Review: Inamo Restaurant, Soho

Immersive Interactions

This isn’t technically a food review, since it was part of a London IA “Field Trip” excursion organized by @AliceNWondrlnd. The main attraction of the restaurant was the interactive tables from which you could order your meal from. There are no waiters coming to take your order. They sit you down at a table, and each table has a “session”, during which you can order drinks, desserts, food, play games, change the table “wallpapers”, spy at the kitchen, track your order amount, and some other interesting stuff.

Customizable Table

Interactive Tables

The tables are given an immersive environment via overhead projectors and a trackpad on the bottom right corner of the table. Despite the excitement, the table was not a touch sensitive surface – we had to use the trackpad just as you would a mouse to navigate the “hand cursor” to interact with the system. I actually think it would be hard to design a system like Microsoft Surface, as we were resting our palms and arms on the surface of the table and not wanting the computer to pick those gestures up as interactions.

A small menu slides out, showing icons that indicate “drinks”, “food”, “table”, “entertainment” and “service” (I’m assuming all this, because the icons were not annotated with text or mouseover help). Each item leads to other sub-menu items, and they’re fairly easy to navigate.

A Drink that has my Name

Making an Order (Remotely)

When you make an order, you select an item from the menu and it appears on your order list. When you’re done with the order list, you hit confirm and wait for the food to be served by a waiter – it sort of just comes “automatically”. There is no interaction between you or waiters between any of the orders unless you specifically call for them.

This is quite a novel experience, but some people were afraid that they might have submitted the wrong order. A waiter assured us that it is possible to revert an order even after it has been confirmed, which is a good thing – but I think the interface could’ve been improved to cater for this – a waiter actually confirmed that this problem happens very frequently.

Placing an order was way too easy, which meant that the bill just kept going up. It was a bit like Amazon’s 1-click system – and it wasn’t obvious at first how to remove items from your order list (you needed to hit the minus sign next to your item in the order list).

Circle of Order

Interactive Tables

In between waiting for the food to arrive, the table “entertains” you by giving you the option of playing one of two games (battleship and those picture puzzles where you have to move blocks around). You can also change the “tablecloth”, which was quite a nice touch as that made the whole experience so immersive. You could also view the live “kitchen cam”, and see what the chefs are up to. I didn’t find the “entertainment” options too distracting that I ended up not talking to the others. And to be honest, our discussions weren’t always focused on the experience of the interactions, despite being user experience geeks and all.

"Table"-paper

Overall experience

Interestingly, the waiters didn’t take long when we used the interface to “call” them. Service was fairly prompt and cheerful, so no complaints there. My only rant was that my set meal was a bit small – I ordered the cod set meal, and it was not enough for my large appetite. Despite this, the food tasted really good but you really end up paying for the overall experience, really.

The table “session” stops once you hit the “call for bill” button. Once that’s pressed, you can no longer order anymore items (unless you call the waiter), nor can you check the total of your order – which was a shame because we had wanted to pay separately. Thankfully, they were able to provide us with a seat-by-seat breakdown of the damages.

Not Even a Glass of Water?

The trackpad was okay except when I accidentally placed a small bowl of miso soup on it, and the undersides of the bowl had some sauce so it make my trackpad sticky. One person mentioned her left-handed accessibility issue.

It’s not the only restaurant in the world to integrate interactive order systems. I’ve frequented Sakae Sushi when I used to live in Kuala Lumpur, and they use a more conventional mouse and screen setup. But obviously Inamo wins hands down for sheer experience, food and otherwise.
All Chocolate, They Say

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