Will apps kill pubs?

Has the death knell been sounded for pubs and restaurants?

Customers can now order food and drink to their table through downloadable mobile apps. Food, drink and re-orders are paid for with the push of a button with servers left to deliver them. The ‘order and pay’ app has already been adopted by pub chains in the UK and across Europe, raising the fear that Spain is not far behind. 

For customers, the innovation represents a quicker, smoother dining experience, especially in the summer months when footfall increases. Pub and restaurant managers are ready to embrace the technology, too, as it cuts waiting times by 2/3 for the average visit at peak business times. 

While the app is still something of a novelty, there’s a burgeoning concern that it might signal a shift away from the human contact that often defines a night out and underpins an establishment’s reputation. Waiting staff are the first to challenge the idea, not least as it curtails opportunities to make personal recommendations and to go the extra mile to earn tips. 

So is doomsday among us for pubs as we know it? It’s worthwhile remembering that the same conversation was had ten years ago by those who said e-books heralded the end of paperbacks and a descent into darkness. The opposite happened – books bounced back because the novelty wore off quickly because a certain je n’ais se quoi was lost. 

Is it likely to decimate waiting staff jobs? One manager explained the new technology only enhances the dining experience of the customer, while the actual logistics of service remain in place from order to table service. 

They argue that it has benefits for all involved, including those without a smartphone, because it allows for a faster distribution of human resources, expressly at peak times when queues look like a devil horde in the distance. 

As for the decline in tête-à-têtes, it depends entirely on where the app is adopted. A busier restaurant or large bar makes perfect sense, particularly for parents with small children or people with disabilities who don’t want to leave their table. Smaller locals, on the other hand, are less likely to adopt the model precisely because their size and waiting times don’t need an improvement. 

So is a pub extinction near? Join me for a pint, and we’ll find out.