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Restaurants of the Future: Digitalizing Restaurants Service and Exploring New Ways in Interactivity

Author: Yefan Wang, Interactive Media, University of Limerick

This article describes several new-fashioned ways and technologies used in restaurants interactivity domain. With a particular focus on some inspirational pioneering case, this article attempts to present the probable trend and prospect for the future of the restaurants and their novel service system support. Investigations and analysis are not only carried out in some creative modern restaurants, but also in the traditional restaurants. A discussion of how people view the changes in the interactive way brought by technologies is offered and included.


In parallel with the speedy development of technology and society came the information explosion and media saturation. However, what has been increasingly in contrast to the information bang is the scarcity of people’s attention. Thus in order to survive in this competitive global business environment, having some characteristics that can attract and maintain customers is important and necessary. Restaurant design is more important to the foodservice industry than ever before. Dining often is the only repose in a given day for many individuals. Those consumers seek restful comfort and rejuvenating inspiration during their precious free time.

Great food and impeccable service no longer are the only key ingredients of a successful restaurant; a well-designed environment and personalized service are also needed. Interactive bars, virtual menus, self- service ordering system, digital management are all the great examples of the innovations and attempts to explore the new ways and possibilities for restaurants future development.

Traditional Restaurants based on Waiter Service

Most of the restaurants are based on waiter service. Most of the services we gain in restaurants are through calling waiters. There is nothing bad or wrong in this kind of service support, people are familiar and accustomed to communicate with people face to face and tell what they want.

However, sometimes we may encounter such annoying situations: 1) we need time to discuss and think what we want, so we tell the waiter to come back later, but if it is during a busy working time, we may wait for a long time to get the waiter back. 2) we order the food we want, however, the food brought to us are not the one we ordered, errors happened in communications or carelessly written mistakes. 3) Have no ideas about the dishes on the menu and hesitate to decide.

New-fashioned and Trend

In comparison with the traditional restaurants, new-fashioned restaurant usually provide more individuation services, specially designed, etc, they vary in different angles and levels. Here we would like to explore the interactivity innovations happened in restaurants, especially in the ordering process.

Successful case: Inamo, London

Inamo is a pioneering Oriental fusion restaurant and bar where the control of the dining experience is placed firmly in your hands. At the core of Inamo is the interactive ordering system. Diners place orders from an illustrated food and drinks menu projected on to their table surface. Users can set the mood, discover the local neighborhood, and even order a taxi home. While waiting, users can enhance their mood of calm control by choosing a projected tablecloth of an idyllic rural scene; Inamo’s waiters remain a discreet, uninterrupting presence, while passers-by press their noses to the window, intrigued by the activity inside.[1]

It’s certainly proved a hit with children – and not just because of the games built into the system; a YouTube video entitled Max Explains Inamo, in which the five-year-old son of an Inamo customer whizzes through the ordering process, has proved to be a priceless piece of accidental PR for the restaurant.

In the summer of 2008, a difficult economic climate which would eventually drive many restaurants out of business, but by contrast, Inamo has performed surprisingly well: it now serves more than 200 customers per day; another restaurant opening is due later this year, and 900 reviewers on the restaurant website give it a healthy average mark of 7.6 out of 10. A restaurant is nothing without good food, of course – and Inamo doesn’t fail on that score – but it’s the patented technology that’s making gadget fans’ mouths water. [2]

Advantages and Characteristics:

Unlike old customs in restaurants, people can use a self-service ordering system with multiple functionalities and choices; have more privacy, fun and freedom. Computer automatically management can reduce the manual errors happened in the communications. Multimedia contents may convey more detailed information from different angles to customers and being placed in a virtual interactive environment can greatly enhance users’ mood and leave enjoyable impressions.

Things and Issues should be Considered:

In fact, from the functionality perspective, most products like interactive order tables have already been very powerful and mature; however sometimes we lack ways to gain users’ attentions back to the food itself and eating things. For merchants, they should consider the cost for the whole setting and constantly maintain fees in the future. Users have fun while dining; however this can also bring a problem for merchants that the service time for each customer may probably increase, of course this is not supposed to be discussed in this article. Much more issues are waiting to be found in the future research.

Other Products and Attempts

In fact, much more products can be found in the market that contribute to the diversity, interactivity, feasibility to the development of future restaurant, like the touch screen restaurant menu tablet from ELa Carte, touch screen kiosks, LifeTable MultiTouch for bars and restaurants, Clo Interactive Wine Bar, etc.

Technologies Development and Support

1)     Multi-touch

In computing, multi-touch refers to a touch sensing surface’s (trackpad or touchscreen) ability to recognize the presence of two or more points of contact with the surface. This plural-point awareness is often used to implement advanced functionality such as pinch to zoom or activating predefined programs.

Multi-touch technology began in 1982, when the Universityof Toronto’s Input Research Group developed the first human-input multi-touch system. The system used a frosted-glass panel with a camera placed behind the glass. When a finger or several fingers pressed on the glass, the camera would detect the action as one or more black spots on an otherwise white background, allowing it to be registered as an input. Since the size of a dot was dependent on pressure (how hard the person was pressing on the glass), the system was somewhat pressure-sensitive as well.[3] A breakthrough occurred in 1991, when Pierre Wellner published a paper on his multi-touch “Digital Desk”, which supported multi-finger and pinching motions.[4]

Multi-touch technology can transform the ordinary bar, counter, wall or retail window into an interactive multi-touch computing surface. Nowadays, products based on this technology have been commonplace and this technology has been widely used in all fields. The multi-Touch Table is one of the products, which is a user-friendly surface computing technology offered in nearly any shape or size to suit any requirement, providing users with a much more intuitional way to interact with the objects based on graphics, not requiring any other specific technique or knowledge, which making the use of feasibility greatly improved. What you see is what you get, people can focus more on the information or the objects they encountered rather than the tools they are using. Make the tools invisible is very meaningful for a good product design. In addition, this kind of interactive way itself is still pretty cool for most of users nowadays, not only for kids.

2)     Interactive Projection Imaging

A video projector is an image projector that receives a video signal and projects the corresponding image on a projection screen using a lens system. All video projectors use a very bright light to project the image, and most modern ones can correct any curves, blurriness, and other inconsistencies through manual settings. Video projectors are widely used for many applications such as, conference room presentations, classroom training, home theatre and concerts.

Currently, various projectors are available in the market, like CRT projector, LCD projector, DLP projector, LED projector, etc. And they are all useful and powerful assistants in helping build an interactive and vivid environment for users to experience and enjoy.

3)     Software available

Multimedia contents and applications are freely created by programmers or designers. But despite the thoughts and ideas, many tools can help us to build and realize our projects. Like Flash Professional, VC, Visual Studio and so on. Software today is updated rapidly and can very well cooperate and support the hard ware ports.

Potential debates and different view points

Some people strongly encourage and support this kind of virtual menu system for it provides customers more privacy, freedom, fun and choices. They can take their own custom to complete their orders, economize waiting time for entertainment, learn more detailed information about the food, and call service whenever needed. What’s more, some ordering system may support Multilanguage, multi user modes to convenient users to order the food. Advanced technology can also create more amazing and vivid dining environment while some are afraid and concerned about this change. They feel so wired to communicate with a machine rather than directly with a people. And the novel features can attract them at first try, but with time they will lose the original crazy interest and feel like getting backing to the traditional customs, which make them more focus and enjoy the food itself.

Removing waiter or not is also under discussion. But in fact, the conventional wisdom, from Customer View point is that the digital ordering system will be best to cooperate with the real workers. Since completely removing the waiter from restaurants may bring more issues, actually it is also very unlikely. It will be possible with an automatically food delivery system, but that would be so complex and so cold even if it would be realized.

Some Reflections on the Technology, Human beings and the Society

Although advanced technology can bring us many conveniences and advantages, it is usually ignored by people that as a society, all of this technology is helping us head towards a life of disconnection from our fellows. Most of time we interact with a machine, not a real person, and we have fun and spend time with the system but lose attention to the friends sitting in front of me or people around us, even though some products provide some social applications and games to involve groups of people in, however, it is still based on the machines. In other words, we are so independent on the technology, and fooled by the seemly attracting hi-tech.

But why people are so attracted by the hi-tech products, why some new conceptual restaurants like Inamo are popular and welcome, why who you might imagine as being resistant to change – embraced it? Obviously the rise of computers and smartphones mean that people are much more used to the idea of pointing and clicking, increasingly rely on graphics and image movements. Where we live is a media-saturated world and a landscape society. People are always expecting the new technology which can bring them more novelties and joys of sense. This can not be blamed to the development of the technology; this is actually a natural result from the evolution of the society. As for the technology and society, they are mutually reliant and shaped.


Interactivity and innovations in restaurants are much needed and worth exploring. For the future designs and models, they will be developed and explained in the following research.


[3] Buxton, Bill.”MultitouchOverview”:

[4] Wellner, Pierre. 1991. The Digital Desk. YouTube video

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