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Electronic menus: food, Facebook, and fun. Coming to a restaurant near you?

Some eateries in hip places like California and New York are changing to electronic menus that let customers order food without waiters, play games, and even 'like' items on Facebook. 

By Julie MasisCorrespondent / May 11, 2012

This scene could soon be a thing of the past if electronic menus replace paper menus.

M. Spencer Green/AP/File

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Boston

At the Kinsale restaurant in Boston, the menu seems alive.

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“Touch me!” it screams at diners with big white letters that look as if they came out of a Hollywood western. “Don’t just sit there! Touch me!” 

When you touch the screen, it shows you close-up pictures of things you might be interested in eating, and asks if you’d like to play a game. When it’s time to leave, it splits the bill for you and your friends – equally, or by item – and automatically adds a 20 percent tip.

Behold, electronic menu – an innovation that some restaurateurs hope will soon become more ubiquitous than the drive through (and easier to understand, too). At some restaurants, it's a special device that lets customers order, pay, play, and even "like" their favorite local omelet on Facebook – all without having to resort to semaphore to flag down a waiter. At others, the menu is simply loaded onto an iPad or tablet provided at every table. 

The end of the paper menu? Perhaps, some say. But most waiters don't need to start looking for work yet.

The e-menu at the Kinsale is a device called Presto and was developed by a company started by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology dropout who once had some trouble figuring out how to split a restaurant bill with friends. Now the company, E la Carte, supplies its menus to about 300 restaurants across the United States – and is slowly making its way from California to the East Coast.

“You can actually order food and play games from your table without waiting. And it has a credit-card reader built in,” says 20-something Rajat Suri, the company’s chief executive officer. In April, the first electronic menus started appearing at restaurants in New York City – kosher restaurants – because Bernard Samet, the businessman who is selling them, is affiliated with an Israeli company that makes e-menus.

The New York version allows customers to “like” their favorite dishes on Facebook and to view the menu in their preferred language – English or Hebrew. 

According to Mr. Samet, digital menus encourage people to spend more by showing them appetizing photos and by suggesting other items that go well with their order. There are other advantages, too. Restaurant owners can change prices or take items off the menu without having to reprint anything, and they can use the menu for advertising or to analyze the customers’ favorites.

“I was overseas in Israel and I saw it in restaurants, and it struck me as an unbelievable idea,” Samet says.

Oriya Klein, the 20-something owner of Sushi Moto, a kosher Japanese eatery in Brooklyn, said electronic menus will make his restaurant unique.

“It just makes sense. The paper menu doesn’t do the food justice,” he says. “You want a menu that’s fun to go through, and that’s what I was looking for.”

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