Improving Wireless Ordering at Restaurants

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Last night, we got to order dinner on a wireless touchscreen, actually an iPad in Aluminum body armour. Pretty cool. This was not our first time, but it was a surprise because we were not at some fancy restaurant but instead at a modest place in Chinatown. It just goes to show how widely this technology has diffused. The use of a touchscreen menu was useful in this context for overcoming language barriers as the waiters weren’t the most fluent English speakers and although some of us spoke Chinese it was not the same dialect.

Unfortunately, like at many other places, we found that the restaurant was using a smart tablet in the same old “non-smart” way. i.e., just as an electronic version of their printed menu but with ordering capability built-in. I suspect that we’ll be seeing smarter devices soon. For instance, the computer should make customised recommendations based on your dining preferences, group composition and the chef’s knowledge of which dishes and beverages go well together. It should be more interactive, adapting the menu recommendations as you progress through a meal based on whether you liked a particular dish. This could change the dining experience from being a static one, where you order at the start and cannot make changes, to one that is more interesting and dynamic.

At a basic level, many restaurants are using the wrong device: instead of investing in their own tablets they should be offering a software application that downloads directly to your own smartphone/tablet as soon as you sit down at a table. This would allow you to make more personalised selections, for example using your own (private) dining history and food restrictions to help find suitable matches in the menu as well as making recommendations based on reviews posted by others online, or maybe even via a transitory peer-to-peer network of other diners.

ps: now that I’ve put these ideas out, they become “prior art” so hopefully this prevents companies from patenting them and filing frivolous lawsuits, thus ruining my future dining experiences.

Ordering on a Tablet
Ordering on a Tablet

 

3 Responses to "Improving Wireless Ordering at Restaurants"
  1. When Google became incorporated in September 1998, Page and Brin had already explained to the world how the Google pagerank algorithm would work (Seventh World Wide Web Conference, Brisbane, April 1998, http://www7.scu.edu.au/1921/com1921.htm). They had not tried to patent it, and it was several years afterwards before Google took out any patents at all.

    The basic algorithm has evolved out of all recognition and, like Coca-Cola long before, Google has protected its competitive edge as trade secrets, not by the use of patents. Yet in discussions of patent law and competitiveness, use of trade secrets never seems to rate a mention.

    There are some things that trade secrets cannot protect, such as the rounded edges of an iPhone casing. But it seems to me to be abuse of the system to claim patent protection over something as obvious as that. Production of objects with rounded edges must pre-date civilisation itself.

  2. Hi Andreas and MikeM, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Patents are a bane and excessive patenting can curb innovation especially in technological areas where cumulative scientific progress is important. However, eliminating the system entirely might not be the best solution. Like other forms of property rights they do play an important role, in this case providing incentives for R&D. While critics often say inventors are often willing to create new things without patents as an incentive, invention is only a small step in the overall process of commercialization. The key problem with patents is its “one size fits all” approach, making it a crude instrument whereas innovations vary greatly in terms of the value of such protection and cumulativeness.
    Judge Posner just posted some interesting thoughts on this, offering a useful way to think about the value of having patents and when they are excessive. He also discusses the difference between copyrights and patents, which are often confused witih one another. see http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/2012/09/do-patent-and-copyright-law-restrict-competition-and-creativity-excessively-posner.html

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