So far, restaurants have mostly used tablets for their novelty. Sommeliers saunter around dining rooms with iPads under their arms, offering to show oenophiles glamour shots of vineyards producing especially expensive wines. One restaurant in Manhattan's West Village, Dos Santos, armed all its waiters with iPads instead of scratch pads to facilitate order-taking.
But now, at least one tech company is now banking on the idea that the trend will go from niche aesthetic decision to mass profit-driver. E La Carte, which was founded in Cambridge, MA but has since moved to Silicon Valley, has been touting its tablet-based ordering system for the past few months. Their system eschews iPads in favor of a something called a "Presto," which is custom designed to survive the wear and tear of restaurant life. Customers at restaurants equipped with E La Carte tablets order and pay for their own food using the touch screen at their tables.
Around 100 restaurants in Boston and the Bay Area are already customers. E La Carte claims that its system increases the amount each table orders and also speeds up table turnover, without increasing technology cost appreciably. The company charges relatively low rates for the use of the tablets -- $200-700, depending on the number of tables. This has led some to be dubious about the company's revenue growth prospects. But that hasn't deterred investors from putting some dollars into the company. E La Carte just announced that Groupon's co-founders just invested $4 million in the company. By the standards of Silicon Valley, it's no huge haul -- but it might be enough to propel tablet menus into the mainstream.