Order Your Next Burger on a Tablet Computer from E La Carte

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Dave McClure (500 Startups), Joshua Schachter (ex-Delicious/Yahoo), Paul Buchheit (ex-Google), and Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian (ex-Reddit). Executives from Applebees and other restaurant chains have also invested, according to Suri.

Putting computer-based ordering systems on restaurant tables isn’t actually a new idea. Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese’s, launched a device called the “uWink Media Bistro” in 2007, but the large CRT-style screens never caught on and uWink evolved into an entertainment software company called Tapcode. High-end restaurants like Aureole in Las Vegas have also experimented with tablet-PC wine lists.

But until recently, the technology to make table-based ordering practical “has not been around,” says Suri. It took the advent of compact, versatile, Wi-Fi-enabled touchscreen devices like the iPad to show what was possible in restaurants, he says. “You can order, pay, tip, play games, and provide feedback,” says Suri. “There are [mobile] apps that do these different things, but we put them all together and make it easy to use and make it cheap, and that is the key.”

Suri emphasizes that restaurant wait staff won’t be rendered redundant by E la Carte’s technology—they just won’t have to deal with the most mechanical parts of meal transactions. “If guests order on the system, that gives servers the opportunity to provide hospitality in other ways,” Suri says. “We take the boring part away and allow them to relate to their customers better.”

And perhaps earn a higher tip in the process. The E la Carte tablets provide a selection of pre-set tip amounts, all the way up to 22 percent. From beta testing, the startup has found that guests using the devices tip 8 percent more on average.

But the biggest benefit of the system, Suri says, is that it encourages impulse buys—that extra Coke that you might not have ordered if you had been forced to flag down a waiter. “It’s easy to push a couple of buttons and order a soda for $2.50,” says Suri. “Their cost is about 14 cents, so the margin is very high”—which helps makes up for more expensive items like kitchen equipment, cooks, and (now) tablet computers.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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