A few days ago a friend and I sat down to dinner at Barbacco, a San Francisco restaurant that happens to be known for its wine list. Our server came over to greet us, and pointed out the menu (this we knew how to use) and handed us a $500 piece of equipment (this we didn’t know how to use). It was an iPad, and it was also the wine list.

Here’s how it went:

  • To choose our food, we read the list, talked about what sounded good, what we could share, what we’d had before. Then we turned our attention to what wine we’d drink.
  • I touched the iPad. I swiped screens. I wiped my fingerprints off the screen. I tapped “back” buttons, scrolled extensively, and got confused. The screen showed only small bits of information at a time. There was an option to save favorites: but why? I just wanted an Italian red that would pair well with the food I was going to eat. I just wanted a wine list.
  • I passed it off to my friend, because we were only given one for the table. She scrolled, tapped, grumbled, and swiped, idly wondering whether there was a wine pairing app installed, or whether the sommelier was actually going to assist. (She didn’t.)
  • We ordered our wine when the server came over, still awkwardly holding the large device. The iPad was left at our small table and I propped it up in the menu stand with the paper menus. A few minutes later a concerned sommelier whisked it up and gave us a special stand on which to cradle it. I was also concerned. One wrong move on our tiny two-top and the $500 menu was a goner. Carefully, I transferred it to the soft, safe seat next to me. Wrong again. The sommelier instantly picked up her baby and fled. I was scared to order any more wine.

    Restaurateurs: You are admirably embracing new technology. Are you doing it in order to serve your customers better or to dazzle us with your early-adopter ways? Choosing wine (and food) via an iPad is a cool idea. In theory it means you can see the labels, read reviews, and get more details on the bottle. But what about the sommelier’s knowledge and experience? Or are you going to take away the server altogether, and just let us click to order? And what about clumsy drunkards? My 75-year-old dad who still orders the “house” wine? Someone who likes to take menus home as keepsakes? Someone who’s been trained that using portable devices in public is bad manners? I’ll take a plain paper menu, please.

    Image source: Flickr member jeffwilcox

    See more articles