Has Restaurant Technology Gone too Far? Chefs and Restaurant Owners Dish on the Dangers of Restaurant Tech

We live in a tech-savvy world and restaurants must learn to adapt their concepts to work within the technical realm. However at what point does restaurant technology evolve from innovative to invasive? And do diners really want an all-tech experience when dining out? 

Below, chefs and restaurant owners dish on the dangers of too much reliance on restaurant technology, as well as share how they find a balance working with technology in their own establishments. 

Nikki Booth, Co-Owner of Knuckle & Claw

“All technological advances come with pros and cons. One plus of today’s technology is it makes it possible for small business owners to reach more potential customers in an inexpensive way. It has also become very important for diners to communicate their likes and dislikes regarding restaurants online through sites like Yelp, giving the business more exposure than was previously available.  

On the other hand, I have noticed that diners, myself included, are more focused on their phones during their dining experience. The dinner becomes more about the Instagram opportunity and less about the food and company, which really can detract from a dining experience.

We utilize technology at Knuckle & Claw with our new iPad ordering system. The point of it is to maximize convenience, but it hasn’t been all that helpful yet. You can tell those who created the technology program have never worked in a restaurant before because it doesn’t always make things more efficient and if you’re not used to the system, it can just slow things down.”

Chris Kramer, Head Bar Manager & GM of The Larchmont

"We do our best to keep technology from taking the stage away from traditional fine dining, we keep the phones low and out of customer earshot, all orders are written down by servers even though we have iPads as not to interfere with the classic charm of the restaurant. Guests at the bar chat and play with phones but probably because of the charming atmosphere of the restaurants guests will always be posting Instagram photos of each other and dishes. We do have to remind people once in a while that the flash is very disruptive to the moody lighting at dinner time, and they still get their photos just fine by candle light."

Mathew Cape, Co-Owner of The Larchmont

“Technology can take away the element of surprise from the simple discovery of a meal or a dish since you can now go online and find a picture of it. It also takes away from the simple experience of having dinner with friends. I heard of a few restaurants banning cell phones at dinner to bring back that convivial human touch.

On an operation level, Open Table and the new technologies have been very helpful for us as far as handling reservations.”

David King, Co-Owner of the Forthcoming Baldoria

“Technology is here. Our society is more tech savvy than it has ever been, so I assume we should have seen this rough beast (Yeats, he’s cool) approaching for a while now. Nevertheless, guests’ use of technology in restaurants has been a hot topic lately. Most of the complaints I hear from restaurant owners, managers, and chefs concern the prevalence and power of guest written review sites. The two issues I hear often are a) any John or Jane Doe off the street who prefers ketchup on everything, including ice cream, has just as powerful a voice on review sites as do professional restaurant critics with experienced palates and b) guests are so wrapped up in their critiques of the restaurant that they spend most their dining experience on their phones taking pictures or writing comments rather than being present with the food and people around them. I understand these concerns, especially the second one, and I have them myself. But this battle is not a new one.

Dystopian stories spurred by technology taking over society have been around for a hundred years. Granted, a Yelper not liking my mushroom espuma is not quite the same, (although some chefs might seem to intimate it is), but the conflict is similar. Technology makes processes more efficient. It allows people to connect and share their opinions on a wider scale than ever before. Word of mouth has become word of the #hashtag. But with this efficiency and ability to reach a large scale audience, experience, meaning the participation in those things in your immediate vicinity, can often suffer. If one’s focus is upon reaching the masses instead of the person sitting across the table, I think we lose a human element that I feel is essential in dining. I am not a sociologist, and I am certainly not qualified to figure out the exact balance of technology vs experience in current society. So I can only give my brief opinion and try to sum up what I’ve heard from other hospitality professionals.

Only the most archaic of us restaurant pros are anti-technology. What is mankind without his tools, after all? Yet, maybe us restaurant people are just asking for a little more moderation, a little human touch in between the shout outs to your 50,000 followers. Tweet a picture of another person enjoying that amazing, fresh Epoisses the restaurant somehow got stateside. Take a moment to smile after your 1990 Barolo. And enjoy the food while it’s hot. Because, after all, we do what we do so that you may enjoy the experience. That’s what it is about. What diners do with that enjoyment is completely up to them.”