More restaurants using tablets to make, serve meals


When you ask about the wine list at 123 Bolinas in Fairfax, don't be surprised when the waitress whips out an iPad. And when you're done ordering, she'll most likely be right back because bar manager Catherine Meharchand probably started pouring your glass of wine before the waitress even left the table. "By the time they make a round around the floor, their first round of drinks is up and ready. There's no waiting at all," she says.

Sending orders back to the kitchen over Wi-Fi, the iPads don't talk to a central computer system. They are the computer system. Even the bar's main cash register is an iPad. "It's really simple to use. It's durable. It makes a lot of sense to us," Meharchand says.

Touch screens are nothing new in restaurants, but durable and easy to use? Well, the developers of the iPad point-of-sale system say that's something different. "The older systems, you're talking a week of training. This system, you can have someone up and running in five minutes. They can take an order right through," Revel Systems co-founder Chris Ciabarra explained.

And now, San Francisco-based Revel Systems is taking the next step, building a supermarket check stand entirely around an iPad. "We've had a couple supermarkets bugging us for about a year now to like, put a system out for them, and we kind of said no, no, no. And now, we finally just started to say OK fine, let's do it," said. It's smaller and it's cheaper, but it's definitely not a toy.

The scales and scanners are the same ones stores already use, but the big computer is gone. An iPod Touch shows people what they're buying and yes, you can sign it with your finger just like you may have already done at countless street vendors and lunch trucks that sell food using Apple devices.

In fact, it turns out idevices aren't just being used to sell you your food. They're being used to make it, like at the Tcho Chocolate Factory where big devices like old factory control panels have been replaced by little devices like iPhones in black rubber cases.

It takes fast fingers to line up these little chocolate squares on the conveyor belt, but some of the fanciest finger work happens on an iPhone. Chocolate-maker Zohara Mapes uses a custom iPhone app to control the flavor lab where Tcho roasts and stirs new chocolate formulas for hours or even days. "We used to schedule who was nearby and who could come in on the weekend and handle it. We can now actually have access to it while we're off site," she said.

And they can do that even on another continent, while visiting a cocoa farm. "Our farmers really had no idea of the flavor of their cocoa beans. Most have never tasted chocolate," Tcho Vice President John Kehoe said. With training from chocolate-makers, the growers now hold tastings right on their farms and use iPhones to report the results. Back in the lab, chocolate-makers hold their own tastings and slowly, a flavor is born.

For the record, the finished chocolate does have sugar in it, lots of sugar.

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