Novelty Dining in London


Last year I was in London with some friends and we ended up having dinner at Inamo in SoHo. They’ve developed an interactive ordering system that uses your entire table as a display, using ceiling-mounted projectors

The basic dilemma with these sorts of restaurants is that the novelty, whatever it may be, is what attracts people to the restaurant. And because the novelty is unlikely to become a standard in all restaurants, it draws attention to itself. So that novelty needs to be entertaining, or useful, for the duration of the meal. Either that or the food better be really good. Otherwise you’re stuck eating uninteresting food while using an interface that isn’t much fun.

Unfortunately, Unamo is a combination of both of these problems.

That – and the atmosphere is strange. The room has no ambient light — in order for the projected images to be vivid. As a result the top-down lighting from the projectors gives everything on the table (ie. your food) harsh shadows. And because the tables also bounce up the projected light, everyone ends up looking unflattering because of the under-lighting.

The table’s interface is simple and easy for people to figure out. It lets you view the menu, order drinks and food, change your “table cloth” (including choices that were advertisements for upcoming movies!), play games, and there’s a “chef cam,” too. It’s not a touch-surface. Instead you use a small trackpad to move your cursor around.

It’s a strangely solitary experience. You order on your own (each diner sends their orders separately). You play games on your own (they’re all single-player — so can’t compete with other people at your table, or elsewhere in the restaurant). The interactivity doesn’t support the social experience of dining with others. This may make some sense on an airplane (like Virgin America’s Red system — although even that has social aspects) – but not at a restaurant. After a little while you get pretty bored with the system, and the novelty of being there wears thin. You miss the choreography and ritual of what dining out is about.

Maybe this is what drove us to start talking the the table next to us. And then, after too many drinks, we started debating the authenticity of the chef cam. Was it live? Could we actually see them preparing our food? Or was it just a cached video? Towards the end of our meal we were so convinced that the chef cam was fake that one of us ran into the kitchen to test it and wave back at us. Turns out – it was real. And the chef didn’t like diners in the kitchen.

I’m curious to see the Microsoft Surface tables at Harrah’s in Las Vegas to see how their experience compares. It’s in a bar – so that may be an advantage.

Inamo (menu)
Inamo (note trackpad)
Inamo (comparing your order to the projected menu image)