Complex Vs. Simple Interfaces: Why I Dislike UWink

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about automation and touch screens (I think something along the lines of a Microsoft Surface was on CSI: Long Beach Miami last night, close to that nifty technology in Minority Report), and the discussion about ordering food at restaurants came up.

She said something that was translated into, “you know, wouldn’t it be cool if there were touch screens to order food at restaurants.” At that point, I went off on a rant.

There are a few cases that I can think of where technology has improved customer service. Recordings starting the 411 process on most phone directories is one, some directory operations at government operations another, but for the most part, there’s nothing better than a human being when fuzzy logic is needed, or the questions undefined, like, “can I have my burger medium rare?” Self-checkout systems are gathering adoption momentum at supermarkets, but there’s always going to be a certain market segment that’s going to want to talk to Sally the checker.

Here’s why I think that touch screens will always have a low adoption rate at restaurants.

If it takes noticably longer for a computer to perform the task than a person, user adoption will never happen.

I ate at one of those uWink restaraunts, and they have touch screens at every table. You can order food, drinks, almost everything to order. The hope is that the server just brings it out to you.

The problem?

It takes forever to order.

We spent over 10 minutes trying to figure out the interface. That’s about 7 minutes longer than if a server comes over with a piece of paper, and writes down the order. By the time that server could have returned with my beer, we were still entering our order.

Anything that stands in the way of my beer getting to me quicker is a bad thing.

The technology is too expensive.

Each of those stations costs about $1000. Mutliply that by 40 tables in a restaurant, plus replacement costs for sticky fingers, crashed hard-drives, whatever. Do you think most restaurant owners want to spend an extra $100,000 in technology costs on top of the environmental design of the restaurant? And what happens when the system goes down?

Owners love to replace employees with computers when it makes sense financials. It makes sense for ATMs, because they’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without having to take a coffee break. But replicating the same technology at multiple stations isn’t the same thing.

People just want to be taken care of.  

Self-service technology has come along way, from support forums on most electronic websites to banking at ATMs and online (I still don’t understand why ATM service fees are so high when it’s cheaper for banks to do business that way instead of having human intervention, but that’s another rant). But in a few situations, people just want to have a sense of getting valu, for their money. Using a touch screen at a restaurant isn’t getting value for my money, but having a server wearing a tie is.

Your thoughts?

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