Computer tablets a dining revolution?

Even before deciding on regular or sparkling water, diners at Palo Alto’s Calafia Cafe have to choose: Presto or human?

Diners can choose a human waiter for the traditional restaurant experience. The curious and the socially awkward, though, can choose to have their order taken by Presto, a tablet computer that will soon be appearing tableside in restaurant chains across the country.

The screen, somewhere between the size of an iPad and a smart phone, lets diners browse through picture menus, send orders to the kitchen. It can even suggest which wine to pair with your grilled chicken and provide estimated wait times.

And when it’s time to check out? No need to “prairie dog” to get your waiter’s attention. Just swipe your plastic through Presto’s built-in credit card reader and choose if you’d like a paper or electronic receipt. Need the bill split? Done.

Calafia Cafe has been the first restaurant to test the prototype developed by Palo Alto’s E la Carte. Cafe owner Charlie Ayers said the technology is the future of dining:

“People say it’s very inhospitable. But it’s the epitome of hospitality. It empowers the guest to get in and to get out.”

Ayers said the tables that dine with Presto turn over three and a half times faster, order more and (relax, waiters) even tip better.

Despite these positive factors, some are hesitant to embrace technology like Presto. Food archaeologist and associate professor at New York’s Stony Brook University Katheryn Twiss is worried about the social implications it will have. “We’re increasing segmentation of society as opposed to promoting its communal aspect,” she said.

So what will you choose, restaurant goers — Presto or human?