The pros and cons of an iPad menu

iPad menus going mainstream

Tonight I had dinner at a lovely little Mediterranean place in Tampa.  Despite being located in a strip mall — you have to get used to things like that in Florida — the Carmel Cafe had a warm feel, soft lighting, better than decent food, and iPad menus. The latter featured an app that according to the restaurant was custom developed for them and is among the “very best restaurant iPad apps out there.”  Not that I’ve used many of the others, but this one truly did offer a carefully thought out user experience.

Using the app, you could scan all the items on the menu, from starters and flatbreads, to salads and larger dishes. You could scroll through the entire menu visually or use a search column to access items by category — wines, salads, pasta, fish, meat. There were even listings to direct you toward gluten free items as well as any listing that contained nuts. Accurate images gave you a peek at every dish offered. And one button let you add it to your orders where they remained stored until you hit a send button alerting the kitchen of your request and adding the price to an easily accessible running tab.

Carmel Cafe’s promise is that you’ll get your dish within five minutes of ordering, so you enjoy total control over the tapas-like experience. Order items as you want them rather than in advance. And never end up with too much food on the table at once.  Better yet, the app lets you check your total order and running tab at any time. When it comes time to pay, you settle up directly from the iPad. You can split the bill as many ways as you desire, choose from a range of percentages for a gratuity and simply enter your credit card number to complete the transaction.

As far as restaurant menu apps go, this one is among the most perfectly designed real time experiences that I’ve seen. It makes selection and ordering easier. With multiple iPads on the tables that seat large parties, it lets everyone easily organize and coordinate their orders. And by speeding up input to the kitchen it assures dishes get delivered with amazing alacrity.

A great UX, including tip and payment options adds to usability

But there’s another question. The novelty of the app, the clarity of the photos, the ability to aggregate orders before submitting them, and the attraction of the running tab — at least for the Woody Allen neurotics at the table — pretty much assures that there will be less actual conversation, social interaction and human contact than we might want with friends over the course of dinner. We already know what it’s like to have everyone at a restaurant table glancing at their iPhones, communicating with the people who aren’t there rather than those who are. Add to that a really interactive iPad menu and we have yet another reason to engage with a screen instead of a person.

An iPad menu even eliminates some of the welcome chatter we typically share with a really knowledgeable waiter who might be smarter about ingredients and preparations than whoever wrote the descriptions appearing on the app.

Truth be told, I really liked the iPad menu. It gave me a better view of food I was about to eat. It made it easier to order and try different wines by the glass. It assured me total control over the experience. And if I were I to be wondering how much money I was spending it kept me up to speed on that, too.

But I have to admit to having had a bit less conversation with my dinner companions that I might have if had we ordered the old fashioned way and weren’t constantly distracted by four big screens sitting on the table.

Digital dinners. I don’t think we’ll be seeing them as part of the Parisian four hour restaurant experience anytime soon. But here in America?  It’s probably the next big thing.

What do you think? iPad menus? Or stick to the old fashioned printed versions?

8 comments
NirobChaya
NirobChaya

Over the world iPad is very popular to restaurant. Many Asian country  are using this for their restaurant. It's use very easy to customers. If we  we can follow this want to know more about more ipad menu we can follow this link.

www.emenu-international.com/ipadmenu/

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margerylynn
margerylynn

Restaurants in Asia are experimenting with iPad menus and, I believe three types of restaurants are very well suited to offer them:

 

1. Group dining restaurants (i.e., A BBQ restaurant in KR)

2. Small plate restaurants (i.e., An Izakaya bars in JP)

3. Novelty restaurants (i.e., A Russian restaurant in SG)

 

An iPad menu offers each of these types of restaurants a unique utility; two of which you alluded to in your post; respectively, splitting the bill and ordering items as you want them.  The third utility is entertainment, like providing a cultural story behind each dish. 

 

That being said, I believe there is a social utility for iPad menus transcending restaurant type  -  providing sharable high-res photos. While pictures are seemingly unnecessary for many restaurants in Asia because of their plastic food display cases and/or existing incorporation of photos, sharable high-res photos in an iPad menu would be a boon to the food blogging community. This is particularly the case in Singapore, where food blogging is widely popular!

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SheenaDangers
SheenaDangers

Hey it's eco-friendly! But I just keep imagining sticky fingers touching that screen - gross! 

thejordanrules
thejordanrules

If a restaurant is going to replace printed menu's with iPad's I think they need to consider deeper integration. I definitely think there's an ROI play for increasing the size of each order, and increasing the frequency of purchase by making menu items more appealing through the use of digital content (i.e. photo's, videos, reviews etc.)

 

However, I think a restaurant should consider deeper integration like:

1. Consider using iPads to notify customers when their table is ready & have some kind of entertainment available on the iPad for the wait.

2. Consider replacing wait staff with a place-your-own-order using the iPad menu. Wait staff will only be available upon request. Users will not have to wait for wait staff anymore.

3. Campaign integration/ website integration could prove to be important. Users can participate in programs while waiting for their food directly through the iPad. Perhaps an iPad campaign platform app could be created to house all the on-going campaigns to make it easy for users to access. (This could also extend into a loyalty program)

4. Obviously payment integration would be ideal.

 

ThomasMiskin
ThomasMiskin

Technology solving a problem. No....wait :)

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