The food service industry has some strides to make yet in the Information Age. Right now Dominoes (and probably a few other pizza places) allow you to make delivery orders online, and using that interface you can customize your pizza and make payments. It's not the most intuitive UI in the world, but it's not broken or anything, and it's convenient for the non-phone inclined, or for situations in which it's hard to communicate exactly what you want over the phone. Maybe your English isn't great, or you're mute. Okay, I'm stretching a bit here--and most people would rather deal with a person than a website, but what if this were transposed to other realms?
Say, Burger King.
Set up a station where you can punch in your order, completely customized to your specifics, and pay with a credit card. It prints out a receipt and tells you your order number. This could go a long way towards eliminating the inept cashier problem that plagues so many restaurants who pay their employees $6-an-hour for customer service.
What about larger restaurants? Abby and I went to Olive Garden on Friday and waited out front for 45 minutes to get a table. It's not that we mind waiting, but the fact that we had to wait at the restaurant added opportunity cost to the cost of the meal. What if you could place yourself in line to get a seat from home, or give an approximate time that you planned to eat, and then be told when you should show up. Obviously the system would have some kinks that would need to be worked out, and it relies pretty heavy on the customer, who can be notoriously unreliable.
I remember living in Columbia, Missouri, where none of the restaurants took reservations because the college-age population was pretty bad about not keeping their appointments (or setting up three different reservations and then only keeping the one that suited their particular taste). The key is to provide people with an incentive to show up. Money is a good one.
How about this setup? Make your reservation online and it will cost you $5. When you arrive, you get $6 credited towards the cost of your meal (as an incentive to use the system). If you have to wait more than 10 minutes to get a table, not only are you refunded the $5, but you still get $6 credited towards the cost of the meal. I think people would use a system like that.
The only obstacle is that information-providing is not in the interest of the business. You go to a restaurant expecting to get a table and learn that there's a 40 minute wait, the main thing keeping you there is that you assume that there's a similar wait anywhere else. If you can go online and see that you won't be able to get a table for 40 minutes, you may decide to go somewhere else instead.
But if someone decided to give it a try, I bet it could catch on.