The idea of going out for dinner is rapidly changing. I was traveling on business last week to Minneapolis and had a morning flight back home that was delayed, so I decided to grab some breakfast with a colleague.

We sat down and were greeted by tablets, one on each side. It was clear that we were to order from the tablet and pay with the credit card reader attached to the table.

After commenting about the novelty of this ordering experience, I got to thinking about how distracting the tablet truly was. Oh sure, I take my iPad and computer with me on business, but unless I have a pressing deadline I do not take it out when I am eating with a colleague. I think that it is a much better use of my time and energy to have a conversation rather than sit next to someone with my head in a device.

Presto-tablet-at-ApplebeesNow, this week, Applebee’s will install 100,000 tablets on the tables of its nearly 2,000 stores so that people can order, surf the net, play games and pay the check. This comes on the heels of Chili’s doing the same thing. The hope is that it will cut wait times and perhaps get people to spend more on appetizers and desserts as some initial data suggests.

This will also make a bad dining experience worse. I can see a family having to referee their kids fighting over who will get to use the tablet and couples sitting quietly across from each other as the gentle glow of the tablet screen is reflected on their faces.

Have the likes of Applebee’s and Chili’s given up completely on providing an dining experience? Has the restaurant industry become so mundane that the food is simply a means to an end? I am hungry. I have to eat food. I am too lazy, tired, or busy to make it myself, so let’s go someplace that has food.

The single largest growth area in dining is take away/delivery. Perhaps if people were reminded that part of “eating out” was for the experience then more people would actually go out instead or ordering soggy, lukewarm food served in plastic or Styrofoam.

If the restaurant industry is really looking for ways to grow, it should really concentrate on providing an experience that sets itself apart from “food.” I can sit at home and have a ham sandwich and use my tablet. I don’t need to go to Applebee’s for that.