Sunday, November 02, 2008

uWink

There's a new restaurant in downtown Mountain View, where you place orders via a computer monitor, and can play games while you wait.

Dan went there and said the games were horrible. He maintains that they are cheesy and not sociable enough. This made me curious, so I went with Sha-mayn the following week. We loved it!

I especially liked the trivia game.

A debate ensued between Dan and me. Spread over several conversations, we debated the merits of uWink. This culminated last Thursday in a bet.


The bet concerns whether the uWink company will go out of business within two years (10/30/2010). Dan bets that it will, and I bet that it will not. The loser will cook for the winner for one month.


Reza, who was eating dinner with us when we determined the bet, is the arbiter.

After we finalized the bet terms, the three of us jauntered over to uWink to watch the crowd. It was one-third full, not terrible for a weeknight. We noticed that it was about 70% Asians. The Asians were laughing, playing the games, having a great time. The non-Asians sat away from the computer monitors, looking bored as they chatted with each other.

Maybe uWink is an Asian thing.


Sha-mayn across the table from me.


Ordering via menu.


The "spicy" First Date game. (It's not very spicy.)


Sha-mayn took this photo of me.

40 comments:

girlrobot said...

i've eaten there with my friends and most of us loved it. the ones that didn't weren't as nerdy as the others. Also, we have a few locations here..the one that's in the trendy party of LA doesnt do as well as the one that's in the valley (where all of the hs kids go).

Melinda O said...

I think it will go out of business soon too, as soon as the novelty wears off. It was fine once, but I've seen all the games and read through most of the trivia, so there's nothing more to see. However, I wish more places had automatic ordering systems. Being able to customize your food without the filter of a waiter who might be judgmental or confused is nice.

Dan said...

After making the bet, I learned that the branches in LA opened in 2006 and are still going strong, and they have expansion plans to other cities. So I'm a little less sanguine about winning, but it still seems pretty dubious to me. Can a restaurant survive on non-repeat business? How do they advertise?

Niniane said...

They have repeat business! I'm about to go there right now with Tom.

Anonymous said...

You look different in that photo. . but I can't describe how. Did you get plastic surgery?

Bob said...

Darn technology! What's going to happen to all of the wait staff that will become unemployed because of this evil technology! Just think of all the jobs the elderly and school kids will loose. More human interaction will be lost due to this technology.

IT MUST BE DESTROYED!!!!

Jeremy said...

I've walked by the Mountain View one many times and wondered what the heck it was. I peering in the window one time when the host comes barreling out and hands me a coupon for a free appetizer. I suppose I should check it and do my part to help you win your bet against Dan.

writer said...

I think it'll go out of business. Something like 3 or 4 places have tried to open there and consistently failed. I think it's a problem with location, and secondarily the business model.

Brent said...

Niniane, my money is with you. I can't wait to show you the upcoming things we're working on at uWink. The new set of games and updates will really add to the experience. Feel free to let me know anything you'd like changed! I'm trying to get the MV location a party table too. You'll love this thing. Thanks for your support.

Torley said...

Placing orders via monitor? Novel! (But inevitable.) I'd like to try that out, it looks like a lot of fun... at least at first.

B. subtilis said...

I agree with Melinda O. re: the automated ordering system; that really seems like an idea whose time has come. But when I go out to eat, I'm usually looking forward to some casual human-to-human interaction, since I spend all day staring at a wall of LCDs. The thought of doing the same thing at lunch is rather... unappetizing. =)

John K. Lin said...

My friend and I checked out uWink the week it opened up. I think there were still a few kinks when we were there - both in the service and I felt, in the software. The food wasn't bad.

Most restaurants fail within their first year (90% failure rate or something like that). Just because uWink did well in Southern Cal doesn't meant they will do well here - but this concept restaurant is tailored made for Silicon Valley geek types... But personally, my friend and I did wonder how long uWink will survive, and we're both Asian.

"The loser will cook for the winner for one month."

Wow - that is a BIG bet...

ArC said...

So are you and Dan both decent cooks?

Dan, I wouldn't worry too much - it seemed to me that new restaurants in the downtown MV area could fail fairly quickly. Not that I /want/ uWink to fail, but it seems ridiculously goofy to me. (Speaking of ridiculously goofy restaurants, I have eaten at Mars 2112, but it wasn't my choice... Also, I get the feeling Mars caters to tourists mostly, thus neatly dealing with the lack of repeat business problem.)

Oh, in Tokyo, there are fast food restaurants where you order via computer. Reducing needless human interaction: win!

JKL is the first person in this thread to even mention the quality of the food at uWink.

Niniane said...

The bet is not over whether the MV location will fail. It's whether the entire uWink company will go under.

ArC said...

Oh, I see. Well, after I looked up the company on Wikipedia and read a bit about its corporate history... I'm definitely going to side with Dan now. Also, just about the MV location, I think that's not a great location.

What are the contingencies of your bet? If the company is acquired for chump change within the time limit, do you win or does Dan?

BTW, did you and Sha-mayn turn out compatible on the first date game?

John K. Lin said...

@arc - funny, you're right, I was the first to comment on the quality of the food. I ordered a burger when I was there... I'll have to try other items and see what new software, games, etc.. they had. I wanted a webcam to the kitchen to see my food being cooked.

I took a look at the bio of the CEO & founder of uWink - Nolan Bushnell. He is the founder of Atari Corporation and Chuck E. Cheese - what an odd combination of companies to have started. Given his track record, I'd bet on Bushnell.

But I do wonder if the uWink concept can survive in this economic downturn... and that location has been pretty unlucky for quite a few restaurants.

Jeremy said...

I think uWink sounds pretty cool, though I hope the touchscreens get wiped down a lot. Greasy burger fingerprints; yuk.

Touchscreen ordering could be brilliant if done right. They could have a tick box in the corner to only display vegetarian options. And one for vegans, and maybe for Muslims or Orthodox Jews, people with certain allergies. No more quizzing the waiter about what everything's made out of.

I don't get why people so mourn the loss of minor human interactions such as those between customers and waiting staff. It's really not much of a social exchange. You still get to keep the real relationships in your life, with people you talk to on an even footing, who you can converse with long and often enough to get to know them. I do make an effort to be friendly, but a lot of people who serve me might as well be automatons.

Anonymous said...

I just looked at their website and find it interesting that the Careers page has not a single food service or prep position and all software and technology positions. Is this a restaurant or a software company?

Are there robots preparing the food? Or worse...a row of microwave ovens?

Also as a father of a 3 yr old and a 15 month old, just wait until those monitors get all splattered and smudged.

sanjuro said...

Cute girls! ~~~

Actually, it's interesting you say that may be an Asian thing only, I was thinking the same, more or less, about Lively. It doesn't appeal to everyone and every nationality.

For instance it doesn't seem too popular with the average American user. But Asians, Brazilians, French people seem to like it a lot more. Maybe that's why the average American is not too fond of it. ;)

Todd B. said...

Wow, cooking for a month? Sha-mayn, if Niniane loses, make sure she actually cooks for Dan and doesn't take the easy way out with some restaurant consolation.

: )

Melinda O said...

@arc: I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food, but only because I expected it to be terrible, like at most gimmick restaurants. I was also famished because it was past 10pm and I hadn't eaten for 9 hours, so maybe anything would have tasted good.

@brent: I probably would have enjoyed the experience more if most of the games were free. I don't enjoy being nickled-and-dimed.

@the first anonymous: It is offensive in the US to suggest that someone has had plastic surgery, as it implies that they weren't good-looking in the first place.

Niniane said...

Melinda, you had to pay for games? They were free when I went. There are signs of laying the groundwork for paid games (the verbiage of "credits" and "premium games" in the menu), but I hope it doesn't happen. Dan will have a much higher chance of winning the bet if the games charge money.

ArC said...

I don't get why people so mourn the loss of minor human interactions such as those between customers and waiting staff. It's really not much of a social exchange.

No, but human waiters/waitresses/order-takers can handle odd requests ("burger, no bread", for example) and communicate them to the kitchen better than any touchscreen system.

xerxes_blue said...

Recently I traveled to Ireland, had some time to kill and ventured into a local neighborhood pub. There were no booths or video screen menus or even televisions; it was all benches and tables arranged in a way to ease--gasp--conversation and interaction...with total strangers! Pints were brought quickly, food service was slow. Conversation, stories and debate abounded. Periodically the din of storytelling and laughter was interrupted by random customers (these locals and neighbors) who would rise with a musical instrument in hand (or borrow the many weathered"loaner" guitars or fiddles etc hanging on a wall)and sing a self-authored ditty to the occupants of the table or two around them-- or to no one in particular.(And get this ,with no karaoke machine in sight.)Some were booed amicably, and others were praised if not for their musicality then for their inspired tales of love and loss. What a wonderful and warming night of humanity. How cold and lonely and terrible this uwink seems by comparison. We enter this world alone and we leave this world alone. Should we spend the time in between trying on different pine boxes? Can uwink feed anything to our human needs, really, except for hunger? It will fail.

ArC said...

Can uwink feed anything to our human needs, really, except for hunger?

Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's not get too hasty here. (I work in videogames...)

Also, let's not discount the value of good food.

Anonymous said...

PRESIDENT OBAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

michael b said...

Hey Niniane, have you seen http://mymomisafob.com/ ? It reminds me of some of the stories you've written here.

Niniane said...

Ha ha, mymomsisafob.com is great! I really like the "food coma" post.

Melinda O said...

@niniane: Yeah, there were lots of games that seemed to require "credits," and Corey found that there was a page where you could buy them. We didn't want to buy credits, so we didn't try playing those games.

Anonymous said...

@Niniane

Have you undergone eyelid surgery?

Niniane said...

re: Anonymous. i have not had eyelid surgery.

Anonymous said...

Stock is trading at ten cents a share, company is losing $$$ hand over fist, restaurants aren't profitable, there isn't a single franchisee, and they're almost out of cash. Oh yeah, the food is absolutely disgusting. I've had better food on airplanes.

uwink won't exist past June 09.

Joon said...

Though I'm no longer managing the Norcal store, it's sad to see how pessimistic people are about uWink.

I'll keep the Socal stores in shape!

John K. Lin said...

uWink in Mountain View closing, at least according to the latest comments on Yelp!

http://www.yelp.com/biz/uwink-mountain-view?rpp=40&sort_by=date_desc

I had dinner in downtown Mountain View tonight and noticed as I dropped by, and the lights were out. Supposedly on Sunday evenings, they are open until 9 PM.

Given the current economy, I would not be surprised that uWink the company goes out of business and you will be cooking for Dan for a month.

Niniane said...

Ack!

But the terms of the bet are that all branches must close.

John K. Lin said...

Yes - let's hope for your sake that the remaining uWink's in Hollywood & Woodland Hills survive.

A lot of restaurants are going under in this economy... and I could see uWink in Hollywood & Woodland Hills possibly going under ...

John K. Lin said...

So I just used Google News to find out any info on uWink down in Los Angeles. Looks like the two remaining restaurants are being totally re-designed...

Troubling Signs: uWink to Become an Upscale Lounge
Thursday, April 9, 2009
http://la.eater.com/archives/2009/04/09/troubling_signs_uwink_to_become_an_upscale_lounge.php

Let us know how your month of cooking goes... unless you don't think the redesign qualifies as closing / losing the bet with Dan...

Milkman said...

Hola!
Your blog is filled with mentions of bets. Do you actually honor them? (give or take a couple!) What happened to this one? In my book, uWink definitely counts as shut down, but whatever way you "count", since you and dan had mutually exclusive and complementary bets, one of you has lost (In case of lack of consensus, our arbiter can decide who lost).
For the sake of those who stumble upon these old blogs, and for the sake of completeness, pray tell who won the bet and whether the loser paid their dues!

PS: Also happened to see the Sarah Palin song for the first time thanks to this blog (dunno who i missed the video during the 08 elections!) - funny!

Niniane said...

Re: Milkman,

Dan and I had a falling-out, so I don't think either one of us would want to collect the winnings from the other. We also have not classified who the winner would be.

Milkman said...

oh - truly sorry to hear that :((
Maybe one of your upcoming posts can be about some interesting bets you've made lately (unless you have stopped making wagers -- for whatever reason).