Digital Menus

By Kaitlynn Ford

Technology in the early 2000s have menus being updated in various combinations of four main forms; E-menus, touch-screen menus or iPads, digital menu boards, and Digital MenuBoxes.

E-menu is by far the most progressive; eliminating the server from the ordering process altogether. Diners use a touch-screen computer located at their table to place their order – which goes directly from the computer to the chef who is ready and waiting in the kitchen. The servers are converted to ‘Runners’ who then bring the guest their food. When the patron has finished their meal, they simply pay using the E-menu computer.

The computer used for E-menu isn’t confined to the ordering process – it adds another level to the dining experience by providing the guest with information and entertainment at the tips of their fingers. Israeli-based company Conceptic, one of the few providers of electronic menus, allows their users to use their product in a number of different ways. They are able to play a bevy of different games, find locations for other entertainment venues like movies or clubs, or even order a taxi.

Digital menu boards are essentially flat screen televisions that display user specific information. The client is able to upload the items of their choosing; their menu, promotions, etc. and have it presented to the customer as a slideshow. These are most often seen in fast food chains.

Digital MenuBox is a company that was launched in 2007. The MenuBox is an outdoor electronic menu display that allows passers-by to take a look at the menu without having to be seated, or even enter the restaurant. But Derek Valleau, a partner at Amaya Express, told Leanne DeLap of the Toronto Star that even though people don’t have to enter the restaurant to see if they’ll like the food offered on the menu, the Digital MenuBox is still capable of attracting more business.

Touch-screen menus mostly come in the form of iPads, but one of their competitors is E La Carte, developed by MIT drop-out Rajat Suri. E La Carte, unlike iPad, also allows the customer to pay using the machine itself in a fashion similar to E-menu. E-menu and touch-screen menus are best suited for fine or casual dining establishments rather than fast food companies.

“Ease of updating was one of the main reasons [we substituted hardcopy menus with touch-screen menus] – they’re really easy to switch on the fly,” Vito Marrinuzzi, owner of 7even Numbers, said. “And saving all the paper – we burned through tons of paper printing a new wine list every night.”

But starting at $519.00 Canadian for each iPad 2 and $90.00 for the top-of-the-line OtterBox protective cases, the start-up costs can’t be spent on a whim. Marinuzzi suggests using sponsors to help deflect the costs, if the option is available.

Marinuzzi says the iPads are low-maintenance – with batteries that last 10 to 11 hours with constant use, the only upkeep they require is charging the battery every couple of days.

“I love the idea [of iPads as menus],” Cory Cook, a server at 7even Numbers, said. “I think that they’ve made the servers job much, much easier. We can pack a whole bunch more information on there, so it eliminates some of the questions and some of the concerns that customers have.”

“We thought people over 50 wouldn’t take to the iPad, but quite the opposite – they’re the ones who love it because it’s bright – they can read the menu,” Marinuzzi said.

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