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Will The iPad And E La Carte's 'Presto' Make Waiters Obsolete?

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In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010, Keith Peg Bragg of Chicago view the wine list on an iPad at Chicago Cut steakhouse in Chicago. The restaurant is just one eatery of several across the U.S. that have started uploading menus and wine lists to the digital devices. (AP)
In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010, Keith Peg Bragg of Chicago view the wine list on an iPad at Chicago Cut steakhouse in Chicago. The restaurant is just one eatery of several across the U.S. that have started uploading menus and wine lists to the digital devices. (AP)

No more waiting for the waiter?

A growing number of restaurants are encouraging customers use tablet computers to order food and pay the bill, according to news reports. The benefit for restaurants is twofold: They save money on waiters, and customers end up spending more.

E La Carte, a Silicon Valley startup, already has sold its Presto tablets to 300 restaurants, and the company expects that number to grow to 1,000 by the end of the year, The Atlantic reports. The Palo Alto restaurant Calafia, which counts Google's top executives among its customers, uses the Presto tablets, according to The Atlantic.

Restaurants can earn up to $15 more per table through the Presto tablets by laying off waiters and making it easier for customers to order food and drinks more than once, according to The Atlantic. E La Carte claims on its web site that its tablets create 10 percent more revenue and 16 percent higher tips.

In addition to taking orders, the Presto shows the food's nutritional information and allows customers to filter menu options by eating preferences and type in food instructions, according to TechCrunch. The Presto also predicts when food will arrive, offers interactive games, splits checks, calculates the tip, and reads credit cards, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

Since traffic to restaurants has been about flat since 2007, tablet computers have become an appealing way for some restaurants to trim costs and increase sales without having to attract new customers, according to USA Today. Steakhouses and some Au Bon Pain restaurants are among the converts to tablet menus, according to USA Today.

At the "Do at the View" restaurant in Atlanta, customers use iPads to browse through the menu, call their cars out of valet parking, change the restaurant's music, and talk to other customers in the restaurant's private chatroom, according to Wired. There also are iPads on the bathrooms' walls instead of mirrors, Wired reports.

"It'll have a larger presence in fast food, where a quicker turnaround matters," Nima Samadi, senior industry analyst at IBISWorld, said of tablet menus in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. "In traditional, full-service restaurants, it's still kind of a gimmick."

Tablet computers eventually could replace waiters at some restaurants the same way that ATMs have replaced many bank tellers, the Washington Post's Marty Nemko wrote last month.

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