Let us set the scene. You’re out for a romantic soirée in the heart of London with the lady (or gent) you love. You take a sip from your lychee martini, having devoured a black cod and Alaskan King crab, but, the waiting is now over. It’s finally time for you to ask that seminal question…

The mere thought of it makes most proposers fumble, flounder, and fluff their lines, but fear not, help is at hand to avoid this potential clanger of calamitous proportions. Simply direct your darling to the dessert menu on your e-table, and wait. Now all you have to do is concentrate on making it down on bended knee. Sober, of course.

“It was magic. We encouraged the young lady in question to look at the desserts. We then put the gentleman’s request immediately live on his table through the projector.” Daniel Potter, Managing Director of Inamo enthuses.

“She was taken aback! He got down on one knee, ring in hand, and luckily she said yes. It took the weight off his shoulders. It proves it’s not just unique technology and an innovative experience, there are more benefits, one of which on this occasion was romance.”

We’re talking, not just about rings and romance, but the Inamo restaurant in London’s Soho, which uses projectors, touch-sensitive panels, and a clever ordering and EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) system to create a dining experience like no other.

But while being at the forefront of innovative marriage proposals is a valiant past-time, the Inamo restaurant experience runs far deeper than just gimmicks, gizmos and an alternative evening out. The e-table concept and new age technology has not only created a futuristic and avant-garde dining adventure, but it has ushered through fresh financial benefits for the restaurant industry too. A principal factor that has us asking the question – is this the future of restauranteering?

How it works?

Inamo’s fusion menu is as adventurous as its table-top interface

The Inamo dining experience puts the customer in control of ordering his or her own meal, and creating his own ambiance on an HD display table – the e-table as it has been labelled by co-founders and Oxford graduates Daniel Potter, and fellow entrepreuner Noel Hunwick.

Each diner has a projector with an individual Windows XP embedded PC above their table, that allows you to scroll, and navigate throughout the menu using a circular touchpad that connects to the PC via Bluetooth.

The table is remarkably customisable, with a number of different backgrounds, including a typical English country village, allowing the diner to mould a bespoke ambiance of their choice for the evening – the logical, and more adult, step-up from the classic crayons and disposable table cloth handed out at children’s parties.

There are also games and the opportunity to explore the local neighborhood to choose your after-dinner destination, helping mould a truly modern dining experience.

One fantastic feature is the Kitchen Cam, turning diners into gastronomic voyeurs for the evening, watching their food being cooked, and experiencing first hand the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. The technology effectively makes every table a chefs table – a restaurant first. Potter is eager to impress that the technology puts the onus back on the customer – it’s a pain-free environment with complete control in the hands of Inamo’s guests.

“First and foremost from a customer’s point of view there is a unique and unusual wow factor to their restaurant experience. The process adds an element of charm and theatre, allowing the customer to control the ambiance.

“There is a different mood every night, with a unique touch that the customer is in complete control. Instead of looking for a waiter’s attention, you just order through your table and concentrate on enjoying yourself.”

The Birth and inception

Time to set the agenda. Is this the future of restaurants?

The business was founded in 2005 by Potter and Noel Hunwick, with the budding opportunists approaching Sharp with the concept of the e-table dining system.  Originally, the Inamo concept was born out of a bad experience while dining out with friends.

“We first spoke to Sharp three years ago regarding the EPOS system, cutting out the waiter to offer better service to the customer. The concept is all about customer control and was originally consolidated while I was having a meal with friends.” Potter reveals.

“We were in the middle of a conversation, but we kept looking up trying to get the waiter’s attention to order a beer. It was annoying. This concept allows you to cut that process out, whether it is for a beer, food, or the bill. The dining experience is in your hands.”

Sharp worked alongside Potter and Hunwick to marry the innovation with an EPOS system that can function in direct response to the customer’s need. With Inamo the first to implement a touch based technology of this kind in the United Kingdom.

The result is the e-table automation concept being patented by the pair of pioneers. Kevin English, Product Manager for Sharp UK was involved with the team that created the link to Inamo’s unique ordering system.

“We have been involved since day one, and it has been very exciting to be working on the system.  Our reseller, Addwell Business Equipment, installed three Windows XP Pro based Sharp EPoS systems, and a specific piece of application software that is owned and developed by Sharp UK called Sharp POS software. This software manages the menu, from the drinks, food and then the bill, direct from when the customer has made a request. It also looks after all the configuration for the table management.

“It’s great, you don’t have to wait.  You don’t have waiters or waitresses getting sidetracked and the order goes direct to the kitchen.  Sharp UK’s software developer had to do a little bit of wizardry to allow the Inamo system to interface with our software.  That involved working closely with the Inamo software developer to make sure it functioned well.

“We are very proud to be involved with what we believe is one of the first hospitality installations of it’s kind in Europe, and the technology is now being licensed out. On top of the business benefits, the benefits for the diner are just fantastic. It was great to be a part of the project.”

Wider implications and benefits

The tables at Inamo are interactive, but that’s not the real magic

According to Inamo the concept saves an estimated £564,928 a year,  a £10,864 a week saving for a 100 seater restaurant with an average spend per diner of £40. Only last year London’s most successful restaurant empire, Gordon Ramsay Holdings, had to close one of its flagship restaurants, the Boxwood Cafe, with sales across the group falling 13%.

What Inamo are demonstrating is a diversification within the food world that helps streamline budgets, while simultaneously moving the focus back to customer experience, service, and quality of food.

Further efficiency benefits are highlighted by Potter, with the kitchen able to keep a tighter grasp on food wastage and costing, due to the immediate nature of updating and controlling the menu.

“You update the menu in real time, so if you run out of something in the kitchen, or you want to reduce prices, you can do it instantly. Plus, the customer only sees what is available to them, rather than a waiter saying ‘we don’t have this or that’.

“The customer is always up-to-date. Furthermore, from a business perspective, you can manage your kitchen better. Waste management is much less of an issue.

“Another example of its efficiency was when we had 45 people arrive for a meal at once in the restaurant. In a traditional set up you would normally need a team of waiters to go through each person individually. That is a lot of opportunity for human error, particularly if people are changing their mind. Using our unique set-up allows for better service and a more efficient meal all-round.”

With restaurants around the world already taking on the concept, most recently Izkaya in Rotterdam, Inamo’s innovations are showing far-reaching benefits, and proving themselves as more than a techno-dining playground. Inamo has moved the goalposts for rival restaurants, and it can only be a matter of time before they follow suit. In the meantime, we wouldn’t dream of proposing anywhere else.

The End
  • Tomh

    It just goes to show how technology can make a difference. One thing we have forgotten here is – What is the food like?

    • James Holland

      I’ve eaten there a couple of times. It was awesome. I recommend the black cod! The table’s genuinely helpful too – in so many ways – it projects a picture of the food on a plate in front of you, so you can tell if you like the look of it, rather than ‘ordering blind’!

  • Amanda

    Food was average, too small and bland, not great value. The *only* good thing is the black cod. The service was actually appalling. Food doesn’t magically appear on the table, it needs waiters and they were not on the ball at all. I attribute it to a failure in Human Computer interaction. Rice arrived well after we had eaten our small plates of food. Took 20 mins to get a drink after ordering it at the start. I would have upped my spend at the restaurant if they didn’t take so long. We all left feeling hungry and poor. The user interface is a projection and a touchpad – not as fancy as it looks in the pics or described. Guys need to invest in performance testing their interface also. SLEWWW

    • ChrisJiam

      Have you eaten Japanese food before? They’re not big on huge portions, and food that good doesn’t come cheap… I believe there’s a Slug & Lettuce just around the corner if you want something less exotic.

      • James Holland

        I’m a big fan of the Slug and Lettuce myself, nothing wrong with it!… although admittedly I wouldn’t choose it for a meal out…

  • Chad, Soho

    This place has been open for years now… The table menu system feels horribly outdated in the era of smart phones with touch screens. And the food was smothered in rich sauces, too salty & sweet. I’m not bothering to go back.

  • Benb

    Well, I still think the technology is of great value. Those who are critical do not understand that it is a stepping stone to a brighter future. And if it does save money and cut wastage in the kitchen then maybe, it should be looked at more seriously than just a gimmick…Just a thought. Plus the food is excellent…

  • Rosie

    I hope Gordon Ramsay read this…I feel his reply could involve expletives…Maybe the likes of the Michelin star chefs should look to embrace technology. Great read.

  • Shobs

    Have been eyeing this place up for ages because always thought the concept looked v interesting, then moved offices and forgot to go. Definitely getting back on it now!

    Amazing to hear how much money it saves – while the customer actually gains from the cost saving as they get to experience something fun and new. That is good business!

    Thanks for the reminder, will check it out

  • http://twitter.com/AirMenu AirMenu

    We develop a website that alllows any restaurant to receive orders from customers smartphone, without costs…

    All the process is online and in a matter of hours any world restaurant can do the same.

    I love the concept to order without waiter.

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