RESTAURANTS across Europe, the USA and Japan are trialling the latest e-menu technology which could mean a waiter`s role is reduced to that of a mere food delivery boy.
The technology allows customers to order direct from an interactive menu which not only has novelty value for younger and maybe even established diners, but also entices the customer by displaying tasty pictures of each dish.
Companies selling the e-menu are adamant that as well as reducing costs for the restaurant, the system will bring in more younger diners, people will make more impulse orders and customers are more likely to order dessert.
PrivatleyIn Israel, privately owned start-up Conceptic has already installed e-Menu technology in sushi bars, pubs and family restaurants, while also supplying its system to restaurants in Belgium, France and South Africa.
The system is based on user-friendly touch-screen technology of the sort seen on self-service ticket machines at railway stations.
Adi Chitayat, chief executive of Conceptic, told Reuters: "It`s about impulse-buying. If a person starts looking at pictures of chocolate cake, the chances are he`ll order it."
Restaurants which have already installed the system claim that it has made a marked difference to their business.
Tel Aviv sushi restaurant Frame says that table sales have increased by around 11 per cent since they installed the e-menu, with customers often booking in advance to ensure they are sat at an e-menu system.
The system is not blazing the trail on its own. Japanese developers Aska T3 has designed a similar system, while global uber-giant Microsoft is putting the finishing touches to its quite incredible Microsoft Surface system.
This amazing device - due to launch in some US hotels and casinos this Spring - transforms an entire dining system into one touch screen.
The system will allow punters to order food and drink as well as play games and even select the background music.
Microsoft says the device will: "transform the way people shop, dine, entertain and live".
Although they may be exciting, can these systems really be expected to drive a successful restaurant without proving their long-term reliability and success?
"We are living in a technology age," Conceptic`s Chitayat.told Reuters.
"People are not afraid of screens." He admitted that the company, which launched its pilot in 2006, does not expect to see a profit this year, but will turn a profit in mid-2009.
From restaurants which use conveyor-belt dish delivery to one at the Dutch university of Wageningen which tracks diners with concealed cameras, technology is increasingly penetrating eateries, in a bid to boost sales.
Although these machines still require waiters to deliver the food, Chitayat said taking computers into restaurants is an obvious next step.
Conceptic is also currently trialling an on-line ordering service which will allow customers to place their order on the move from their mobiles, laptops and personal computers.
Sceptics believe the new technology may not catch on a quickly as the developers hope due to the fact a lot of diners prefer things the way they are.
"There are always some people who embrace a new technology but others will avoid it for as long as possible," said Jackie Fenn, emerging technology analyst at Gartner consulting group.
"Will a bunch of teenagers have a blast using it? Yes. But it will take time to move from being an attraction in a small number of restaurants to something that is widespread."