High-tech eatery adds social networking spin

Nolan Bushnell, the legendary high-tech inventor who founded Atari and the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant franchise, is at it again with his latest venture, uWink. Like Chuck E. Cheese, uWink, launched last October, is a restaurant with a high-tech twist. Instead of video games, however, this time it's all about social networking and high-tech entertainment. Computerworld's Robert L. Mitchell spoke with Bushnell, the company's CEO, and his daughter, game designer and publicist Alissa Bushnell, about the start-up, which Bushnell hopes to franchise across the country. What's the idea behind uWink? It's to create an entertainment facility that combines food and fun but in a more at-the-table relationship. We really want to create social games. These are games that a lot of people can play in which conversation actually increases as opposed to decreases, and everybody is having a great time. Everybody has a digital life these days, but every once in a while, they want to leave the house and actually meet somebody. We're here to facilitate that. But isn't uWink also a restaurant? That's correct. We have a touch-screen terminal at every table, sometimes two. You can order food, and then you can order the drinks and then you can … play games. Some are free, some are pay. The objective is to have a technology environment that increases conversation. All of the walls are also dressed with video so that we can change the look and feel of the restaurant. What technology are you using? It's custom-built; we're using Python. We interface with a Volante open-source POS system. We use Mac minis at the terminal level. It's very robust in that we have very serious backup servers, and the restaurant is actually run on DC, so we don't have to run AC out to the tables. So the order system at each table is a Mac mini? It's a flat-panel touch screen that is driven by a Mac mini. Since you order from a screen instead of a server, how do customers get their food? You order your food, and it's brought to the table. What is interesting about that is it feels blindingly fast. Sometimes you touch an order of a Coke … and boom, it's at your table. Everything else seems slow once you've gotten used to this. After a customer places an order and swipes the access card to confirm, it takes only moments for a ticket to print for the item that they have requested. Any drink requests print at the bar to be filled and then are delivered by runners. Any food requests print at the ticket machine in the kitchen. After the item is prepared by the kitchen, it is quickly delivered to its table by designated food runners.

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