Silicon Valley is getting more and more interested in the most low-tech of industries: food. Considering how much money we spend eating out and preparing meals, it’s not a bad place to focus. Intel is now dipping its tasting spoon into the food-tech broth by investing in E la Carte, a Palo Alto startup that makes a specialized tablet for the restaurant industry.
Intel Capital led the $13.5 million Series B round with Romulus Capital also participating. E la Carte was founded by a group of MIT engineers four years ago, and launched its first Presto tablet in 2011. Since then it’s managed to get the tablet into thousands of casual restaurants. It’s also working with some big franchisees such as HMSHost, which runs a good deal of the national-brand restaurants and coffee joints you’ll find at the airport, and Evergreen Restaurant Group, which owns multiple Outback Steakhouse franchises.
The tablet’s primary function is as a digital replacement for both the menu and waiter. It allows you to browse menus, place and change orders, and pay your bill at the end of meal. According to the E la Carte the efficiency gains from using the tablet – by allowing customers to order and pay when ready and not wait for a server – have increased table turnover rate at its participating restaurants by an average of 7 minutes, which in turn has led to 10 percent average boost in sales.
But E la Carte has also honed in on an interesting facet of diner nature: young or old we like distractions while waiting for our food. Presto supports loyalty program registration within its touchscreen, and according to E la Carte, restaurants that use that feature have seen a 9X increase in rewards program signups. Also, E la Carte has started offering games on the tablet. A bored husband can sharpen his trivia skills, while the kids can opt for a digital drawing game instead of dealing with the tired pirate-maze place mat and bucket of worn-down crayons.