Dining by iPadlight
Photo by Becca Dilley
You can talk about the local flavor of the new G Concourse restaurants (reviewed in the current edition of Minnesota Monthly), or about the caliber of the chef-consultants who helped to design their menus. You can talk about the culinary ambition of putting real food in an airport terminal, but you'd be missing the big picture, the change that's as seductive as it is scary to the veteran diner.
It's the iPads.
They're the first thing that strikes your eye as you stroll through the restaurants (and banks of restaurant-adjacent chairs) that fill the G Concourse at MSP. There are hundreds of them, perched on little metal stands designed to look like high heels. The iPads call to you with an unending stream of soft, pulsing light and professional food photography.
If you want to order pizza at Vero, you just touch a nearby iPad, touch the Vero menu icon, touch the picture of a pizza, and flip through a lushly illustrated electric gallery of Italian-American food porn until you strike the pie of your fancy. Then you hit a little plus button—just like shopping online—and, assuming you don't also want a bottle of wine or an after-dinner affogato, you conclude your transaction by swiping a credit card through the tableside console. Done. The pizza is delivered to your table by an old-fashioned human being some minutes later.
The Five Best Things About iPad Dining
1. No Remembering Your Order. Rather than trying to recite your order from memory or the menu (sometimes difficult for the sleep-deprived sojourner) you just navigate a rewarding visual landscape until the perfect meal is assembled. And then you swipe. Done.
2. Flight Data. You can input your flight information into your menu iPad, and it'll keep track of it for you, giving you updates while you await your food, eat, and fall into a food coma at your table.
3. Pre-Tipping. With the iPad system, you take care of your meal and tip all in one fell swoop—and ahead of time. There is no asking for the check, paying the check, and amending the check with a tip, one of the most nerve-inducing bits of a meal for the diner in a hurry.
4. No More Pesky Servers. Anyone who has used and enjoyed BiteSquad knows the appeal of cutting human beings out of the ordering equation—orders don't get fumbled. You punch in what you want, and that's what arrives.
5. Lush Food Photography. You'll know what your food will look like before you order it, and gosh does it look good. OTG splashed out on some talented photographers, and the result are menus that are as appealing to the eye as they are to the palate.
Five Worst Things About iPad Dining
1. Lush Food Photography. We're already a fat country, and the way these iPads push food—with big, irrestiable photos and pop-up suggestions for desserts and drinks that might have otherwise escaped scrutiny—is downright aggressive. And it works. Oh, how it works.
2. The Loss of Human Contact. No more pesky servers also means no more insider suggestions on the restaurant's best dish, no more pleasant chatting about local events, and no more insight into the local condition. It's just you and a machine—like always, everywhere.
3. Insipid "You May Also Like" Suggestions. The algorithm will no doubt improve over time, but, no—just because I ordered a Joia soda with my entree does not mean I'd also like a T-bone steak to accompany that pop.
4. Lack of Precision For Some Items. While ordering oysters at Mimosa, we were able to choose "East Coast Oyster," but not select (or know) the variety beforehand. And each additional radio button pressed generated another oyster, but it wasn't clear if two buttons meant two oysters total ($7) or three ($10.50). Turned out to be three.
5. The iPads Get In The Way. Having clunky, distracting, glowing tablets perched vertically in the middle of your table impedes both service and conversation. At Mimosa, our server actually tipped them on their faces and put our plate of pork rillettes on top of them—it felt a bit scandalous, but also totally appropriate.
After ordering from iPads at five different G Concourse restaurants, one thing became clear: this technology is going to jump the security line and establish itself in the regular world of dining. Insomuch as that means ordering at Denny's will get that much easier, this is a positive development. But if it means every meal out, no matter how thoughtful or special, is conducted by the sterile glow of an electronic menu, we will have taken a step toward losing something important: food as fellowship.