Run, the machines are coming. Creepy, insidious little boxes are turning up on dining tables in restaurants across America, and I for one hate them.

In case you’ve been fortunate enough not to bump into one yet (they have 150,000 tablets in 2,500+ locations across the US, including Chili’s, Red Robin, and Olive Garden restaurants), they’re tablets that sit on every table and act as a virtual waiter. They take drinks, appetiser, kids’ meals, and dessert orders; you settle your bill on them; and for an extra $1.99 you (or your kids) can access a selection of games to play while you dine.

Now they might seem a great idea: they free up wait staff when restaurants are busy, and they keep the kids quiet, but that so-called convenience comes at a cost. If you’re a waiter earning pennies an hour and relying on tips, you want face time with your diners. If you’re a diner, you’d probably prefer to know who your waiter actually is (although I think we can all agree we could live without the awkward “Is everything okay here?” exchange which always happens just when you’ve stuffed your mouth as full as it can get).

More to the point, I kinda object to tipping $20 or more to someone I’ve barely said two words to. And the waiter I spoke to tonight confirmed those machines make it real easy to stiff your server. At least the old school way you have to be brazen enough to hand someone a receipt knowing you’ve stiffed them, and most people aren’t. Now you can swipe a card, decline to tip, and leave before your waiter even knows you’re done eating.

I also hate that they have games on them. All I’m seeing on the manufacturer’s Twitter feed is happy parents reporting they’ve plugged little Tim and Tracy into the Ziosk and for the convenient price of $1.99 forgot that they’re supposed to be raising adults who can go more than thirty seconds without being distracted by pixels. Yes, we’ve all been there on dinners when the kids just won’t settle and rather than make a scene it’s easier to hand them something to shut them up, but I seriously worry what the next generation of adults are going to be like because whenever I dine in public, I can’t help noticing that nobody engages with their kids anymore. Instead they prop an electronic box in front of them and as long as they’re quiet, basically forget they exist. Children don’t learn how to behave in public and use cutlery and hold a conversation by osmosis.


Who’s watching?

Then there’s the creepy Big Brother factor: the camera in the front (that’s facing the user, and pointing towards the diners by default). Ziosk says it’s only there to scan coupons but… yeah, right. It couldn’t possibly be exploited for anything else, could it? And given this is a machine which (according to the label on the bottom of the one I had the pleasure of dining with) doesn’t have FCC accreditation, it could well be irradiating the diners, too, for all we know.

American financial transactions have a long way to go when it comes to security, and I don’t like giving my card away to be swiped out of my sight anymore than anyone else. The Ziosk claims to have solved that problem, but given it isn’t even chip and pin ready, it’s going to be obsolete before it really catches on. Dining in the UK, where we’ve had chip and pin for eleven years already, the waiter brings a card reader to the table and you enter your pin there and then without giving anyone else access to your card. It’s easier, simpler, and far more secure. In the US, I constantly worry that if my card was stolen someone could max it out before I even realised, so lax are the precautions that might prevent it.

Until chip and pin rolls out nationwide (I notice more and more machines with that capability, but too few which are using it yet), I suppose Ziosks serve a purpose. I just wish the solution hadn’t come in tandem with yet more invasive technology attached.


Kate Aaron

Born in Liverpool, Kate Aaron is a bestselling author of LGBT romances. Kate swapped the north-west for the midwest in October 2015 and married award winning author AJ Rose. Together they plan to take over the world.


Sandra · November 20, 2015 at 10:12 am

I’d be hanging a napkin or something across the camera. Not that it would avoid other tables’ cameras recording me and my family. I see the point of it being more secure, but I’d rather not be recorded while eating. And what about voice recording?

Not fond of this, tbh.

    Kate Aaron · November 20, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    heh, I did hang a napkin over it last night 🙂 the manufacturer says there’s no sound recording ability on them, but all it needs is one restaurant to say they want it.

Theo Fenraven · November 20, 2015 at 10:21 am

I haven’t seen this yet, but I hate it already. Going out to eat should be an opportunity for adults to relax and chat and enjoy an environment, and for kids to learn how to behave properly in public, as you point out. I’m so bloody sick of everyone’s attention revolving around a goddamn phone or some other electronic device. People really don’t talk to each other anymore, nor do they notice their surroundings beyond the few minutes it takes to snap a photo and post it online. 🙁

    Kate Aaron · November 20, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    one suspects more and more Wall-E had the right vision of the future…

Jaycee Edward · November 20, 2015 at 12:07 pm

I haven’t seen these in restaurants here either, but I’ve absolutely no doubt I eventually will. They remind me somewhat of the ‘self check-outs’ in the grocery stores. While those are very tempting sometimes when I’m in a hurry and the regular check-out lines are long, I refuse to use them because I know they put cashiers and baggers out of work.

You make a great point about the children. When I was a kid, I probably only went out to eat with my parents 4 or 5 times and it was usually a VERY special occasion and I was told, in no uncertain terms, if I didn’t behave like a young lady, it would be the last time I’d be allowed to go. Because I hated being left home with a sitter (ie: left out of whatever mysterious, fun, adult things they were doing), I damn sure behaved. I ate whatever was ordered for me without complaint, even if I didn’t like it. And this was pre-chicken finger days – children’s meals were just scaled down versions of the adult meals. I have no doubt that had electronic toys and gadgets existed, I would NOT have been allowed to bring them to a restaurant. I know things are way different now; it’s a totally different world and in a lot of ways, it’s better, but in a lot of ways, I’m not so sure it is. Seems like these are just one more step in the wrong direction. Sadly, waiters and waitresses will probably go the way of linen napkins and tablecloths.

    Kate Aaron · November 20, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    I was lucky, my family went out to eat about once a week (although I notice kids these days — yeah, I’m getting that old — seem to think it’s NBD and should be a daily event) and my experience was the same as yours, there wasn’t a kids’ menu and I misbehaved only on pain of death without needing something to distract me. Modern technology is wonderful in so many ways (and there are plenty of fun educational apps I’m thrilled the kids enjoy) but it has its place. At the dinner table is not it, and moreover, I want to make the decision about what and when the kids play, not have it made for me by a restaurant.

      Jaycee Edward · November 20, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      I think I’m a few decades older than you, so there is the difference between going out to eat a few times a year vs once a week. 😉 We only went out on special occasions. That said, all other meals were eaten at home, cooked by Mom, and we all ate them together and were expected to behave while at the table. And we ate whatever she cooked. She never once asked what we wanted to eat. She cooked. We ate it. If you didn’t like it, you didn’t have to eat it, but you’d be hungry later. 🙂 We also only got pop (yeah, I’m from Ohio) once a week on Saturday night. My dad would go to the local drive-thru and buy 2 16 oz bottles of Pepsi. They and my (older) brother got one big glass and I got a little in my mug. It was a huge treat! We also didn’t eat between meals or snack unless it was popcorn every now and then when watching TV.

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