Is that a menu or an iPad 2?

Photo by Sean MacEntee/Flickr.

Posted by Casey Morgan

Restaurateur George Formaro, owner of urban eateries such as Centro,DjangoSouth Union Bread Cafe,Gateway Market and Cafe and his latest venture, Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, has just one-upped the competition again.

Formaro is well-known for trend-setting in the downtown Des Moines food scene, but his latest tech-friendly additions have placed him head-and-shoulders above the competition: he’s introduced upwards of 25 iPad 2s at two of his prominent restaurants, Centro and Django, which patrons use to seamlessly peruse the wine list and cocktail menu.

This may seem like a stretch to some, but the technological advance has been embraced by their clientele thus far.

Rather than plodding through numerous pages of large, cumbersome wine lists or cocktail menus, Centro and Django diners are greeted with sleek iPad 2s, which offer extensive descriptions of the prospective drinks in a user-friendly fashion.

Too dark in that dimly-lit dining room to read the menu? That’s fine, just increase the brightness. Is the description of that chardonnay too small to read? That’s okay, just zoom in on the item. It’s a revelatory experience for Des Moines diners.

Formaro isn’t the first restaurateur to employ iPads to enhance the dining experience, but he’s definitely the first to take the leap in Des Moines.

It’s a nation-wide trend, and one New York City restaurant in particular, De Santos, located in the trend-setting West Village, is the first to run exclusively off of Apple’s tablets. Their entire POS system can be accessed from a convenient app on the tablets. Everything from being seated in the dining room to paying for the meal is all done via the iPad 2. Read more about De Santos’ innovative approach here.

So will Des Moines restaurants ante up and upgrade their menus to more efficient iPads? Or will they remain in the dark, churning out menu after menu off of Gutenberg-era printing presses?

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9 responses to “Is that a menu or an iPad 2?

  1. This is so cool! I never though of an Ipad as a menu before, but it fits! The versatility is great for customers with special requirements, like you said. I’m so glad Formaro is paving the way for other Des Moines restaurants. I don’t think we’ll see others joining in anytime soon, but it’s definitely something to look forward to!

  2. Emily - Drake University

    I never would have thought of that! It’s a really smart move – I’m sure some people will go just because they hear about the iPad menus. It really is a great idea. The ability to zoom in on descriptions will mean never again having to awkwardly point to a tiny script and ask for a list of ingredients. I can’t see many places in Des Moines jumping on the bandwagon, because it’s probably expensive and they already have regular menus.

  3. Wow, this is a great idea! Next thing you know, the menus will be implemented into touch-screen tables! But in all seriousness, this really is a fabulous way to incorporate technology into the dining experience. Among the benefits you pointed out in being able to read the small print and turn up the brightness, I can only imagine the sense of luxury the diners feel with their iPad 2s in hand!

  4. Though this is a very creative idea, I think there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. The opportunities an iPad could give to customers would be great, but do they outweigh the risks? Restaurants would have to pay a lot of money for so many iPads I would think. But maybe they could strike a deal with Apple. But if the iPad freezes or breaks in the hands of a hungry customer, you’ve got a problem. Though chefs could update their menus more easily and frequently, it won’t do any good if the customer is technologically-impaired; it may even cause the loss of a demographic. Using technology may seem easy to our generation, but some people just freeze up when they know they’ll have to figure out a new device. And the possibility of spilled drinks, dropped food and careless children makes me cringe at the fates of those iPads. They may be a good idea for fancy restaurants and wine lists, but expanding to new sections of the menu and kinds of restaurants may not be the best idea.

  5. This is a very cool feature, but I don’t see this becoming common in every restaurant. This is very nice for restaurants/bars like El Bait Shop that has a massive amount of beers on tap, as it is much easier to keep a current beer list on an iPad compared to a printed menu. In the long run, this would cost save the restaurant money, too. The same concept goes for restaurants with constantly changing specials, large wine lists, fresh seafood selections, etc. As someone that has waited tables and been a bartender, I see this as a very valuable tool, as the Des Moines Register article said, as with the constantly updating i{ad menu, the waiter won’t have to inform the guests that “the restaurant is out of that wine…”. This is a great thing, as saying this to guests is sometimes awkward, especially when/if the guest shows a great deal of excitement for that particular item. I do not think that for now a lot of restaurants will go to this method of menus. Restaurants that do no have menus that change often, probably would not find this a price effective option. Also, restaurants with older guests might find this confusing. I cannot imagine my parents being alright with ordering off an iPad at the Waterfront Seafood Market, it is a major step for them that they can even get on Facebook.

  6. The crux of the matter is that most restaurants are not technologically savvy or inclined enough to include this. There is also the cost-prohibition of buying and maintaining all of this technology. Your waiters/waitresses will also need to be trained to handle any problems there might be with the technology, or the management might need to hire and brand new position to handle those problems. It’s a cool idea for those restaurants who are so inclined, but I believe that is a very small percentage.

  7. I love this idea, and I can see the benefits to incorporating such a system into a restaurant. I also agree with Katie that not all customers know how to use iPads – or even touch screens. When we incorporated touch screen computers at my old retail job in 2009, none of the older employees understood how the technology worked. They clicked the screen with their fingernails and got frustrated when it wouldn’t respond to them.

    However, maybe this restaurant has a younger demographic anyway; if so, they’re maximizing on both a practical technology and a “fun” factor that draws customers in the door.

  8. I think this will start popping up more and more over the years–it’s an alternative to the traditional menu and could even draw more people into a restaurant. I agree with Olivia and Katie about their comments on the demographic: Not everyone will know how to use them, but most of the people that will frequent the venues will because it’s geared toward that audience.

    At this point, though, a restaurant purchasing a bunch of iPads or tablets won’t be within many’s means. They’re expensive to start out with, and they’re definitely breakable, even with protective cases. However, as the technology becomes more widespread, I see this trend catching on more.

  9. I hate this idea. Call me old fashioned, but I think meals are supposed to be about fellowship and socializing, and I worry that this form of technology could take away from that. It also makes communicating with waiters and waitresses less personal. Additionally, I feel that it is a far less practical way to spend money. While it may draw in some people, it will turn away others. I believe there are more beneficial ways to increase popularity and spur profits, such as new menu options or a more friendly atmosphere.

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