I was out having dinner in a restaurant last weekend for the first time in six months. On our table was this little electronic device.
It enabled us to summon a waiter when we were ready to order, if we had a question or needed something, and to ask for the bill when we were ready to leave.
It’s clearly a function of the pandemic, and the need for ways to make table service as smooth and easy to manage as possible. But is it something that will continue to be used once the pandemic restrictions are eased? As with so many of the changes we’ve experienced in the past 18 months, we can’t be sure if this is a temporary blip or a new way of living.
It might initially feel a bit cold and automated – there is clearly a down-side if it means that engagement with the restaurant staff is minimised and kept to a functional, transactional level.
It does clearly remove the awkwardness of catching a waiter’s eye without being too insistent about it. It’s certainly a whole lot more polite and acceptable than the clicking of fingers (yes – some people still do that, with all the echoes of assumed superiority and entitlement that it suggests).
From the waiting staff’s perspective there are also benefits; no need to linger waiting to take that ‘will they, won’t they’ dessert order, or to offer up the bill when the possibility of a final drink still lingers. And it doesn’t mean that the odd “…is everything okay and can I get you anything else” is impossible.
This kind of service tool won’t be right for every establishment, of course. Those fine dining restaurants that take great pride in controlling the tempo of an evening with the waiter revealing the ‘story’ of each course will no doubt shy away.
But for restaurants that are dealing with multiple covers and with less experienced staff it looks like a pretty good idea to me. A good example how innovation born from necessity can open up new ways of delivering brands and services.
Words by Chris Blythe