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This Is Dining 2.0

Eating out is something we all enjoy. And whether we’re grabbing a quick bite on our way home from work, or booking a table in a fancy restaurant to celebrate a special occasion, we all know how it works. There’s the bit where you’re seated, the bit where you consult the menu, and the bit where the waiter takes your order. It’s a system that has worked reliably for years. No reason for it to change now, right?

Stop living in the past, Methuselah! The old etiquette of eating out is being thrown out the window by a new start-up, Butter Systems, which aims to automate a good portion of the simple joy of eating out, by replacing traditional restaurant menus with a tablet device. These devices will enable users to browse the menu, order their food and drinks, and even request the bill, without the tricky, unpleasant business of speaking to a server.

Co-founders Sam Brin and Jon Li insist that their invention was not created to replace waiters. Says Brin: “We want to increase sales by making it easier to order more, all while keeping that human touch.” Which is interesting, as it sounds like the Butter Systems menu devices will actually keep human contact to an absolute minimum, with waiters and waitresses only there to physically deliver the food to tables. Until they are replaced by robots at some point, presumably.

Alright, so that might be a slight overreaction, but Butter Systems does appear to be an example of innovation simply for the sake of it. Were restaurant owners really crying out for this product? Or am I one of the few old-fashioned people who still think of the dinner table as that rare remaining place where it is impolite to sit and stare down at a screen?

Butter is not the only start-up in this space; E La Carte, iMenu and MenuPad are just a few of the other companies trying to get their tablet menus into restaurants. However, finding restaurants willing to adopt these devices (and change their entire operational structure in the process) is proving quite the challenge. Which suggests there is not the untapped demand for this kind of service that Butter and its peers envisioned.

Butter Systems is receiving considerable attention, but not solely due to the venture itself; it just so happens that entrepreneur Sam Brin is the younger brother of Sergey Brin. You know, that guy who co-founded Google. No pressure then!

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