On a recent trip to a burger bar that I love to visit for a much-deserved calorie splurge, I immediately noticed something was missing when I sat down. Typically, the first thing we do when we arrive is reach for the menus sitting inside of the carousel that bears the salt and pepper shakers, but on this trip, the silver menu holder was noticeably empty. Just as I was about to glance around and see if the other tables were similarly bare, a server arrived at our table with an iPad in hand.
With a smile, she explained that the restaurant had switched to a new electronic ordering system. After explaining how to work the app, she left us with the iPad and set us free to play and experiment. By the time we had placed our order and customized our burgers to just how we like them (with the help of photos and in-depth descriptions of the available options), I was pretty convinced I loved electronic ordering. When my friend discovered the iPad also was stocked with Angry Birds, he was, too.
While he tried his hand at hurling those colorful birds, I got to thinking about what a great idea electronic menus are for the planet. While most restaurants reuse their menus many times, I often see paper inserts in menu that list features and special events. Plus, our order was sent electronically to the kitchen, so no paper was needed. Apart from the brown paper napkins we used to dab the world's best hot pepper sauce from the corners of our mouths, our meal didn't use any paper until they printed our bill.
There are several companies out there that offer electronic menu systems, including Infinity Menu, Aptito, Elacarte and eMenu to name a few. In addition to the iPad-based type that I discovered at my favorite burger joint, there are also custom-designed tablets available for restaurants.
Restaurant owners who are interested in greening their businesses could benefit greatly from electronic menus. For those concerned about the effects on waitstaff, from what I saw at the restaurant I visited, the usual number of servers was working and as busy as ever. Ours stopped back more often to check on us, and we agreed when we left that the service was an improvement over what we had come to expect.
Have you been to a restaurant that offers electronic menus? What do you think about the idea?