You’re at some trendy restaurant and a waiter with all the hirsute hipness of Russell Brand (but none of the pluck) wafts to your table and recites of the specials by rote. Once you’re impressed with the joint’s preparations of exotic animal parts (en francais, of course), the waiter will then botch your order and overcharge you for the privilege. It’s the tax one pays for being so outré.
While I was recently enduring this kind of experience, Snibbe Interactive’s Social Tables (tabletop multi-touch interaction for education, entertainment, branding and digital signage) came to mind as a means of staving off my inevitable foodie FAIL. Though our engineers consider it sacrilege to even consider dining atop one these finely-prepared servings of art and technology (I too do not recommend eating off high-tech art) I salivated at the possibilities of poking through an interactive menu, a live video stream from the kitchen, pop-up explanations of whatever it is that “haute cuisine” means or the latest trend spotted at the Fancy Foods culinary trade show – all available by merely stroking the screen.
And why not? Of the future-forward restaurants listed on, say, UrbanSpoon, many have equipped their waitstaff with iPads. An interactive table functions much the same way touch-based controls – so let’s cut out the middle man. Sure, my colleagues think I’m mad but it’s not like I’m suggesting we get all Ginsu like the teppanyaki tables at Benihana, I just think there are better ways to experience information that’s as easy to use as eating finger food. And though I don’t advocate playing with one’s food, playing with “virtual” food could whet one’s appetite for a four-course informational experience with side dishes that never have to be bussed.
Our SocialTable-based “Health Choices” game, for example, integrates experiential learning with a fun user-interface that tallies in real-time the results of one’s health-related choices (video below). This can be customized for all manner of applications, from hospitality to hospitals. I for one, would like to see “etiquette training” touch table for waitstaff. The interactive display could teach you how to properly set a table using virtual flatware (salad forks go on the outside, Russell). And, for once, it’s okay to put your elbows on the table (something interesting will happen). Let’s do lunch.