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Chef serving people in restaurantIs the starving artist, making ends meet by waiting tables, soon to be a thing of the past? The expanding array of mobile apps that facilitate the provision of restaurant services suggests that at the very least, we might be moving toward a version of food service that involves merely delivery. Apps are available for every step of the decision-making process associated with dining out in restaurants of every stripe.

Can’t decide which local restaurant to patronize? The mobile versions of online services such as Yelp and UrbanSpoon offer location-based maps of nearby restaurants. They also provide ready links to the restaurants’ menus, categorization by cuisine, and extensive reviews by other users.

Once you’ve made up your mind, you likely need a reservation, especially for higher end restaurants. For that, Open Table offers an easy, quick service. Punch in the number in your party and your preferred reservation time, and the app contacts the restaurant for you. For those hip joints that do not take reservations, new options such as NoWait and Diner Connection allow users to check in with the restaurant, get their name on the wait list, and then leave. Thus they can wait in the park around the corner from the restaurant, instead of being buffeted by other hungry wait-listers, then receive a message from the restaurant when it is prepared to seat them.

At the table, the next challenge is getting the server to take your order. In casual restaurant chains such as Applebee’s, tablets on the tables resolve this problem by allowing patrons to enter their food and drink orders directly. Of course, for those customers who gave up on ever getting a table, there are also delivery apps, such as GrubHub, that will make sure entrees from a wide variety of restaurants will show up on their doorsteps so they can eat restaurant-quality food from the comfort of their own homes.

The payment step is also starting to go mobile. Newly introduced apps such as Cover and Tabbedout help customers pay at any point during the course of their meal, rather than waiting for a server to bring the check, run their credit card, and then bring back the ribbon. Although initially targeted a fast-service restaurants, these apps also have appeal for higher-end establishments that want to make sure their diners can make their theater reservations or get back to work promptly after a business lunch.

Finally, the process comes full circle: On leaving the restaurant, diners can get right on their phones to review their meal, offering insights for the next round of consumers entering the decision process.

Bryan Miller, “How Mobile Technology Is Changing the Way We Dine Out,” The Wall Street Journal, October 25, 2013

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