Last week, I experienced my first meal at a restaurant that was driven by a smartphone app. The entire process of ordering and paying for the meal was through a smartphone app, while the waiter was solely available to answer questions and bring food and drinks to the table. Our dinner party ranged across all ages (from 21 to 87) and across all levels of smartphone tech acumen.
The meal marked a severe disruption to how we typically dined out at the restaurant. Talking with the waiter, he was stressed and thankful we were nice people and open to new ideas. Other diners near our table were not nearly as receptive to the radical change in the dining experience which led to difficulty for both the diner and the individual.
As I struggled to adapt, my daughter reminded me that the Here I Am app faces the same challenges of bringing the smartphone into an experience that people have done the same way forever. Disrupting a comforting experience can indeed be a challenge.
Across a number of dimensions, the dining experience showed the difficulties of a move towards pure app-based solutions.
Shifting of the Burden:
As diners, we were accustomed to the waiter bearing the burden of coordinating the meal. The waiter gathered all of our drink orders, appetizers, main course, and desserts. Answering questions and working to ensure orders came out together.
As individuals using the app, we all searched on our own phone and submitted choices. One diner (the 87-year-old) did not have a smartphone, placing the burden on another diner to order for them. Special requests had to be thumb typed in and some did not hit ‘submit’ button. The result? Entrees coming out at different times, picking wrong ingredients out of the dishes, and a stressful experience as the diner took on the burden of the ordering process.
The Constraints of Consistent Technology:
App design is difficult to replicate consistently across devices. As we tried to help each other navigate the ordering app, we quickly realized that different options and button were in different positions. On the iPhone X, the submit button looked great on the bottom of the screen. On the iPhone 8, with large front enabled, the submit button was nowhere to be seen until a long scroll down occurred. An inconsistent experience across devices did not bring a consistent dining experience for everyone.
Did I order twice? How do we tip? Does the meal come with fries? How do we combine the users into one bill? Do I need a password? These were among the many questions that arose. Most of these items were details we never had to consider during a normal time dining out.
The meal was still a wonderful time. We enjoyed catching up with family and each other’s company. The waiter only arrived when asked (via a call button on the table). When we were done with the meal and the conversation, checkout only took a few seconds instead of waiting for the bill and payment to occur. A great memory was made.
Technology should make the world easier for all. Whether for cost savings or health reasons, simply shifting the burden from one party to another does not increase the joy of the experience. An organization cannot simply focus on their bottom line, they have to focus on the end user’s experience to ensure the tech adds benefit to all parties. I am sure the app-based meal experience will improve over time, but the hurdles are large as people take time to change.
Written by Tom