This Waiter Doesn't Need a Tip
How restaurants will use tablet computers to replace servers.
Finally, there is the question of the tablet. E La Carte's is sturdy—designed to be manhandled, spilled on, dropped, and poked. But is it really baby-, margarita-, and idiot-proof? What happens if it looks dingy and old and clunky after a few months? What happens if the computer slows? What happens if someone comes along with an app that allows everyone to order right from their Droids or their iPhones?
Those questions aside, the market seems ready for the technology. E La Carte says it plans to announce a deal with a national chain soon. They won't say who it is. But, for what it's worth, an Applebee's executive is an investor and is mentioned in their press materials. So even if you can't always get the white tablecloth guy to bring you your check, you might soon be able to get your basket of chicken fingers ordered the 21st-century way.
Annie Lowrey, formerly Slate’s Moneybox columnist, is economic policy reporter for the New York Times.
Illustration by Rob Donnellly.