When Restaurants Go Mad – Pearl and the iPad Menu


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Pearl Restaurant, one of the best dining experiences in Melbourne, has perhaps lost the plot – and it’s not the chef that is to blame.

I read an article in The Australian that Chris Lucas, the new owner of Pearl since last year, has spent an astonishing $40,000 on five months worth of software development costs for what can only be described as gimmickry.

They are replacing the traditional paper menu’s with iPads. Oh how Steve Jobs will rejoice. $40,000 is a lot of money in the restaurant world. It’s enough to pay a waiter for a whole year. That’s not including the cost of the iPads, which are currently $629AUD each for the cheapest model. Apparently, they will only have 15 of them – at an additional cost of $9,435.

Something tells me Mr. Lucas has not thought this through. For instance, what happens when a table of ten come in? Do they have to share? Or will some people “miss out” on the technology (yes, that was sarcasm) and get paper menus instead?

Given that the seating capacity of the restaurant is 70, what happens when multiple groups of people start arriving at the same time? Does everyone else in the restaurant have to “wait their turn”? Let’s not forget that the iPad’s are not only used for the food menu, but also the wine list.

Logistics aside, there is something that really irks me about all this. Call me old fashioned, but I’d rather spend my time in the restaurant making conversation with Ritsy, rather than reading about where the star anise was sourced from.

Having recipes available for the dishes on the menu doesn’t excite me either – I mean, who carries around an iPad printer accessory with them anyway? I also prefer my menus without grubby fingerprints all over it (google “iPad Fingerprint Magnet” and you will see what I mean).

Chris says that the iPad is “not about making waiters redundant” – which I don’t doubt – iPad’s can’t pour water, take your coat, or carry three plates. What it does make redundant, however, is their knowledge. There is no way anyone in their right mind would spend upwards of $50k on “smart” menus if they didn’t have the intention of saving money on staff costs. Meaning, of course, they can hire anyone capable of stringing two words together and carrying two plates at a time.

My favorite quote from the article is “this platform can provide as little, or as much, information as each customer wants”. Honestly, Chris, if people really want to know more about anything, they can ask their waiter. And if you’re providing the information on the basis that people want to know more but are uneasy about asking, just put it on your website.

So, I wonder, what’s next? TV’s in the restaurant so that you can watch the chef’s prepare your food? (Don’t laugh – we attended a lunch function at Vue De Monde in the “Dom Perignon Room”, which has a large flat screen TV focused on the pass, to which our waiter effectively implied that the “theater of the kitchen” is more exciting than conversing with your fellow diners in typical stuck-up-staff-of-Vue-De-Monde fashion… Oui Chef.).

Time will tell how this expensive experiment will turn out. One thing’s for sure – if we go back to Pearl, I’ll be asking for the menu on paper, thanks.


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