A Review of Nolan Bushnell's (Now Defunct) Concept Restaurant(s)
By Eric Ruck
Honestly, how could I go to Hollywood and not visit? If you've been following what little news there has been about uWink over the years, you'd know that it's a concept restaurant from Atari and Chuck E Cheese founder Nolan Bushnell with touch screens at every table. You can use the touch screens to order, watch media, play solo games, or challenge other restaurant patrons. You should be able to pay as well, but that wasn't working when I was there.
The touch screen ordering works really well. At our table for five the kids were on one side with their own screen, grownups on the other. The kids fully understood to take turns and not push the send order button (they're 9). They cooperated nicely.
The system works as you'd expect. I ordered “Build A Burger” so I could play with all the options. And there are a lot of options, great sauces, meat type (veggie and turkey in addition to beef), lots of choices of bread, veggies, etc. The touch screen is already a little dated, as tapping “back” and “next” buttons would better be done with a swiping gesture.
Once everyone is done you tap “Send Order To Kitchen” and off it goes. No waiting for a server. Want a free refill on your ginger ale? Tap the refill button and someone shows up pretty promptly. Ditto, napkins, table water, etc. Same with additional food – if you decide one more appetizer for the table would be cool, a couple of taps and a few minutes later, someone brings it to you.
The food is actually very good. Basically American bar food. Everyone will be able to find something that makes them happy. Among our orders were really fantastic chili cheese fries, burgers and sliders, even good pasta. The prices were a little high, but then I was in Hollywood. I can't say they were out of line with neighboring establishments.
But this review isn't so much about the food as the experience. So, from the experience point of view, I'd say the food holds its own, and is much better than I would have expected for a retaurant in a tourist area that draws you in with the touch screen gimmick. Were I in the neighborhood again, I would go back if I were hungry.
Playing With The Touch Screen
Nothing earth shattering but definitely fun. The media consisted mostly of slide shows of amusing content, the sort of thing that gets e-mailed around in PDFs. Briefly entertaining but not earth shattering. The implication is that there will be a lot more, better content such as videos. If this is to succeed, they will definitely need more.
The games fared better. Generally word and trivia games. I was surprised to find a video game with gay content...seems a little specialized and there might be people out there who are offended by it. But generally the content was family oriented and enjoyable by a wide range of ages. My kids really liked the word scrambles, and played it together. Cooperation, and the lack of fighting, is welcome. It there was a uWink in my area I'd consider taking the kids there just to have a peaceful dinner out.
Again, given the draw, I would have like to have seen a nod to arcade games. It looks like they intend to do that at some point, and I think it would help them succeed if they did. (There was an Arcade choice in the Games section, but it crashed my screen. Maybe it works for other people.)
This is where I think uWink really has potential. The ability to challenge strangers at another table to a game of trivia or word scramble is awesome. I think this is the best part of the whole experience, and is where uWink could really become a good destination. My kids had a great time with this, and I could tell people at other people, in all age groups, were really enjoying this feature as well.
Stuff I Didn't Try
They actually have a bar with individual touch screens, but as I was there with kids I didn't get a go. At 3p in the afternoon they actually had more than a few patrons, who I would guess are locals. So it appears the bar concept does work.
There was a huge projection TV sitting in front of a large table with trackballs. It was turned off. Don't know what it was for but I'm definitely intrigued. Our server was new and didn't know either.
Not without its rough edges, I think uWink really could work. It does offer some unique experiences, while still accomplishing the general goal of a restaurant, feeding its patrons with good grub. I do like the speed and convenience of ordering without a waiter, especially when you just want more napkins and silverware.