27 5th Avenue, Brooklyn
5 2nd Avenue, Brooklyn
472 W 8th, Manhattan
400 Avenue A, Manhattan

October 27, 2014




Dining invites an informal kind of surveillance. We hear conversations from the diners around us; we note what other diners are eating; we stare at people outside who furrow their brows at the menu that has inexplicably been posted at eye-level on the window facing our table. “What are you waiting for?” we might ask this person, “If I’m here, it’s good enough for you.” They make a pained expression and stare at the menu some more.

But the new bistro Telemetry has reinvented this entire, awkward process, with a newer awkward process. Every table at Telemetry has a small screen that provides the diner with discrete amounts of information about another patron at any of the four Telemetry locations, two in Manhattan (one on the Lower East Side, the other in Chelsea) and two in Brooklyn (Park Slope and Williamsburg). Telemetry’s indirect communication between these neighborhoods is either going to end the debate over who does what in which borough when, or it will be the start of a very long war.

It’s rare that one must sign a waiver for a restaurant, much less one that is six pages long. I don’t really understand legalese or tiny print, so I just make it a point to sign things. If I find myself locked away on a remote island with no hope of escape, I will just assume it’s my fault.

But let’s forget about that not so distant scenario. Sitting at a booth in Telemetry with a glass of Blind Moth Pilsner and what Telemetry accurately describes as “soft boiled egg and salt with spiced wheat crackers,” which are tangy and crisp, I begin to study my subject. The screen shows a picture of an average man's silhouette with an iPad next to him and indicates that he has ordered beer-battered hush puppies, a kale and beet salad with bacon, fried dandelions, and a glass of Perrier. And so help me, I find this fascinating.

And from that point on, I am compelled to follow other diners, but I find myself checking back on this first subject until he's paid his check and wondering if I will leave a similar tip. Telemetry, in order to keep the feed of information going, is an upscale blend of tapas and bar food. The menu is about thirty dishes of nothing that would be considered an entrée.

“Some people have been disappointed that we don’t use Skype or FaceTime,” says owner Lauren Dusketta, “but those people are idiots. Nobody really likes video chat, we just want to like the idea of it. We don’t want visuals, we want context. I’m interested in what people are ordering, where they're sitting, how long they’re in the restaurant. Things that I’m too busy to really pay attention to. That’s what’s important.”

There is no photograph; no imagery at all, other than an illustration that approximates the other and a few transcribed comments attributed to them. How exactly is it that this information is relayed in the first place?

“Your waiter is sending all this info through an app,” Dusketta explains, showing me one of the electronic tablets that servers use to take orders. “They choose an image that might resemble you, they update your orders. We’ve taken your check, and published it while you eat.”

I am not so sure this is the case. Over the last three months, I have investigated Telemetry, and I believe that they are purporting a fiction. Ten confederates, who under my instructions ordered two dishes: the crab salad with arugula, and the squash blossom with honey and ricotta. Not an unthinkable combination, but a recognizable one. And while both of these appetizers were delicious, they did not appear together on the screens, while we were all dining.

I shared my findings with Dusketta who was not overly concerned. “It could be a time delay,” she said, “We’ve been having issues with our internet connection.”

But the internet connection is the whole point. The entire premise is that we are all supposed to be eating the things that we are eating at the same time. I am not interested in the crumbs and remaining salad leaves that are left behind at a nearby table, even if I am just seeing the word on a screen. I want to see that word when it arrives, fully-formed, and with a suitable side of bread.

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