by Kris Mason
From the days of handwritten orders, the restaurant industry has embraced the latest technology to streamline ordering and eliminate errors. Point of Sale (POS) systems change as often as computer operating systems. From behind the scenes, waiters speculate that we will eventually take orders from an app on our smart phones.
Imagine my surprise when I went into my neighborhood Applebee's and found a clunky touch screen POS system on the table. Bright graphics and flashy photos enticed me to look a little deeper and it seemed as though I could have ordered everything from there. Then our waiter showed up. When I asked him how this thing worked, he replied, “Poorly.” Ah… I like my sarcasm dry with just a bitter undertone.
After a few questions back and forth, he seemed to feel that most people were reluctant to use it at all, and those who did try were either technologically inept or overly i-snobby to use such an inferior piece of technology. The rest were simply incapable of pulling themselves away from their own phones to even notice. I can definitely picture that.
I’ve stood behind enough people at an ATM or at a grocery self-checkout to see that despite the widespread use of handheld technology, the general population has a tough time with basic touch screen interactions. If not that, it’s the ones that do know how to use them, but choose to relinquish control to their three year old kids in what seems to me the most ill-timed “teaching moment” ever.
As the industry debates how best to do away with waiters, it seems like some national dining chains (including Applebee’s and Chili’s) believe that a self-service, touch screen tablet (of sorts) is going to be the magic formula to make customers happy and keep them coming back. Why would the casual dining sector of the restaurant industry want their guests to place their own orders and eliminate their own table service?
In a restaurant, the waiters take all the heat. If the wait for a table is too long, it’s the waiter’s fault; If the music is too loud, it’s the waiter’s fault. If the room is too cold… the drink isn’t strong enough… there was supposed to be a side salad and the customer got fries, waiter’s fault. Nobody blames a cook for the wrong order, or a manager for the comfort of the room. How a waiter manages each of these situations is what makes a guest feel like returning.
So, you want a machine to replace me? Are you prepared to be at fault for all the things that go wrong? When you use the touch screen to order your burger cooked medium, and you complain because you don’t like any pink in your medium burger (a burger with no pink is actually well done), that was your fault. When you forget to order your margarita without salt, you can’t say that you specifically told your server, several times, “No salt.”
Nobody likes to ask a restaurant employee for help, only to hear, “That’s not my table.” If you take away the waiter and replace him or her with a self-serve POS and a minimum wage earning food runner, all accountability is lost. Without a waiter, you are nobody’s table; and if you placed the order and mistakes are made, that’s on you.
As much as I seem to toot my horn, I’m the first to admit that I don’t save lives. I don’t create peace in the Middle East or heal the planet; I handle things. I take care of a million tiny details, the slow death by 10,000 cuts. If I handle them properly, you will have no idea I was there; but if one or two of those tiny things are allowed to get bigger, your experience will be diminished. I’m not your oncologist; I’m your concierge.
I handle things all day long. I’m your discomfort filter. I’m a political spin machine. I correct mistakes big and small. Things have to go horribly wrong for you to ever leave my table unsatisfied or worse, ask to speak to someone in charge. By the time I’m done with you, the only thing you will need my manager for is to sing my praises.
If you want to go out and eat and not leave a tip there are plenty of choices; and not just fast food. If you want a decent burger and fries and don’t feel like leaving three bucks to some college kid, go to Fuddrucker’s. Asian food? Pei Wei. Order at the counter and seat yourself. If you feel like doing a little more work on your own, there are contemporary buffets like Sweet Tomatoes and Golden Corral. Knock your socks off.
Isn’t the point of going out to dinner to be waited on or even pampered just a little? Sure, you can get up and get your own refills; but isn’t that what you do at home? Let’s keep the touch screen off the table and in your phone, and let me... you know… handle things.
I do Waiter Boot Camps at your restaurant. Contact me to schedule a meeting. 480-600-6973