uWink is a restaurant concept that blends affordable food, hip surroundings and a digital screen that can be used for ordering food, playing games, hitting the internet and getting more ketchup.  The brain child of uWink is Nolan Bushnell, former CEO of Atari and founder of Chuck E. Cheese.

Business Model:
uWink seems to be driven by a similar customer insight to Chuck E. Cheese, that video games and food work well together, but this time the environment has been created for the young and the hip…allbeit older than the Chuck E. Cheese 5 year old crowd. 

The food is ordered through digitial screens on the tables and instead of waiters, they have ‘runners’.  Want more ketchup?  Dive into your computer screen. Oh, and while your there…play the various computer games.  Who’s that sitting across the table from you? Who cares!  You can play a neat new game while eating your cob salad.  Doubles anyone?

Or even better, assuming you ever get to talk to the people you came to the restaurant with and they start to get boring…challenge the table over to a table vs. table tournament.  You never need to talk to another person at dinner, lunch or brunch again…unless its ‘Take that you swine and die like the weakling you are!’ before blasting them into 2050 with your virtual weapon of choice!

Some Core Elements:

  • Table top food ordering that goes straight through to the kitchen which supposedly reduces ‘human’ error
  • Games, internet, videos and so on within the table top screen on your table
  • The menu is reasonably priced and has a good range.  Tasty!
  • Restaurants are divided into different ‘zones’.  The larger restaurants have areas that can become an instant quiz show venue or presentation stage

As a computer junkie and gamer, the uWink environment attracts and is a great place to while away the hours on a wet and windy winters Sunday afternoon. The food variety is good and the prices are not too bad.

It’s not that I dislike the environment as much as the concept of going to a restaurant with people and then spending most of my time looking at a computer screen.  The positioning of the business seems to be that its bringing gamers out of the darkened recesses of their bedrooms and showing them that is OK to be a gamer and they do not have to ‘game’ alone.  But the reality is…once a gamer’s eyes lock on a great new game, everything else disappears…even the $11.50 Vietnemese Salad sitting by their elbow delivered not by waiters but by runners and the projected images revolving on the wall.  That all becomes just a distraction.

If uWink positioned themselves to the world as the gamers paradise with great food and surroundings then it be telling it like I think it is…instead they seem to promote the restaurant and ‘oh yeah by the way’, there are computers too so you can play games.

One thing that amused was uWink promotes that fact that they have ‘At the Table Ordering.’  I’ve had ‘At Table’ ordering at every restaurant I’ve ever been at. 

Do I think I’d enjoy an afternoon at a uWink…Yup! Do I think it will still exist as a business in 5 years….hummm, can someone press my screen for me and order some more bread…

My Virtual Investment:
With my virtual $1M, I would lift my eyes from Quake III Gold for 30 seconds to invest $50K in uWink.