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Tuesday, Oct 4, 2022

Adding The Right Touch?

Will another restaurant concept centered on computerized orders stack up better than previous attempts?

At Torrance eatery Stacked: Food Well Built, diners order and pay for their meals on table-top iPads – although servers are available for the electronically challenged.

Paul Motenko and Jerry Hennessy, co-founders of the BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse chain, developed the idea of using iPads for their new venture in an effort to provide customers with quick service in a sit-down restaurant atmosphere.

“If we had a way for our guests to order at their table and at their pace from a device, which would then directly communicate with the kitchen, we could accomplish both of those objectives,” Motenko said.

They plan to roll out locations in San Diego and Cerritos in the coming months.

Such concepts have been tried before, often without much success. For example, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell’s uWink bistro chain allowed diners to order meals from table-top touch-screen computers and then play games on them. Restaurants were opened in Woodland Hills and at the Hollywood & Highland complex, but by last year they had closed.

But at Stacked, Motenko said the dining experience is focused on the food, not the computer screen.

“We don’t have gaming,” Motenko said. “UWink was about social gaming. You were across from someone, but the computer was almost grabbing you and saying, ‘Hey, look at me, don’t look at the person you are having dinner with.’ ”

Stacked, which opened at the Del Amo Fashion Center last month, serves burgers, pizzas, salads and sausages that, with a touch of a screen, can be ordered and customized with a variety of toppings and sauces. Diners can save the past meals they’ve ordered on the iPads. They can also preorder meals online and then punch in a code at the restaurant so it knows that they have arrived.

With iPad service, fewer waiters can tend to a greater number of customers – and the restaurant saves about one-third of its labor costs. Waiters are still needed to serve meals, refill drinks and check to make sure that the hamburger is medium rare or a pizza tastes good, for example.

But do customers lose some of the human touch?

“I’m afraid you are going to lose the social interaction that you go to a restaurant for,” said Jerry Prendergast, of Culver City restaurant consultancy Prendergast & Associates.

Motenko said guests are tipping an average of 15 percent. “That’s the strongest signal that they are feeling they are being well serviced.”


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