Videoconference Restaurant

George Monbiot wrote of love miles, the travelling we do to meet up with friends and relatives. In this era Skype video calls might replace some of that travel -- but it just doesn't seem the same as the relaxed experience of meeting up for real. Also, it takes some technical skill and set-up to get a decent video call working. The whole experience of meeting in a video call can feel artificial and awkward.

The idea here is a genuine green business opportunity for a chain of restaurants, giving customers a chance to have a relaxed meal with distant friends without the cost, fatigue and environmental impact of long-distance travel.

Wormhole booth

The restaurant would have a number of quiet booths, each with one table. The diners sit around three sides of the table, with the unused side facing towards the wall. On the wall is a video camera, with a large screen perhaps a little closer. A decent microphone is placed on or above the table, and speakers to one side.

At the other location, an identical booth accommodates the distant friends. With a high-quality videoconference system, each group sees the others on the screen at the far end of the table -- the table at the "other end" becomes an extension of the table at "this end". So we end up, as closely as possible, with the experience of a single table with the two groups arranged around each end of it. The wall disappears and the screen becomes a window into the other location -- a "wormhole" connecting the two ends.

Restaurant Angle

The restaurant takes a table booking for both locations at once, and gives the diners a confirmation including local times at both locations. This helps the guests avoid possible confusion about different time zones.

The menu can be the same at both ends, so the diners can choose the same food if they want to. The restaurant kitchens also do their best to synchronise delivery of the food at the two tables.

The restaurant can charge a decent fee to book the special tables. After all, it is a heck of a lot cheaper than actually meeting up for real. And the restaurant can emphasize that by booking a joint virtual table, the customers have saved a great deal of time, pollution and money compared to long-distance travel. Why fly to America once a year to see your sister when you can meet up for lunch every couple of months at a fraction of the cost and without setting foot in an airport?

The restaurant also perhaps gets to fill tables at times of day that would otherwise be unpopular, as parties meeting up in different timezones may need to have a very late dinner or a mid-morning lunch to synchronise with the other end. Indeed one end may be eating breakfast while the other is eating dinner, etc. This could lead to some fun advertising.

The bill can be paid separately at either end, or by someone at just one end -- so it is still possible to treat someone far away to a meal.

The restaurant does have to invest in reliable equipment that gives a consistently good experience, and can cope with the odd spilt drink or wayward bit of food.

Social Angle

Sitting at home in front of a laptop to make a pre-arranged Skype call with distant relatives can be a bit of an artificial experience. One can feel pressured to quickly run through how people are, what they've been up to recently, and one can end up feeling a bit awkward about keeping the conversation going and when to end it.

In the special restaurant booth, everyone gets to chat over a few drinks, with the real experience of "going out" for an occasion. If ever an excuse was required to have a large meal with wine at 4 o'clock in the afternoon -- or even 10 o'clock in the morning -- here it is, given possible timezone differences. Conversation is less hurried and naturally turns to the business of ordering and enjoying the food as well as catching up on news. Once the meal is finished and the bill paid, proceedings naturally draw to a close -- until next time.

Video calls at home can only be made to technically savvy people. But there is no problem inviting your elderly aunt or techophobe friend out to the restaurant, and it is the venue's problem to ensure a seamless high-quality video link, leaving the diners free to enjoy the occasion.


The video booths would obviously lend themselves to informal business meetings as well as social gatherings. The tables could be hired out for non-diners at off-peak times, either for business use or to allow less extravagant video meetings for those who don't have the technical facilities at home.

Bars or pubs could use the same principle to allow a virtual drink with distant friends, though the cost overhead lends itself more to restaurant bookings. Long-distance drinking games become a serious possibility, and given the right integration of till systems, one should be able to buy a drink for someone at the other end.

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