, I wish I they had a mute button. And I'm sure there are many diners who would like to shut up their server, and just place their order with the chef or bartender.

Both sides might get their way if E la Carte, an electronic device for restaurants that would allow diners to order and pay using a touch-screen menu, becomes widely used.

Restaurants like the Flagstaff House already have their wine lists on an iPad, but the E la Carte is more durable and will feature the entire restaurant's menu, along with appealing pictures.

The devices made their public debut this week in about twenty restaurants, mostly in San Francisco and Boston, and Applebee's is rumored to be interested in using the tablets.

This is certainly a sign of the times, in which we have less verbal interaction in favor of texting and tweeting, but is it a good idea? Contrary to what this column might suggest, I actually enjoy the majority of my interactions with guests. But for those who start snapping their fingers or telling me this is not how things were made in Italy when they vacationed there once fifteen years ago, it would be nice to slap a little computer in front of them and say, "Here, have fun trying to be condescending to an inanimate object, you dick."

And this seems to be how E la Carte is marketing its new product -- not as a waiter replacement, but an aide. It also claims to be able to increase profits because the menu has built-in prompts for up-selling items such as side salads.

The E la Carte is even able to handle modifications. So when a woman tells me she doesn't want the rice, but a salad with three different dressings on the side and no onion, etc., etc., I can let her know that's not actually my department and point her towards the electronic menu. I just hope she gets an ear full of expletives from the chef as he tells her how she's ruining his food, just like I receive when placing ridiculous requests.

The most useful aspect of this system would seem to be payments. No more receipts with last names, credit-card numbers and the amount of payment scribbled on the back looking like someone had a seizure while writing. No more hassling with eleven split checks on a party of eleven when everyone had one entree and one drink. E la Carte allows guests to split a bill evenly or highlight the items they ordered. There are also buttons that allow guests to add a 10, 15 or 20 percent tip if they are too hammered to divide their total by ten or five.

No news on whether the system will feature "pain in the ass" buttons. What will diners do if they need more sugar, lemon and water for their cheap-asslemonade? Is there a way to order baskets two through eight of free bread? And what recourse does the guest have if his cocktail tastes too "alcoholy" or her fish is too fishy?

So how would you like your server, real or automated? And if you were about to type "If it's you, I'll take the computer," I'm hitting mute.

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