It is pretty obvious that digital technology has sped up the pace of many industries, as well as the pace of our daily lives. We communicate more quickly, get products delivered more quickly, hire a taxi more quickly, etc. Digital is the way of speed.
However, according to one New York City restauranteur, it is slowing down the process of eating out.
A post on Craigslist’s Rants & Raves board told the following story:
A busy NYC restaurant noticed that despite serving similar numbers of customers over a 10-year period, wait times were longer and customers were complaining about service. In order to identify the problem, the restaurant managers looked at tapes from 2004, and compared them with tapes from 2014 (the time of the story). They found that the average time a customer spent in the restaurant increased from 1 hour and 5 minutes to 1 hour and 55 minutes.
The culprit? Cell phones.
Having been a server in the past for a few summers, I’ve seen it first-hand. Going over to introduce yourself is a struggle when half the table is on their phones, showing each other something, or simply not interacting with each other at all. And as the post says, most customers request more time to decide on a meal, most likely because they were distracted not by their present company, but by their digital screens. Eventually, people look up from these digital worlds feeling as if an eternity has passed in a matter of minutes, and ask for their drinks or food. Finally, food that comes out of the kitchen hot might be sent back for being too cold, perhaps because the customer was distracted when the food first arrived, and then proceeded to try to take the perfect photo for “the gram.”
While the post itself may be an exaggeration, or perhaps completely fictional, the idea is definitely true. So, when I was a server in 2014, this spread like wildfire among servers and managers alike.
However, digital advancements have clearly also improved the overall dining process.
When most people think digital companies and food service, they think of Yelp. Yelp has been the clear choice when it comes to user reviews of restaurants and other food establishments. Every time I look up a new place to eat, whether I am just walking by or it was recommended by someone, I see its rating on Yelp. And while I try not to give this too much weight, it inevitably sticks in my mind.
Why don’t I always value the opinion of the yelp collective; simply, Yelp reviews are always going to skew negative. Think about it yourself, if you have ever left a review on yelp or something similar. If you have, it is more likely that experience was a bad one that you felt you needed to warn people about. Maybe, by chance you had something very great that left you with a lasting impression, but these aren’t as common. And of course, not many people take to Yelp to share with the world their perfectly average dining experience. Now, Yelp currently is much more widely used than it was in the past, so this issue is not as prevalent, but it still exists.
For me, and many managers in the industry, OpenTable is the company of choice. More than simply taking reservations, OpenTable offers restaurants a platform to organize their dining room taking into account traditional and OpenTable reservations, as well as walk ins. The computer software plans, and allows the restaurant to keep track of, the night. So it is incredibly useful.
By adding reviewing capabilities, OpenTable gave a voice to customers which was more applicable and more highly valuable to managers. Since OpenTable reviews can be verified through their reservation and subsequent check-in at the restaurant, managers can combine their own recollection of the customer experience with the posted comment, and determine a solution if necessary.
OpenTable also holds the key to the future.
In Forbes, CEO Christa Quarles spoke about OpenTable’s addition of a payment option. Users are currently able to pay for their bill using the app, provided they checked in to their OpenTable reservation. While the adoption of this is difficult because it requires both restaurant and diner participation, that should not prove to be an insurmountable issue, as the original reservation-taking concept required the same cooperation.
From there, I think OpenTable could take over the final element of food service that needs to be updated; the internal POS system. I remember putting orders into a computer system at work that lloked like it was based on Windows XP. It makes logical sense for OpenTable to manage the entire process, from reservation, to offering, to paying the bill. This way restaurants would have consolidated data on who showed up, how much they spent, and other useful information. OpenTable too would have access to a great deal more data than it does currently. They could even partner with, or acquire, Ziosk, the company that provides tablets to chains like Chili’s and Applebee’s so you can order right at your table (OpenTable itself was acquired by Priceline in 2014).
And then, maybe we won’t even need waiters anymore. Glad I got my serving experience out of the way then.