The food court has changed quite a lot over the course of our lifetimes. For instance, at New York's LaGuardia Airport, you can wait for your flight in a lounge with tablets at dining tables. Rather than wander from food station to station, you just order off the tablets and a server brings you a (probably overpriced) meal.
These virtual waiters are replacing people in restaurants more and more. Even McDonald's and Panera have gotten in on the trend. One new study looks into what this means for diners and servers. There's good and less good for both. On the one hand, you can look forward to less weird eye contact, trying to flag down an overworked or uninterested waiter. Depending on the system, even tipping should get less awkward.
Restaurants and their bottom line have a lot more to gain, though. The researchers insist that a move like this won't cut back on server jobs — often work that people really need — but rather supplements their duties. Mostly, this study indicates that virtual waiters tend to increase restaurant profits and decrease by about 10 percent the amount of time you spend there.
Dining establishments love the idea of an 11 percent jump in sales productivity. Food, of course, is as much a social institution as a biological necessity. It's possible that restaurants that really need to hustle customers in and out, like an airport food court, could be more likely to rely on virtual waiters. If you consider eating out as an experience, however, you've still got everything to look forward to.