Pizza delivered by drone and virtual waiting staff? It may seem like the stuff of sci-fi fantasy, but many of these digital dining innovations are already on their way to a restaurant near you
Service with a (virtual) smile
Imagine it: you walk into a local restaurant and the maître d greets you by name. So far, so normal – except for the fact they have identified who you are via Google Glass. Equipped with facial recognition software, staff will soon be able to instantly recall diners’ personal details, previous orders and even dietary requirements for those who opt in.
Once seated, there’s little waiting around. Restaurants such as Inamo in London diners already have tabletop tablets for placing food orders. “More recently, we’ve seen gesture-based tech enter the dining realm – futuristic installed iBeacons that register when visitors sit at the tables, and trigger a menu to appear on the tabletop,” says Mandy Saven, head of food, beverage and hospitality at innovation firm Stylus. “In addition, virtual waitresses appear on the ceiling when customers wave their hands over the tables (using Kinect sensors). How long will it be before these virtual waitresses also understand our unique culinary tastes and preferences?”
Touchscreen tables are also allowing patrons to watch programmes, check emails or play games, putting to bed any debates over TV dinner versus meal out. Still further ahead, videos may even appear on food packaging itself: energy solutions company Nth Degree Technologies forecasts it will be possible to put television screens on paper in 20 years’ time.
Try before you buy
“As concerns around food safety, sustainability and provenance heightens, consumers will appreciate greater levels of transparency when it comes to ingredients,” Saven predicts. For a taste of things to come look to Harney Sushi in California where QR codes are printed on rice paper using edible water-based ink. When scanned, these reveal where the fish was caught, current ocean stocks, and videos of the fishermen.
Then there’s the development of “electronic tongues”, which use sensors to measure taste and smell – an ideal way of trying before you buy. The ‘e-delicious machine’ unveiled by the Thai government in September 2014 is a good example, intended to safeguard against unwittingly consuming poorly-made Pad Thais and such like.
Another assurance of quality control could come from real-time webcams that enable diners to converse with producers, vitners or chefs, as you’ll find at Brazilian sushi restaurant Kimitachi and Chef’s Pass in New York.
Compliments to the chef
You might get a fright when you see who’s in the kitchen: an evolved robotic workforce is a very real prospect due to the savings in time, cost and food waste that it offers. A robotic hamburger-making machine under development by San Francisco-based start-up Momentum Machines is able to produce 400 burgers an hour, and the creators claim it can save the average restaurant $135,000 annually.
Just the way you like it
Whether the chef’s robot or human, diners are set to have more control over what’s on offer than ever before. So-called “co-creational menu” apps will gain ground, following in the footsteps of Tokyo’s Logbar, where iPads allow drinkers to create bespoke cocktails from a selection of bases and mixers, then post to a public timeline, earning a commission when someone else orders their concoction.
Surroundings are set to be equally responsive and customisable – like at Kitchen 67 in Michigan, where customers control a digital jukebox and LED ceiling tiles on-demand. “Technology will be in the form of forever changing environments,” says Christopher Lees, creative director of London architects d-raw. “Restaurants are slowly becoming immersive environments, a sonic and visual theatre -cape where the consumer is part of the production.”
‘Neurogastronomy’ – how the brain creates flavour and triggers our perception of it – is another key buzzword in future restaurant design, with high-tech settings able to dramatically enhance mood and flavour. There a lots of cutting-edge research happening in this field. A 2014 study by drinks company Diageo, for instance, found that curved furnishings and red lighting makes single malts taste sweeter. The restaurant Ultraviolet in Shanghai pairs each dish on the 20-course menu with kaleidoscopic wall projections, computerised lighting, scent diffusions and surround sound – all to intensify the taste of the food.
Tucking in and paying up
Once you’ve fine-tuned the ambience and customised your cricket stir-fry to your liking (oh yes, insects are bound to factor on our future menus), you may find the dish arrives courtesy of a helpful drone waiter. Yo Sushi! has trialled these devices in its restaurants, while in Russia Dodo Pizza began delivering pizzas by ‘domicopter’ last year. Able to cut fuel and labour costs for companies, airborne deliveries could become standard.
Finally, virtual wallets on our smartphones will let us pay seamlessly in a second. It looks like the days of the awkward “please could I have the bill” mime act are numbered.
This article was written by Estella Shardlow from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.