Monday, May 11, 2009

uWink - restaurant review

We were in the Hollywood and Highland area a couple of weeks ago, and we were looking for somewhere to have dinner. We'd looked at uWink previously (from the outside and through the windows), and it had looked intriguing, so we decided to give it a try. It was early evening on a Saturday night, so it was already a bit full. There's a bar area to the right of the entrance right after you walk in, and then the regular dining room is to the left. We stood at the podium waiting for someone to seat us or acknowledge us, and we waited a while. It wasn't until there were quite a number of people in line after us that someone came by to seat us.

uWink has a technology that I've actually thought for a while would be a good idea. Sure, I like having a server, and I enjoy my interaction with them most of the time, but sometimes, you're not really there for the experience, just to eat, and I've thought it would be great to have one of those things you'll see in futuristic movies where a menu or a request board can just pop up on the table, and you can tell it what you want to order, if you need a drink refill, or whatever else you might need. Someone can read that information in the back and just bring you what you've asked for, instead of having to come out and asking you and then going back to get it. Automation used to cut down on wait time.

Well, the concept is pretty much like that at uWink. At each table is a sort of monitor which has a screen on both sides, which contain the picture menu and other things as well. You have to have a credit card to basically log in and start a tab. If you don't have a credit card, you'll have to wait for the server to be able to override that requirement. You tell the computer how many different people are on the order and what their names (first only) are. Then you can tell it what each person wants to order as a drink. You can then send that order in. Because you control when an order is sent in, you can request drinks and/or appetizers first and then continue to make your entree selections. Or let's say one person is ready with their entree order and is really hungry or in a hurry. They don't have to wait for the rest of the table to order. They can just punch in their order and send it, and then when the other people are ready, they can place their orders. Or maybe after you order, you decide you want to add a side or a salad. You just put in that order. And when you're ready for dessert, you have your choice of those as well that you can submit.

There is a server who comes by to greet you and to make sure you know how the menu works. We told her it was our first time, so she went through it with us.

One thing that I wasn't crazy about is that the monitor is fairly huge and takes up the entire middle of the table, and then there's a little plateau on top, maybe to put dishes or something? We ended up sharing a dish and thought that would be a good place to put it, but it was entirely too high. I would prefer the monitor to be more of a flat-screen version, since that would take up much less space at the table. Or a pop-up screen that retracts when you don't need it would be even better.

If you click on the menus link on the website, you can get an idea of what the screen on the monitor actually looks like with the various things that are offered.

I ordered an iced tea to drink, but I was dismayed in looking around the screen some more later that they did not offer free refills on the iced tea. There's a button to ask for a refill, but the price costs the same as the initial order. I asked the server later about the refills, and she said no, the refills were free. At that point, I'd only browsed the refill screen, but after I looked at it some more, I asked her again the next time she came by and said the screen said it costs the same amount of money for a refill. She basically said not to worry about it, and she later brought me another iced tea when my drink ran low. I don't know if there was an error in the system or if she was just making a personal decision to comp me refills. I know that in bar settings and such, free refills on iced tea and soda are not offered. But in this case, it was a restaurant setting, where refills on iced tea is customary. I don't know if they offered free refills on soda since that wasn't ordered at our table.

I decided to have the chicken bruschetta. Once you make your selection, there are changes you can request to it as well, which the link on the website shows. I asked that the sauce on the spaghetti be substituted with marinara sauce, and I asked for extra of the fresh tomato bruschetta.

The husband ordered the skirt steak and shrimp skewer combo. I don't know if he asked for any changes to the entree.

We also decided to get an order of caesar salad to share.

The items were brought by a runner, and as I mentioned earlier, it wasn't very convenient to share the salad because the monitor took so much room. (They brought the salad with the entrees since we submitted the entire order at once. If we'd thought about it more, we might have submitted the salad order first, but it ended up ok with all the food arriving at once.) We ended up putting the salad plate on the table in a little space between the monitor and the wall.

The food was generally good, nothing spectacular but tasty and enjoyable. My dish did come with the substitution I asked for, but I couldn't really tell if there was extra of the tomato bruschetta.

We did run into a problem in that all the food was brought to us, but we had no utensils. I found a button on the screen (I can't remember where it was or what it looked like, but I remember thinking it wasn't that easy to find) that eventually went to a screen where you could ask for forks and knives and plates and napkins and such. I clicked on all the stuff we needed and submitted it. Our server happened to show up right after that to check on us, and we mentioned that we didn't have any utensils, so she went to get some for us. I'm not sure if that was just an error, but I hope so. I can understand having a way to request extra utensils and napkins and side plates, but I would think that getting your initial table settings would be automatic.

You may have noticed from one of the pictures above that there are giant screens all around the room. That night, they had a basketball game on a couple of the screens and then random things on a couple of other screens.

Another thing that the monitor has is games you can play and other media to occupy your time. We browsed through those and played some as we were waiting for our food. It was a nice diversion for a bit, but it makes the dining experience a really anti-social affair since everyone at the table is staring at their individual screen. They had a category for "group games", and that turned out to be something where a particular game would be announced on your screen, and if you wanted to join, you hit "join" and your screenname, and then everyone who joined would play the trivia game against each other. The husband and I were disappointed that in "group games", there wasn't an option for playing a game together. I think that's a real missed opportunity. They had a multitude of trivia games and the like, and I think it would have been great to be able to pick one of those and play against each other. It would also be fun to be able to even challenge another table to a trivia contest or some other game.

There's a button to close out your check, and it actually breaks down what each person had, based on what you told the computer each person ordered. You can have a listing of the total bill, or you can see what each person's tab cost. And if food got put in under the wrong name, or let's say someone is paying for another person's entree or dessert, you can move items from one person's list to another, and it will recalculate the bill. That part was really nice, as is the fact that you just pay at the table by swiping your credit card again once you've approved the final bill, including tax and tip, though the husband said the place to swipe your credit card isn't easy to see either. I liked being able to pay at the table, which alleviates the problem of not being able to find a server to ask for your check.

I generally liked the concept of the restaurant, and I thought the food was ok enough. I'm not sure that it's somewhere I'd go to on a regular basis, but for certain occasions, I'd definitely be up for a return visit.

On a side note and interestingly enough, the man who is CEO and founder of uWink was also the founder of Atari Corp. and Chuck E. Cheese's pizza restaurants.

uWink (at Hollywood & Highland)
6801 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 466-1800


connie said...

the same thing happened to me, as once we got our food, which looked fine, we were confused because we had no utensils. nor did we ever get the water we had to go through the system and request. except our server never checked up on us because at the time, they still didn't have servers. so after requesting it from the kitchen 8 times, we waited over 20 minutes until we finally went up to the front counter, where they were surprised at what happened. the manager was extremely apologetic and comped the food, since we couldn't eat the food and by the time we got utensils, the food was pretty cold and unappetizing. oh well. good idea, bad execution

Tim Castro said...

What happens when drinks spill all over those monitors?