Boy Oh Boy, the Future’s Gonna Be Great
A look of the non-human side of the future of dining.
Well I, for one, am disappointed. I grew up believing we’d have flying cars by now, that we’d all be walking around in shiny jumpsuits and that we would have landed an astronaut on Mars years ago. It’s true that we can have face-to-face conversations with people via handheld telecommunication devices, that we watch TV on flat screens and that, a la George Jetson, we spend so much time in front of computers that we can suffer from “push-button finger.”
But where are the robot waiters? And why can’t I go to a restaurant and push a button and get what I want? Why must I still be forced to interact with human beings?
As it happens, some people are working on that part. At a wildly popular new restaurant in San Francisco called Eatsa, you can walk in and order and pay for your food in a glowing white booth on a touch-screen terminal. No human interaction required. When your order comes up, it appears behind a transparent LCD screen that goes black when the food is deposited. You tap the screen and pull out your food. Presumably, it has been placed there by a human on the other side. But maybe – just maybe – it was a robot. One can at least pretend.
This is but a glimpse of what various experts say the future of dining may hold. Picture it: No people to deal with at all. You won’t even have to worry about using another human to keep you company. Every table will contain a USB jack so you can keep your iPad (or your iWhatever, as the case may be by then) juiced up to entertain you while you eat.
And you will eat healthier. As you peruse the digital menu embedded under your smart-tabletop, nutrition information will pop up alongside each choice. The government will likely require disclaimers for various foods, such as French fries or raw oysters, and the U.S. Surgeon General’s face will pop up to give you the federally mandated spiel – i.e., “This food may cause blah blah blah and, in rare cases, death.” You might even be able to upload your medical profile to see if beef Wellington is right for you.
Your food will come out in five minutes or less because, in the future, prepared foods will be so good that only those with a somewhat refined palate will know the difference.
Forget about asking for another napkin or more ketchup. Sensors will alert staff, whether man or machine, or a combination thereof, that these items must be replenished. No waiting for your table to be bused. A press of a button or a voice command will take care of it all.
While the restaurant of the future may do away with countless employment opportunities for hard-working Americans, it will appeal to a fragment of our social consciousness by taking all of the waste from our table and composting it or turning it into animal feed or Soylent Green. In fact, we may even eat things previously considered trash or inedible parts because, ya know, sustainability. Even as it deprives us of human interaction, the restaurant of the future will constantly remind us of its services to Mother Earth.
Because flying cars no longer appear imminent, there will still be drive-thru lanes. We will still have to speak into a little box to place our orders, but voice-recognition technology will give us the confidence that no human error – indeed, no human being – is possible.
No longer will you need to go through the rigmarole of fishing around in your purse or wallet to pay the bill. You’ll simply speak to your phone (or the microchip implanted somewhere convenient in your body) as to how you want to pay and how much. The restaurant will recognize your phone and give you some points toward a future purchase. Don’t worry about the tip, though, because – yep – no humans, no tips. You’ll save 15 percent to 25 percent on every meal, depending on how parsimonious you currently are.
Of course, if you really think about it, there is something slightly grim about what the futurists are saying about restaurants. To quote George Jetson, “Jane, stop this crazy thing.”
Peter Reichard is a native New Orleanian who has written about the life and times of the city for more than 20 years, including as a former newspaper editor and business journalist.