When I see someone at work, particularly in a service industry position, behaving lethargic or disinterested, my first reaction smacks of “when I was your age I walked 10 miles to school in the snow — barefoot — and I was grateful for the education, not like these kids today.” I could be channeling my grandparents, really.
But the following Craigslist posting from a New York restaurant gave me pause for thought:
“We are a popular restaurant for both locals and tourists alike. Having been in business for many years, we noticed that although the number of customers we serve on a daily basis is almost the same today as it was 10 years ago, the service just seems super slow even though we added more staff and cut back on the menu items. One of the most common complaints on review sites against us and many restaurants in the area is that the service was slow and/or they needed to wait a bit long for a table. We decided to hire a firm to help us solve this mystery, and naturally the first thing they blamed it on was that the employees need more training and that maybe the kitchen staff is just not up to the task of serving that many customers. Like most restaurants in NYC we have a surveillance system, and unlike today where it’s a digital system, 10 years ago we still used special high capacity tapes to record all activity. At any given time we had four special Sony systems recording multiple cameras. We would store the footage for 90 days just in case we needed it for something. The firm we hired suggested we locate some of the older tapes and analyze how the staff behaved 10 years ago versus how they behave now …”
The restaurant owners outlined their findings after looking over more than 45 transactions in order to determine the data below:
“2004: Customers walk in. They get seated and are given menus, out of 45 customers three request to be seated elsewhere. Customers on average spend eight minutes before closing the menu to show they are ready to order.
Waiters shows up almost instantly takes the order. Appetizers are fired within six minutes, obviously the more complex items take longer. Out of 45 customers two sent items back. Waiters keep an eye out for their tables so they can respond quickly if the customer needs something. After guests are done, the check delivered, and within five minutes they leave. Average time from start to finish: 1:05.
“2014: Customers walk in. Customers get seated and is given menus, out of 45 customers 18 requested to be seated elsewhere. Before even opening the menu they take their phones out, some are taking photos while others are simply doing something else on their phone. Seven out of the 45 customers had waiters come over right away, they showed them something on their phone and spent an average of five minutes of the waiter’s time. Given this is recent footage, we asked the waiters about this and they explained those customers had a problem connecting to the WiFi and demanded the waiters try to help them. Finally the waiters are walking over to the table to see what the customers would like to order. The majority have not even opened the menu and ask the waiter to wait a bit. Customer opens the menu, places their hands holding their phones on top of it and continue doing whatever on their phone. Waiter returns to see if they are ready to order or have any questions. The customer asks for more time. Finally they are ready to order. Total average time from when the customer was seated until they placed their order 21 minutes. Food starts getting delivered within six minutes, obviously the more complex items take way longer and 26 out of 45 customers spend an average of three minutes taking photos of the food with 14 out of 45 customers taking pictures of each other with the food in front of them or as they are eating the food. This takes on average another four minutes as they must review and sometimes retake the photo. Nine out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat. Obviously if they didn’t pause to do whatever on their phone the food wouldn’t have gotten cold and 27 out of 45 customers asked their waiter to take a group photo with 14 of those requesting the waiter retake the photo as they were not pleased with the first photo. On average this entire process between the chit-chatting and reviewing the photo taken added another five minutes and obviously caused the waiter not to be able to take care of other tables he/she was serving. Given in most cases the customers are constantly busy on their phones, it took an average of 20 minutes more from when they were done eating until they requested a check. Furthermore once the check was delivered it took 15 minutes longer than 10 years ago for them to pay and leave. Eight out of 45 customers bumped into other customers or in one case, a waiter (texting while walking), as they were either walking in or out of the Restaurant. Average time from start to finish: 1:55.”
The owners then pleaded, “We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant, after all there are so many choices out there. But can you please be a bit more considerate?”
It seems people are so distracted with technology and vanity they have created quite a conundrum for service workers. Chew on that for awhile and decide if you are part of the problem.
Now, that said, training certainly can be an issue. An experience I had last weekend in South Lake Tahoe could speak to a restaurant business owner, and probably should.
I am by no stretch of the imagination, a hipster, but my server most certainly was one. She was in her 20s. She donned the “birth-control glasses,” as once dubbed by military personnel, then later popularized by Rivers Cuomo of the band Weezer. She was sleeved with tattoos. I asked if there were any specials that evening. She pointed to a chalkboard and said “uh-huh, right there.” I couldn’t see them because there were two posts blocking the full view of the board from where I was seated. I would have asked her more, but she was gone. She went to talk to her friends/co-workers about a party she was going to after work. Apparently she was in hurry. She took our plates before we were done. Oh well, I won’t go back there or recommend the place to anyone, I thought. That’s how I am. If I have a poor experience, I don’t really care to share it with the staff. I don’t wish to repeat it either. I just don’t go back. That too, is food for thought.
Mandy Feder is the Managing Editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.