?`s and ANNEswers

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Harbinger of the Future

It was a sunny afternoon, so Earl and I decided to visit some of our favorite haunts – if you can really call Costco or Talbot’s a “haunt” – in South Bend. Of course, these trips always include a meal at one of Earl’s favorite eateries: either Olive Garden or Famous Dave’s.

It was a tough decision but endless garlic rolls and salad won over barbecued brisket and baked beans. It also meant Earl first had to forego his quarter pound hot dog AND his slice of pizza at Costco.

We were seated immediately even though the parking lot suggested it might be otherwise. A server passing by acknowledged us and said she’d be right back as we got comfy in our seats.  And that’s when I noticed it: a computer the size of a tablet in a stand on the corner of our table. The word ‘ZIOSK’ was written on the bottom of this intruder.

I checked the definition on Google® and learned that ZIOSK is the “first pay-at-the-table and entertainment device for the restaurant industry.” And according to its website it has already made the acquaintance of 350,000,000 guests.

With it you can order drinks and food, play games, and swipe your credit card as payment at the end.  According to Tabitha, the server who did return, it’s supposed to provide better service when the staff is super-busy. So far, the only thing you can’t do is order your entrée, so there is some human interaction possible.

Tabitha said the Olive Garden instituted this program about two months ago, and she likes it; although I wondered if someday soon she might be out of a job just as ATM machines have replaced tellers and automated voices have replaced switchboard operators. I didn’t ask.

Earl was curious and spent a few minutes playing with ZIOSK, while I looked around the dining room.  At one table a young girl was playing with it, while the two adults with her ate their meal.  At another table a young man was explaining it to his tablemates. At yet another, a patron was waiting for his receipt to burp forth from the device.

Do diners eat more when they can order without waiting for service?  Does this translate to great profit for the establishment? And what happens when the machine runs out of paper, like the self-serve pumps at gas stations do?

I don’t embrace the concept of constant connection with one’s technology, and I wondered if ZIOSK had the ability to record conversations or film us. Is the IRS or the FBI involved?  Call me reactionary, but I turned ZIOSK around so that it could film others.

Next time we visit South Bend I’m calling ahead to see if Famous Dave’s and ZIOSK are acquainted.  If the answer is “Yes,” then I’ll join Earl at Costco for that hot dog.  As of today, you still ordered from a real person there.

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