14 July 2014
3 min read
Ah, that awkward moment at the end of the meal when the waiters are all busy, you want to go home but nobody is catching your eye and you don’t want to stand up for fear of looking like you’re trying to leave without paying. Well, not if you’re dining at Soho’s inamo restaurant, at least.
Inamo is owned by Danny Potter and Noel Hunwick, the brains behind Compurants Ltd, a fast-growing British food-tech business. Compurants has two core brands: E-Table™, a patented interactive restaurant ordering system using overhead projection; and inamo, a pan-Asian fusion restaurant, the first to implement the system.
Potter and Hunwick met at Oxford University (physics and classics/English respectively). Their hospitality industry experience was lacking innovation, Hunwick admits: "The closest I’d got was waiting in a few restaurants and a job taking the eyes out of potatoes at the chippy in the village where I grew up."
But the two were sitting together at a friend’s birthday in a restaurant eight years ago. "We were really struggling to catch a waiter’s attention for another drink, or to get the bill," explains Hunwick.
"Danny already had in mind ways of integrating technology seamlessly into the dining experience. We brainstormed it at the time and from that point on worked on it together."
The idea was simple: "Wouldn’t it be great to reach down, touch the table and another drink would arrive. And then you would be able to request the bill when you’re ready to leave."
The pair wanted to give guests control, and so from this initial concept they created the E-Table technology, which does just that. They then opened inamo in 2008 to prove the concept.
A second restaurant, inamo St James, followed in 2010 and they have licensed the E-Table technology outside the UK into Holland so far, with more leads progressing in Turkey and India.
With E-Table, each customer uses a touch-sensitive panel to interact with the system projected from above onto their table surface. You can order when you want, get your bill when you want and call a waiter at the touch of a button.
Says Hunwick: "This allows the waiting staff to be more sociable and observant on the floor so the human element is very much still present."
Guests can see an image of the dish or drink they’re considering projected onto the plate in front of them, with a price and description to the right. They can then decide to add an item to their order, and whenever they’re ready can send their order directly off to the kitchen/bar to be prepared.
And that’s not all. Hunwick explains: "Our ideas expanded from the highly functional idea of giving guests control over their dining experience to incorporate more theatrical and charming elements.
"For instance, guests can watch live images from our kitchen [chefcam], change their ambience by altering the colours/patterns/images projected onto their table or play games (such as battleships)."
You can also see a map with ideas for where to go in the local area or find out how to get home by looking at tube and bus maps. You can even call a cab.
Most of the company’s employees are kitchen and front of house restaurant employees, but, Hunwick explains, "Our restaurant management team has been given training in the predominantly simple maintenance tasks that are required for the technology (for example, charging the touch panels embedded in the tables, occasionally changing a projector bulb when they go and cleaning the projectors)."
Though there are quite a few other companies in the interactive ordering space, the E-Table technology is unique and patented. Compurants is working with another company – Crave Interactive – which is targeting in-room hotel tablets and downloadable applications for hotels.
It also now offers a licensing scheme whereby licencees can take the inamo brand and recipes as well as the technology.
Until now the hospitality industry has been quite slow to adopt new technology, agrees Hunwick, "but this is now quickening and tablets and kiosks are starting to gain traction, particularly in the fast service restaurant environment"