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Posted on Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

New look for restaurant menus: Ordering by tablet

By Ben Freed


Daniel Brenner |

Eric Arsenault did not set out to reinvent the “menu experience,” as he calls it. But with the help of Mainstreet Ventures president and former National Restaurant Association chairman Mike Gibbons, he developed an app that could revolutionize the way customers look at food before it even gets to the table: It turns tablet computers into menus.

Ann Arbor diners can now experience the new way of choosing their courses at The Chop House, where Arsenault serves as the sommelier, and Real Seafood Co., both on South Main Street.

The app also is used at six other restaurants across the country.

The program, called Menuvative, allows restaurants to create their own menu that is linked to tablet computers running an Android operating system. Those tablets are handed out at the table and diners can flip, swipe, and tap through the menu, look at pictures of food, read nutritional information, and even get suggestions for wine pairings.

Diners at The Chop House said the new technology was easy to use, and they enjoyed the photos that accompanied each item on the menu.

"I still get my usual, but it's fun to look at the other options," Charissa Bass said. "It can be a bit more cumbersome than a paper menu, but overall it's nice and certainly unique."

Arsenault said he chose to use Android tablets because without tampering, iPads allow users to exit an app using a central button. He was adamant that the tablets be used for menus, not games or e-mail.


Robyn Leineke of Flint, Mich. said she thought the new tablet menus were easy to use.

Daniel Brenner |

“In early testing we saw a lot of people trying to get out of the menu so they could find Angry Birds or get on the internet, and ultimate that’s detrimental to the restaurant,” he said.

“We want to maintain the dining experience as it is, (and) make the dining experience better not worse. You don’t want to slow down table times.”

To use the tablets, restaurants upload their own menu into the Menuvative web app either by themselves (if they are tech savvy) or with Arsenault’s help. The menus are specific to each restaurant and can be altered to create a unique look and feel for each location.

Once the menu is designed, the owner pays $6-11 per tablet monthly for the “keys” to activate them as menus. The tablets receive their information from the central hub via wireless internet connections, and the offerings and prices can be changed at any time by the central system.

Arsenault was toying with the idea of creating an interactive wine list for the company's website when two coincidences and the endorsement of a major restaurateur led him to develop the new technology.

“I saw a guy sitting in the dining room with an iPad and I thought ‘I should be doing this for the Web; I should be doing so people can look at it table-side,” he said.

A survey of the apps available for tablet-based wine lists convinced Arsenault that there was not an option yet that would satisfy everything he wanted to get out of the program.

“And I was training someone at the time and they were asking me about food and wine pairings and how it always would stump them,” he said.

“And I told him that there were only so many structural characteristics to the wine and food, it’s more about knowing the database of wine and the database of food at your disposal. As soon as I said the word ‘database’ I went ‘Whoa, wait a second.’”

Arsenault’s revelation was that what was needed was an algorithm to pair a restaurant’s wine and food offerings based on giving characteristics of the choices. He started working on what would become Pairing Pro, a patent-pending program that takes factors such as acidity, weight, and tannins from food and wines and pairs them for optimal enjoyment.

Coincidentally, Gibbons had also been looking into technologies to bring to his restaurants. Mainstreet Ventures is an Ann Arbor based restaurant collective that includes The Chop House and Real Seafood Co. in Ann Arbor as well as 13 other locations across the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard, including Grand Rapids.


Eric Arsenault (left) has been a sommelier at The Chop House for eight years. He chatted with host Ethan Poris about the new tablet menus on Sunday night.

Daniel Brenner |

When Gibbons suggested looking into bringing technological wine lists to the restaurants, Arsenault decided it was finally time to show off what he had been working on. Gibbons liked what he saw in Pairing Pro, but thought the potential of the product had greater reach, especially with the recent passing of the Affordable Care Act.

“I said the biggest thing coming down the road impacting our industry is the mandate to provide nutritional information that will go into effect in 2013,” he said.

“So we said why don’t we come up with something more comprehensive than the wine list, because other people are already doing that. So we came up with the concept for the full menu.”

The pair started a new business, imenutech, to develop the new technologies they saw as a crucial part of the future of the restaurant industry. Gibbons was hesitant to reveal his and Eric’s running of the company when the first menus were first piloted at the Chop House in February because he wanted to get honest feedback from customers and servers using the product.

After overwhelmingly positive responses, including from Gibbon’s 86-year-old mother and also from his granddaughter, other Mainstreet Venture restaurants started to put the menus into use.

Other Ann Arbor establishments are also investing in tablet and app technology. Ashley’s on State Street has moved its “Beer Tour” program online.

President Jeff More said he has invested $10,000 into creating apps for servers to input information on tablets and for customers to track their drinking habits.

More said the technology will help him track what people are choosing to drink and eventually will be able to suggest beers to patrons based on what they have enjoyed in the past.

Other restaurants may follow suit.

Nationally, the use of tablets started in major markets in 2011. This week, Tallulah Wine Bar and Bistro in Birmingham, Mich. will be the first non-Mainstreet Ventures restaurant to use the Menuvative system. Arsenault said he anticipates more business coming in after he gets a turn on the stage as a feature presenter at the Michigan Restaurant Association trade show in October.

Gibbons estimates that he has invested approximately $250,000 into the first phase of development for imenutech. He and Arsenault agree that it’s money well spent as an investor, but also as a restaurateur because they believes Menuvative will benefit restaurants in multiple ways.

“It’s greener and cleaner by far. We used to print 300 lunch and dinner menus on giant pieces of paper every week at Real Seafood, Co.,” Arsenault said.

“Just the tonnage of paper they were not going to be wasting, let alone the $25,000 it cost to print all that, will allow restaurants to break even in one year with the new technology.”

And that cost analysis comes before what Arsenault calls “guest check changes” that resulted from using the new menus.

“We’re seeing that with people being able to see photos of the food and getting the perfect wine pairings, they are ordering even more,” he said.

“At our Chop House restaurant in Annapolis, Md., it went from $62 per check to $92 overnight. The tablets paid for themselves in just one month.”

Ben Freed covers business for Reach him at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2


Sean McCurnin

Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 2:23 a.m.

I think this could create all sorts of opportunities in demographics for marketing. I would like to create menus with language translations and currency conversions. I live in Hawaii and there are a lot of Asian that need help ordering. Can anyone out there help?


Thu, Sep 13, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

Been available in China resturants for a couple of pretty well and you can put a picture of the dish on the screen.


Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 5:42 a.m.

from the article: people able to see photos are ordering more, to the tune of 50% more on the bill oh that's great, how much of that food is wasted? the affordable care act wants to show you the nutrional value yet you will order more because the picture makes everything look good (eyes have a bigger appetite than the stomach). as for the tablets, it doesn't matter to me, I'd rather make a filet mignon dinner at home with all the fixings for less than $10 than eat at the Chop House for a lot more. I'm happier eating at a Coney Island

Billy Bob Schwartz

Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 9:08 p.m.

bunny...first of all, you don't list rabbit. Hmmmm. Also, when do we eat? BTW, what's your address??


Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 7:47 p.m.

@a2miguy, I buy an ENTIRE tenderloin at Costco, portion it up and refrigerate or freeze the portions, usually serving them with sides of roasted potatoes and fresh green beans, I don't often make dinner rolls, but if I do it is still less than $10 per person. I also have friends of the family that supply several family members with deer, elk, pork, beef, lots of fish, chicken and goose meat. Buying meat in small amounts at the grocers counter is not cost effiecient, a filet mignon at the Chop House isn't the best thing around. Drive 20 mins from Ann Arbor and you get a better one for 1/2 price in several different restaurants. I realize that eating out is a "special treat" for many, fine, just saying I have zero interest in eating Filet Mignon for $30 with sides a la carte when I can make the same thing taste better at home for less than a third of the price.


Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 6:59 p.m.

A filet mignon at home for less than $10 including sides? Right. You must be getting your steak from dumpsters when they get thrown out.

Eric Arsenault

Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 11:34 p.m.

continued response 3. Several people have commented that Menuvative seems expensive. Quite the contrary, Menuvative is a savings NOT a cost. By conservative estimates, The Real Seafood Company (who printed their menus weekly) will SAVE approximately $50,000 over 4 years by drastically reducing their paper printing output. Despite what a few have said in this thread, this will allow restaurants using Menuvative to resist price increases despite the ever increasing cost of food. Don't forget that they'll also be saving a lot of trees. 4. We surveyed thousands of users in the first month of piloting Menuvative and found that the overwhelming majority of Seniors preferred Menuvative over paper menus because larger fonts on a backlit screen make them easier to read than paper menus. To quote one woman in her 70's "These should be a law because I can finally read a menu without reading glasses and a flashlight!" 5. The version of Menuvative in the Chop House was a pilot application that was used to gather valuable data and feedback. Like all software, that test revealed the areas of the application that needed to be improved. We have since released Menuvative 2.0 for the industry as a whole (2 weeks ago). The current release of Menuvative is crash proof, blazing fast, and easier to maintain.

Eric Arsenault

Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 11:33 p.m.

I'd like to take a few minutes to respond to a few of today's comments with some factual data. Thank you, Ben for clarifying my intention about preserving the integrity of the dining experience and not trying to speed up table turns. I'll post these in two comments. 1. Nothing about Menuvative is aimed at speeding up table times. It is all aimed at a richer menu experience not a quicker one. The photos, descriptions, nutritional capabilities, and wine pairings all support that. 2. Paper is a highly porous substance that holds bacteria and germs far more easily than glass or plastic which is far less porous. You cannot sanitize a paper menu unless they are in plastic sleeves which high end establishments do not use. You can however use a mild sanitizing solution and on tablets and all restaurants using Menuvative have a cleaning protocol between uses. In the majority of circumstances, a Menuvative tablet will be more sanitary than a paper menu. continued.....


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 10:53 p.m.

Everyone will have their own take, but I go out to a restaurant to get away from the everyday and to have a different experience. After working all day with a computer, the last thing I want is this. Ugh. I would prefer if Mainstream Ventures worked more on their food quality their and menus, rather than on presentation of the menus. Their restaurants seem tired to me and too often provide sloppy and indifferent cooking.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 6:38 p.m.

Great experience with these menus. My wife and I enjoyed our anniversary dinner at The Chop House recently and while talking with the manager we learned that the restaurant had in fact just experienced an upgrade to the tablets making them much faster than the first few months they were in use. We had no problems at all and thought the tablet menus were a smart idea that is much more environmentally friendly than paper.

Dan P

Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 5:17 p.m.

Went to the Chophouse for my birthday along with my family and grandfather. The tablets were slow, heavy, and choppy and one stopped working while we were using it. They were especially difficult for my grandfather because they were laggy. The ability to see pictures of the food was nice but even though I enjoy using technology in new ways, I began to wish for a paper menu. I won't be returning to the Chophouse because it seems that the high food prices are to pay for the tablets. My steak was good but I would rather spend less money for a equally good prime rib from Webers.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.

If they want to raise prices, will they put tassels on the tablets?


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

I disagree. The tablets were very fast and easy to use. We have lived in this area for many years and The Chop House menu prices have always been at the caliber they are now, even before the tablets. The reason behind pricing at any restaurant is directly related to the quality of the food. You get what you pay for and we look forward to our return at The Chop House.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

Wow, this is awesome! A little upset that I wont be able to play Angry Birds, but I still can't wait to try out the new tablet menu! Thank you to the writer for bringing us this story!

Billy Bob Schwartz

Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 8:59 p.m.

What's conservation got to do with it? Heh-heh.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 10:54 p.m.

You pay to go to a restaurant to play Angry Birds? Can't you do it at home for free? How about a conversation...


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 3:05 p.m.

Why not just post the menu on line so that people with "Smart Phones" or "tablets" can order? Skip having the tablets at the restaurants which are just a breeding ground for germs!


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

I've been to the Chop House before the new menus, and actually I don't think it's a bother to use them...they are no bigger then their paper menus, and when I'm done looking at the menu I can still put it where I put the paper menu, on the plate right in front of where I sit, till the waiter takes it away. I like them, and so did my aunt, it's kinda dark in their and she can see the menu a lot better know that it is illuminated!


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

Kind of an expensive way to let patrons know what you have, don't you think?


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 4:51 p.m.

I was thinking the same thing. Would menu prices go up if these became implemented? What if one dropped one and broke? Do we have to pay for it? Children are very abusive to these things as well.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

Unfortunately the Chop House tablets are large heavy Android tablets and there is no place to put them once you have finished reviewing the menu. Nice area but poor execution.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

This is fantastic! I especially hope that the restaurant owners will take this opportunity to list allergen information. I love to eat out, but haven't been able to for several years because the servers rarely know much about what allergens may be used in specific foods. If I could check for myself in the menu, I could risk going out again. That would be so cool...


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

I'm going to love this as much as U-scans and self-service gas stations!

Billy Bob Schwartz

Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 8:57 p.m.

I tell the check out person, "U scan. Not my job." It works quite well.

Middle America

Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 12:38 a.m.

I wish that everyone who is confused by u-scans would realize they shouldn't try to use them. Then, I wouldn't have to wait behind them in line. They are seriously so easy and fast.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 4:50 p.m.

I miss my gas station attendant. Those U scans still confuse me.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

Senior citizens are going to just LOVE this. My dad eats at Chop House on his bday. Apologies in advance to the waitstaff.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 8:34 p.m.

I took my mom, who is a senior, and after a little while, she liked it. She liked having pictures and nutritional information. We both agreed by the end of the meal that it was an awesome idea. Don't underestimate the mom has an iPad. ;-)


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 5:07 p.m.

Actually, we already know that an 86 year old woman DOES love it!


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

I was being sarcastic.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 2:34 p.m.

They are? I know of a few that find this stuff utterly confusing. I for one do not like this at all.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 1:34 p.m.

Remember the good old days like 10-12 years ago when cell phones were shunned at restaurants, and it was impolite to hold a phone conversation in a dining room next to other patrons?

Middle America

Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 12:36 a.m.

"Ah dang kids! Those good old days, etc..." Each generation says the exact same thing as they age.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 10:56 p.m.

I am not that old and I do ... I also remember when restaurants were not blaring canned music for adolescents ....

Middle America

Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 7:58 p.m.

No. Everyone has always been rude and terrible, even before cell phones.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.

"did not set out to reinvent the "menu experience," Can a Nobel Prize be far behind?


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 12:18 p.m.

This is wonderful. Another step toward my dream of ultimate sophisticated dining; a Jack in the Box talking clown head at every table to take your order. Keep hope alive!


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 11:49 a.m.

I was lucky enough to get to use these. They are truly great. Like the article said, not just pictures but wine pairings and nutritional info are available. It's just way more information can fit on a regular menu. And yet it's not informational overload - it basically looks like a regular menu layout until you want to click on a particular item to get the additional data.

Middle America

Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 11:30 a.m.

How will customers berate the tablets like they do the waitstaff?

Middle America

Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 7:59 p.m.

Yeah, sometimes jokes and reading can be tough to figure out.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 1:27 p.m.

you make absolutely no sense.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 11:29 a.m.

As dirty as menus are one wonders about these tablets. Yuck! Maybe they will put bottles of hand sanitizer on each table? Sure know I keep a bottle in my purse for just such use!


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 4:59 p.m.

As a self proclaimed germ a phobe I have to weigh in on this one . I am more concerned about the paper menus of old. Paper is a very porous substance, I have always viewed them as virtual sponges for bacteria and germs nothing worse than a grimy menu. At least these tablets being less porous than paper can be sanitized if the restaurant chooses to. My family will still wash their hands or sanitize before every meal regardless of what kind of menu we are holding.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 2:34 p.m.

I agree with arieswoman. I will not handle these things unlike a regular menu that can be sterilized. This is not for me.

Middle America

Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 11:31 a.m.

I am not an expert on these tablets, but you probably shouldn't pour alcohol based sanitizer on them. First world problems! :(


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 11:06 a.m.

Oh man. I hope these tablets are sanitized nightly. The germs. Gross.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

Do like Mr. Monk: bring your antiseptic wipes along to the restaurant. Not a bad idea in any case. Or bring a small hand sanitizer along. You touch the door handle coming in. You move a chair. You use the menu (of whatever kind), you order, you use sanitizer, you smile, and you enjoy your meal. If you think this is crazy, you may be right, but I don't think so.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

Please get some help


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.

Turning the very edge of a menu with finger tip is easy. Less surface area contact. The worker who delivers our UPS packages at work uses an electronic signing pad. I wash my hands each time after signing my name. Do you know how many thousands of people with pink eye, cold sores, stomach flu, etc. . . have touched that thing and its stylus?? Same with grocery cart handles, door knobs, etc. I could go on . .. The point is, having an e-menu will only keep me from visiting a restaurant.

Middle America

Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 12:08 p.m.

You have no idea what disgusting things I have done to restaurant menus.


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 11:43 a.m.

OCD. Besides, I don't see how it's much different than any other menu. In fact, it's easier to clean a tablet than most other types of menus.

tom swift jr.

Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 10:47 a.m.

Interesting idea, and it certainly makes sense in a lot of ways. One statement I found interesting was ""We want to maintain the dining experience as it is, (and) make the dining experience better not worse. You don't want to slow down table times." It seems to me that "not slowing down table times" (ie, getting folks out as quickly as possible) does not make the "experience better" for the customer (unless you're the one waiting at the door for a table). It's too bad he made that statement and it was printed, up until that point I thought... "hey, pretty clever"..then I was all "yep, rush me out and fill that table again". It's easier to put a 30 minute kitchen timer on the table. :)


Wed, Sep 12, 2012 : 6:44 p.m.

C'mon, Ben. "You don't won't to slow down table times." It means one thing: must turn over tables to earn more revenue. Not criticizing it at all... that's life in the competitive restaurant industry. But let's not sugar coat the truth, please.

Ben Freed

Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 2:43 p.m.

tom, Eric was not implying that this device would speed up table times, it was more of a statement that high end restaurants would not want people checking their emails and playing Angry Birds on tablets instead of enjoying the experience. Eric did not say that the menus would speed up table times or rush you out any more quickly, he merely pointed out that the use of Android tablets prevented customers from wasting time playing games or accessing the internet before they had a chance to order. Best, Ben


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

Yep, in order to keep the doors open at your favorite restaurant, that usually means they have to turn the table your sitting at more than once. You may have noticed the competitive landscape restaurants in this city operate in. Margins can be as cutthroat as the grocery industry, so volume has to step in to be the profit driver. The sad truth. Dinner out is often more utilitarian these days anyway, not the social anchor it used to be, so lingering isn't as much desired nor encouraged.