In an underground location immediately adjacent to the Chungking Mansions there is a mall. And in this mall there is a restaurant. As you approach the restaurant, this is what you see:
This the host, menu, waiter and cashier all in one. You select your food and drink from the handy buttons, pay the bill and receive a little ticket from the machine. Even with the instructions written in Chinese I was able to do it quickly (and if I can do it, anybody can). Immediately adjacent to the above machine you have this:
This is a seating chart. The combination of the ticket and the chart direct you to which seat is going to be yours, so when you go through the door (to the left in this case) you find your own individual seat that looks like this:
The red patch in the back is a cloth drape. Once your food is ready, the drape is pulled back and your food is placed on the table.
Once your done, you simply leave your stuff on the table, get up and walk out… that’s it. Not once during the whole time do you interact with a person. Yes, there are people there… the cooks and the busboys who put your food out and take it away… but they’re conveniently hidden so you never see them. I found the whole experience rather strange. Was it easy… yes. Was it convenient… yes. Was it weird… hell yes. When I’m travelling alone, sometimes the only personal interactions I may have over the course of the day are with food servers and shop keepers (especially if I’m not feeling particularly social that day, which happens all the time). Eliminating those little interactions just feels very alienating to me. Of the many ways that East Asia is a bit ahead of the west on the technology curve, this is one that I hope doesn’t catch on.