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By Elena Kadvany

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About this blog: I am a perpetually hungry twenty-something journalist, born and raised in Menlo Park and currently working at the Palo Alto Weekly as online editor. I graduated from USC with a major in Spanish and a minor in journalism. Though my...  (More)

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When dining meets tech

Uploaded: Oct 29, 2013
Two articles I saw this week prompted me to think about the role that technology plays in eating out. The first, "How Mobile Technology Is Changing the Way We Dine Out," in the Wall Street Journal, details how technology has totally revolutionized the way we eat, "for better and worse."

There's numerous websites and smartphone apps – Yelp, OpenTable, Urbanspoon, Zagat – that help us choose where to eat. Others help us pay the tab, select a wine, order delivery, share photos, stick to a diet, find a happy hour close by, snag deals. It's endless.

Yelp is my drug of choice. When I'm deciding where to eat, I go straight there. I can not only read other diners' reviews, but also look at what eats are close to wherever I am, check a list of bookmarked places I want to try, photos of dishes, if somewhere is offering a deal or not (i.e. check in at that restaurant on Yelp and receive a free glass of house wine, free dessert, free guac and chips, etc.).

If a restaurant isn't rated well on Yelp, my perception of it immediately goes downhill. I'm less likely to try it. (If it's not even on Yelp, forget it.) I firmly believe in Yelp as a community where others help others†– I avidly upload photos and write reviews to build that community in some small way. But it definitely stands in the way of what used to be a natural, word-of-mouth selection process for where to dine out.

The WSJ article also goes into the pitfalls of electronic reservations -- great for the diner, not so great for the restaurants. Lots of cancellations without calls. But how great is it when you get to a restaurant, the host puts your name and party size into an iPad and you can comfortably grab a drink around the corner while you wait for a text that lets you know your table is ready?

Many places are also now using tablets instead of menus (Calafia at Town and Country in Palo Alto has been doing this for awhile), which I think is totally strange. I love holding a menu and seeing how places do different, unique menu design. More on this phenomenon in this NPR piece: "Goodbye Paper Menus? Restaurants Test the Water for Tablets."

What are your thoughts? Does technology have any place in the dining out experience? Is this something we should embrace, reject, enjoy?



Comments

Posted by justg, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 4:32 pm

well, darbar makes the best sauces rice korma pakoras butter sauce,but hey, they could make ''butter tofu'' instead of ''chicken'' their butter sauce is the best youve seen. calafia has best salads stuff ,sanchos besst fish burrito but does anyone trust fish anymore from that poisoned ocean. the pizza place on cal ave has the most authentic looking pizza from fire oven.why cant the use ''hemp stems and twigs instead of ''wood'' for cleaner air and ,imagine ,all these ''hemp fired'' pizza places could ad a ''lilt'' to the evening stroll with ''hemp fumes''om much cleaner ''wood fired'' pizza....pizza with pizzaz.no electronic media needed. you now know everything about the area.


Posted by Angela Hey, Mountain View Voice Blogger,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Angela Hey is a registered user.

I find the Foodspotting app - now part of Open Table (another useful app for making reservations) - very useful when in a strange town. You take pictures of food in a restaurant. Then when you go to a new town you can see other people's pictures of food in surrounding restaurants. I find it best to take all the pictures as soon as the food arrives on the table - then submit them to Foodspotting when there is a lull in service. I only have a few Foodspotting friends. I like to help a good restaurant get known through Foodspotting and many waiters and waitresses have been intrigued with it. You can photo the food quickly.

I recently paid 99c for an iPhone app - Bites and Chews - that tells you how fast to eat - 70 chews a minute is optimal and many things require 20 chews. The aim of the app is to make you eat slowly so that you eat less and get slim. Alex Nedvetsky, MD, PhD who wrote the app says he's seen the slow eating process work with his patients. So he designed the app. The app has eating times for popular restaurants. It would be intrusive to have it ticking like a metronome, but it should be OK to sit on the table. See Web Link.

I don't mind being photographed while dining - so using a smartphone as a camera is fine with me.

Another acceptable cellphone use might be to look at the time.

If the purpose of a meal is to discuss a presentation, video or photo - then a cellphone can easily be shared. In fact, a tablet or laptop might be appropriate for such a discussion. Maybe you are excited about some new shoes - then it's easier to show a picture of those red soles on a cellphone than describe them.

Looking up answers to questions during a meal, for me is interesting. Fact checking is another reason for using a smartphone.

Reading email, texting and answering phone calls during a meal that could demonstrate poor manners. So I don't like people using a cellphone to communicate with others, but to communicate with a relevant and informative app seems OK.

I'd be interested to know what others think.


Posted by AnneGrace, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera,
on Oct 31, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I use Chowhound message boards to research any place we visit. It's the best place to find great new and old restaurants and good values. Most posters are super foodies.


Posted by Jeff, a resident of another community,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:57 pm

The main problem for me & many other foodies who eat out often is that there's no easy way to access the food we love & recommend them to friends. If I asked you for dish recs from your trip to NYC, it should be as easy as you sharing a list in 1 minute or less. I used to use foursquare lists for that but it's hard to rec a specific dish. Now I use foodmento (disclosure: I'm the founder) and all my friends have easy access to the 1000+ dishes I loved in 35+ cities. It should be that easy :)


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