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Waiter, There's an iPad in My Soup

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The two founders of BJ's Restaurants (Nasdaq: BJRI  ) are striking out on their own with a new concept called Stacked.

There won't be waiters taking orders. Every table will have an Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPad, allowing patrons to scour the menu and send customized food and beverage orders to the kitchen.

A high-tech automated eatery isn't new. I hit up uWink -- a concept dreamed up by the same guy behind Atari and Chuck E. Cheese -- three summers ago. Every table had a pair of touchscreen monitors where guests could place orders, play games, or engage in trivia bouts with other diners.

It proved to be too much. The uWink website claims that the restaurant closed in September, though it's still looking to license its Tapcode software platform.

Touchscreen monitors in bars and eateries seemed extravagant at the time. Outside of a few upscale bars with Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Surface installations, restaurants haven't warmed up to interactive tech -- until now.

Stacked isn't the only eatery incorporating Apple's defining tablet. Some restaurants have their wine lists available on iPads. Some restaurateurs are even managing their establishments with the iPad.

IAC's (Nasdaq: IACI  ) UrbanSpoon rolled out RezBook in select Seattle restaurants last year. The plan is to take on OpenTable's (Nasdaq: OPEN  ) costlier hardware platform, yet still offer web-based reservations and an electronic reservations book like OpenTable's marquee platform.

The hospitality industry is bound to have mixed feelings about the iPad invasion. Wait staff jobs will be threatened as a smaller staff of food runners is all that will be needed. The engaging interface will likely prop up average orders and help turn tables faster.

Tablets are attractively priced, and they will continue to get cheaper. Today's novelty may be standard equipment in a few years.

Why not? Visual iPads may do a better job of moving daily specials. They'll definitely make it easier to order another round of drinks. If restaurants are smart, they can also use tablets to capture diner contact information to market to them directly later.

Mobile ordering is already revolutionizing certain chains. Chipotle's (NYSE: CMG  ) mobile ordering app had some hiccups during its introduction two years ago, but it eventually helped tech-savvy burrito lovers bypass potential long ordering queues by tapping in their orders.

The technology is here, and it won't take long before the savviest of restaurants take advantage of the potential. My experience at uWink in Hollywood three years ago was surreal, but it's about to become a lot more commonplace.

Would ordering from an iPad be cool or cold? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Chipotle and OpenTable are Motley Fool Rule Breakers choices. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Chipotle is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. The Fool has written puts on Apple. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Chipotle, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of new stocks, and has even recommended several fresh IPOs to newsletter readers in the past -- including OpenTable and Chipotle. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (6)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 18, 2011, at 5:17 PM, brucedieter wrote:

    UK pubs are halfway there and we loved it. Give your table number to the bartenders when placing your order (get a tall cool one at the same time) and a runner brings your food in a flash. Service wasn't cold and neither was the food.

  • Report this Comment On February 19, 2011, at 11:17 AM, techy46 wrote:

    Back to the future? Sounds like a Sonic drive-in

  • Report this Comment On February 20, 2011, at 10:01 AM, rtekosky wrote:

    After using tablets at a doctors office and a new NYC food court, I was very impressed with the numerous advantages, ease of use being only the first. I have no doubt that these two large markets can benefit greatly-cost saving, time saving, error reduction. The public should love both of these improvements.

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