FOHcus: Sci-Fi Server

Technology is changing the way we behave. I'm still not fully adjusted to the site of another driver blowing by me on the freeway, their eyes shifting up and down from their mobile device. When did we suddenly become so attached to these devices that we'd actually risk our lives to use them?

About 15 years ago, I was given a copy of William Gibson's 1994 sci-fi thriller, Virtual Light. If you're unfamiliar, it's the story of a San Francisco bike messenger, living in the future, who comes across a pair of steel-framed eye glasses that allow her to see a digitally enhanced version of her surroundings.

At the the time, the concept of augmented reality was very forward-thinking. Today, we've entered into an age of digital convergence, and fast change is all around us. What passed for a cell phone in 1994 wouldn't even function on today's 3G network. Cellphones were once these annoying devices that rang in all the wrong places; now, they serve as status symbols and extensions of our personalities, connecting us to the ever expanding social web. By all accounts, they are here to stay, and life will continue to adjust and shape itself around them.

As a restaurant industry professional focusing on social media integration and adoption, I am particularly interested in how these trends will translate into applications and tools for our industry.
Last night, while I was waiting tables, a guest pulled out his iPhone, selected a Yelp app called Monocle, and proceeded to scan the room in sweeping motions. Monocle "uses the phone's GPS and compass to display markers for restaurants, bars and other nearby businesses on top of the camera's view (source)."


The guest also used another app called Red Laser to scan the barcode of the 2008 Duckhorn Decoy Bordeaux Blend that I had been pouring. He proceeded to show all his guests the website for Duckhorn, and a number of other sites that showed the suggested retail price and options to purchase the wine online. All of this took place during the normal course of the dinner. He literally accessed all this information while holding a fork in one hand and his phone in the other.

At what point will servers have access to the same tools? When will POS systems be freed from their current lowly status as internal software programs, and integrated with the social web? When will a server be able to access his sales history online, complete with product descriptions, tipping patterns, upselling suggestions, links to vendor websites and social networks,etc.? What if a server could receive a detailed report or dashboard readout of his performance, measured against his coworkers and across the company, given he worked at a multi-unit restaurant. What if all this could be tied into his social network, so that he could talk about the wine he sold the night before, or visit the fan site of a ranch whose farming practices he describes tableside each night? Would he do all of this on his own, or would there need to be incentives and encouragement from his employers and the restaurant industry?

Is this closer than we think? If so, what in the world are we doing to prepare ourselves? Will this kind of engagement just start happening? Will we all self-organize, or will we need to be intentional and focused? As members of FohBoh, we are all talking about these issues, and that gives us an advantage. But, this is more than just being prepared for new technologies; this is about radical adaptation and connectivity. How are you processing this digital phenomena?

Michael Biesemeyer
Community Manager

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  • I agree that the issue is entangled, but not unfathomable.

    The house is already coming down. Not in a doomsday kind of way, more like an unraveling thread. Keeping our head in the sand certainly isn't going to help.

    I am optimistic that we will find solutions, however, the longer we procrastinate, the more drastic the solutions will have to be.
  • @Paul: Would you agree that this issue is too difficult for most people to process/consider because it questions/challenges the notion of perpetual progress and technological improvement that we've all come to accept? There seems to be a tendency in our industry towards optimism for the sake of remaining optimistic, if that makes any sense. These are huge issues, too huge for most people who are simply trying to provide for themselves and their customers, today.

    I hate to be the guy that brings the room down...
  • There may be planning for power failures, but I suggest that individual restaurants each have their own plan.

    A generator can supply power, but a widespread problem still means that terminals, processors, etc. will be non-functioning. What will you do?

    Having a plan could be the difference between chaos and efficiency.
  • @Paul: my head's spinning, too. The point you raise about grid failure is certainly one worth considering, and we'd all be fools to think that our antiquated infrastructure can handle the added load of all these devices. I read a sobering book called Power Down a few years back that raised the prospect of permanent grid failure (states with budget crises unable to pay their utility provider, for example). Scary stuff...

    I think we all assume that technology will just keep progressing, and that we can outsmart any and all potential obstacles (power failure, natural disasters, satellite outages, etc.).
    But, here's the thing. The momentum behind these changes, the sheer will and creative drive that's pushing these new technologies, will seek solutions that address the obstacles. I can't imagine that a power grid failure, even one that took out an entire section of the country (like the one a few years back) would deter the advance of these devices.

    I waited tables during a blackout back in the fall. The POS was down for 3 hours, the lights were off, the kitchen fan was off, the Open Table Terminal was off; it was a huge deal. We had to hand-write all of our tickets and manually process credit cards. Plenty of restaurants still do it all by hand...

    The BIG question: Are we all just running off the digital cliff like lemmings, or is there actual intention and planning that takes these various contingencies into account?
  • My head spins with the possibilities you raise. The idea of benchmarking server performance against co-workers presents an interesting prospect as an incentive program.

    How about holographic menus? Or menus on Kindles or iPads, with instant editing.

    There is, however, another side to all this digital interaction. How many of us are prepared to keep things rolling if there is a power outage, natural disaster, or glitch and the technology we rely upon isn't available for an extended period of time.

    Should we have drills, akin to fire drills, for that eventuality?

    I know we're not so far into technology reliance that we've forgotten the do-it-by-hand methods, but we are rapidly moving in that direction.
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