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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. 

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Other New York City kosher eateries, including Abigael’s on Broadway, Don’t Tell Mama, and the Garden of Eat-In also installed electronic menus in April. Chaim Kirschner, the co-owner of the Brooklyn-based Garden of Eat-In, is hoping that having an electronic menu on iPads in the restaurant will bring more computer-loving children.

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“If kids want to come here, it will increase business,” he says.

While some restaurant owners said they will have paper and electronic menus available, others plan to eliminate the old-fashioned menu – and order-taking waiters – eventually.

Several companies have jumped on the electronic-menu idea to expand its horizons.

Titbit, a company with a research and design team in India, makes an application that allows diners to search through wines based on price, country, and year. The food menu can also be searched, allowing vegetarians to see only the meatless options, for example. Electronic menus can even feature videos of the chef preparing various dishes, said Nese Arslan, Titbit’s vice president of business development.

“It depends how you want to use it. The possibilities are endless,” she said.

A Florida-based company, Uptown Network, has installed electronic menus at 20 restaurants and developed an application that allows people to load an unlimited number of menus onto their own iPads, says CEO Jack Serfass. The application, called Personal Somellier, is available on Apple’s App Store. 

“There is no doubt that in the next five years, there will be more interactive menus than paper menus, and eventually the paper menu will go away,” Mr. Serfass says. 

Waiters, however, are not on the verge of extinction, he says. Most of his clients are upscale establishments that will keep their waiters no matter what. "They still want to make sure the server is part of the dining experience," he says. 

Besides, not all electronic menus on the market right now are as advanced as the Presto. Many devices don't have credit-card slots or allow customers to place their order simply by touching the screen. Some devices are simply used as a new way to display items on the menu.

But Mr. Suri of E la Carte says that some restaurants cut their waitstaff by about 20 percent after switching to the Presto – while others chose to eliminate servers completely. 

As for Mr. Kirschner of the Garden of Eat-In, he says he will keep waiters because the electronic menus "are expensive items that I can't put on every table."

And he still has his reservations about the technology. He notes that the digital menu is not popular with older customers, and he worries that they will become a distraction for younger customers. 

“We don’t want people staying too long, either. If they finish eating, they could just keep playing and playing" on the iPad, he says, adding that he has so far only invested in a few to see how they work out. 


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