Food and tech meet at uWink

Atari founder opens U.S. resteraunt chain that entwines technology with the gustatory experience

When I got my first computer, its manual stated in bold type that it was a bad idea to eat or drink near it -- something I can't forget because, like most people, I spent the intervening 20+ years cheerfully ignoring that mandate, from my morning hot beverage to the various carb-, salt- and MSG-heavy foodstuffs that fueled uncountable all-night gaming/coding/animating/writing binges. Not eat near my computer or game console? How do they expect me to survive?

I mention this because Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari (around whose console I ate many pizzas and chips) and Chuck E. Cheese, embarked on a new venture called uWink a few years back. Last year, the company announced that they were launching a series of restaurants under the uWink name that would entwine technology with the gustatory experience. The first restaurant opens on Monday in Woodland Hills, California.

Part of the uWink experience is an extension of the trend to replace some aspects of human service with machines. uWink diners can make their orders via the touch screens found on each table, which uWink runners (they certainly won't be "waiters" if they don't have to stare endlessly into space while you try to choose between the calamari and the wings) bring to your table. The screens can also be used to view movie trailers, games, horoscopes and unspecified "other media." The games sound most interesting, because they can be extended to include other tables and, eventually, other uWink restaurants. Sound like fun, but try not to spill your Coke on the screen, okay?


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