A Trend I’d Like To Counter

Has every newly opened restaurant adopted a new business model that eliminates table service in favor of walk-up counters? If so, put me down as a no vote. I hate it … for so many reasons.

Econ 101. I really don’t understand the point of these places. Are they saving money by eliminating the wait staff? Saving time by avoiding the arcane accounting rules involving tips and minimum wages? They don’t seem to be cheaper or faster than regular restaurants, so who’s deriving the value from this new business model?

Not so fast. Having adopted the efficiency model created by fast-food restaurants, they’ve overlooked one thing. The food in fast-food restaurants is fast because it’s either already prepared, or it’s easy to do so. I was in a restaurant recently where not only did one of the items I ordered take 20 minutes to prepare (something the cashier neglected to tell me), but they forgot to prepare it.

Pay in advance. In a restaurant, there’s some logic to paying at the end of the meal. Did you get everything you wanted? Was it satisfactory? In the foregoing example, the manager told the cashier to refund my money for the forgotten items. If I’d been at a traditional restaurant, we wouldn’t have had to go through that rigmarole. (In fact, I might have just left without any food.)

Wait, wait. Which brings me to the absence of wait staff. As I was wondering about where the heck my food was, I had two choices – ask the lone busboy, who barely spoke English and knew nothing anyway, or go back to the counter and wait for someone to address my problem. Disintermediate the wait staff all you want, but as with other middlemen, they provide a real service – communication between the kitchen and the customer. In a counter restaurant, if the order is incorrect, you have to explain to someone who probably didn’t take your order why there’s a problem. At least with a waitperson, there’s one point of contact. (And oh, by the way, if you want to order more food, an idea most restaurant owners encourage because it brings in more revenue, you don’t have to leave the table to do it.)

Here’s a tip. In a counter restaurant (unlike a fast-food restaurant, usually), there’s a tip jar by the cash register. I like to tip well when the service is good, but tipping when you order is a real crapshoot. I ate in a counter restaurant this weekend where it took 15 minutes to deliver a salad, and one that was tasteless besides. I really wanted to go back to the tip jar and retrieve what I’d left.

Apparently once again I must buck a 21st century trend and yearn for a return to 20th century traditions. When it comes to walk-up counters, I must counter with “no, thanks.”


About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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