Restaurant features "wireless service bell button" to summon waiters at your command


Yesterday, David and I enjoyed fine lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Urbana, Illinois. The experience was made even more pleasant because of this "wireless service bell button" at our table. Note its four buttons: Waiter, Drink, Money (bill), and Chopsticks (food). Each button produced a different tone, which emanated from a speaker in the kitchen. When I pressed the drink button, the waiter appeared in seconds holding a pitcher of ice water. When I pressed the Money button, he came right out with the check.

If Sarah Palin can promise in tonight's debate that -- if elected -- she'll sign legislation requiring all restaurants in the country to install tabletop wireless service bell button systems, she gets my vote.


  1. This is a common feature at restaurants in Japan, though I never saw one with four buttons! I do agree that it’s perhaps the pinnacle of human engineering.

  2. I’d love to see that in Canada. Too long have I waited for someone to take my order, and you can forget about the bill.

    But what does the X mean? Is that for cutlery?

  3. Having worked as a waiter I would have appreciated something that alerted me to a table’s needs like that. At least, when I had some more timid customers or when things were very busy. Even checking in with a table a few times during the meal isn’t enough for some people. I just hope the tips are good :)

  4. We have this restaurant here named The Training Table where you go sit down, look at the menu, then pick up a phone at the booth to order. You still have to go get your own food when they call you back (but it is real silverware). So I guess it is wired.

  5. Ha. I saw the photo/title and thought “gosh that looks like Evo’s buttons”. And it is!
    Did you get to visit any of the cool labs around UIUC? I think you guys would be really into some of the stuff we do at the north end of campus. If you didn’t, drop me a line next time you’re visiting Urbana.
    Lydia (Mon. night, redhead with filipina girlfriend sitting on steps)

  6. @Trent and Gloria: The X is a pair of chopsticks, as it says in the post.

    Anyways, I’ve seen similar devices in Japan, although not with the multifunction niftiness. Yet another good idea that hasn’t caught on in the states. I wonder why, though. It seems like it would make things easier for waitstaff and better for customers, so I’d expect it to be popular.

  7. They have those increasingly most in Shanghai restaurants. I remember first seeing them in UBC Coffee (a restaurant, despite the name) downtown in 2005.

  8. About 100 years ago I went to a coffee shop in Southern Suburbs of Sydney (Australia) where they had lamps fixed to the middle of the tables. THey weren’t unattractive, but if you pressed down on the top of it a little light would come on indicating you wanted service. It was great because the low key atmosphere wasn’t interrupted with unnecessary people asking if you wanted something. Really simple solution.

  9. Working as a server for 4 years, I’d just feel like a dog being summoned by a bell/tone. No thank you, I’d just rather rely on my observation and socializing skills to provide quality service.

  10. If that’s all that takes to sway your vote, and you’re not concerned about the future of our country, I doubt whether I should be reading what you’re writing. Even as an obvious joke, I’m not positive it’s in good taste.

  11. They have something similar to this (1 button for waitress, 1 for manager) at Applebees. At least they do at the one near me.

  12. Brilliant idea! I hate trying to attract the attention of the waiter in a restaurant.

    Although that said, I tend to prefer pub-style go up to the bar and order and pay right there and then establishments. So much easier to be able to walk away when you’re done rather than sitting around, being sociable and occupying a table which the long queue of people at the door want while you try and get hold of somebody to take your money.

  13. Our local chinese restaurant here in germany has a device like this since a decade. But just with one button.
    But you can change the table number on the back using some dip switches. That makes even more fun to send the waiter to some foreign table or even non existing tables.

  14. I went home to Canada for the summer after having spent a year in Japan, were it’s already been mentioned that these buttons are fairly prevalent. I saw a lot of friends and we ended up going out to eat a lot.

    Never thought I would miss the button system, but I really did. Especially while being accosted by one server who would continuously interrupt our conversation in mid-word to get her can-I-take-your-order, want-some-more-water and how-are-you-folks-doing?-that’s-great spiels over and done with as fast as possible.

  15. As said above, pretty commonplace in Japan, though over the last few years I’ve seen more and more touch-screen versions appearing, where you can actually browse and order straight from a table-top terminal. Even gives you a running tally of how much you’ve spent. Very nifty, but I had to wonder if it would have just been quicker to call staff over. There’s also karaoke places where you can order food and drinks straight from the remote control.

  16. oh god. i’m a server, and this is a terrible idea. it gives me goosebumps– all good servers know when their tables need checks and water (and a good deal more) without talking about it. something like this would only distract the practiced and skillful mindspace we need to be able to work smoothly and provide good service.
    and it’s pretty hideous.

  17. They’ve had these for years in some bubble tea shops just north of Toronto. I haven’t seen any that have the four buttons though. Sadly, I believe they’re mostly installed so the restaurants can continue to horribly under staff their restaurants.

  18. “If Sarah Palin can promise in tonight’s debate that — if elected — she’ll sign legislation requiring all restaurants in the country to install tabletop wireless service bell button systems, she gets my vote.”

    Riiiiiight……..because that would be a fair trade off for putting a pseudo Christian death cultist’s finger on the nuke button.

  19. They have this at my local Sarasota, FL Denny’s (except the one-button variety)…Always thought it was kind of strange.

  20. They actually have this almost everywhere in Japan, though some of them have only one button, instead of for. Consequently, if you don’t push the button, they don’t ever come, and I’ve sat stupidly before grumbly about the bad service until we realized that you have to push the button.

  21. paulatz@21: “I can’t believe you’re so shy you prefer to mediate human interactions with a wireless machine!”

    Er… I talk to the waiter when s/he comes to the table.

  22. Given where Mark is, if he’s the only one who does that, it won’t affect the outcome.

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